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Nokia Helps Lead IT Industry to Customers with Disabilities

Nokia Corporation
Finland
www.nokiaaccessibility.com

Background

"Many of our phones and accessories already make functions easier, even though they were not developed directly for disabled consumers. We're taking that one-step further and designing specifically with accessibility in mind", said David J. Dzumba, Director of Industry Solutions for Nokia Corporation.

Nokia is a leading supplier of mobile, fixed and IP telecommunication networks including related customer services. Nokia also supplies solutions and products for fixed and wireless datacom, as well as multimedia and computer monitors. In 2000, Nokia's net sales totaled $27.0 billion. Headquartered in Finland, Nokia is listed on five European Stock Exchanges and on the New York Stock Exchange (NOK.A), has sales in over 130 countries and employs more than 60,000 people worldwide. Nokia maintains production facilities in 10 countries, as well as research and development facilities in 15 countries.

U.S. Government Mandates Accessibility

Nokia's good intentions were reinforced by federal requirements of all manufacturers. Section 255 of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required that all manufacturers of customer telecommunications products including cellular phones be usable by people with disabilities. "At first, we viewed this as a legislative requirement, said David Dzumba, "But as we got more involved and realized the impact we could have, it became a mission."

In 1998, the potential impact became even greater. That year, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments was passed, adopting the Section 255 requirements in guidelines for procurement of information technology by all federal agencies. As a $37 billion per year customer, the federal government effectively mandated universal design not only for telecommunications equipment, but for all electronic technologies. Section 508 took effect on June 21, 2001.

Challenges for Nokia Managers and Employees

Nokia established an internal Accessibility Solutions steering committee under David Dzumba. One of the first products of this committee was an in-house manual, "Meeting the Needs of a Global Marketplace", to acquaint employees with its approach. "We took a grassroots approach, Dzumba says. "We said, 'This is what we're going to do, this is how we're going to do it, and this is why'".

Nokia Accessibility Solutions leadersd

Nokia Accessibility Solutions leaders David Dzumba and Michaela Tucker-
Kinney

Dzumba, who holds a Master's degree in engineering telecommunications, admits to the appeal of design for customers with disabilities. "It's a chance to do a little bit of everything - product design, marketing and public relations, and interaction with legal and legislative affairs, not to mention the chance to work with a variety of organizations and advocacy groups. There's never a dull moment". Olli Kallasvuo, Corporate Executive Vice President - Nokia Americas, adds that accessibility is a clear direction for future Nokia products. "Every Nokia employee is in a position to have a positive impact on this initiative. We have the skills, talent, and resources to design new solutions for accessibility while developing this market," Kallasvuo says. "We are committed to continuing these efforts."

Accommodating Customers with Disabilities

Nokia is committed to pursuing accessibility solutions for all people, including individuals with disabilities," says the company's website. As an example, the Nokia LPS-1 and LPS-3 Loopsets allow people with hearing aids to use digital mobile phones without the typical buzz/hum interference. First launched in Europe in April 1998 and later in the US, the Loopset was designed by senior Nokia engineer Mikko Haho, hard of hearing since birth.

Nokia Loopsetd

Senior engineer Mikko Haho with Nokia Loopset and cell phone

Each Loopset has a built-in microphone for hands-free operation and is compatible with a variety of Nokia wireless phones. It uses induction technology to transmit the sound from the mobile phone directly to a person's hearing aid. It is available from Nokia dealers and Nokia itself.

Nokia mobile phones have other accessories to improve access for customers with a variety of disabilities - headsets, wheelchair holders, recharging stands, and vibrating batteries for hard of hearing users.

The Nokia Data Suite, meanwhile, allows hearing-impaired users to use text-based functionality (SMS/Internet/E-mail/fax) with a laptop and GSM phones. Nokia also provides wireless internet access with the Nokia Communicator.

Then there are various operating features. One-touch dialing provides instant access for checking messages and, more importantly, emergency situations such as calling 911. Easy-to-use interface and menus are smartly designed to "know" what you're thinking. Large screen displays with help menus make seeing and understanding the display simpler. Tactile feedback lets you know each time a key has been pressed, and adjustable ringing tones to accommodate various levels of frequency sensitivity. Nokia phones are also compatible with TTYs.

Nokia invites requests for user manuals in alternate formats, including Braille, large print, cassette tape, and text-only versions on disk through its Customer Care Center at 888-665-4228 (voice) or 800-246-6542 (TTY).

Industry Recognition

One reason for Nokia's market success leadership might be the company's willingness to appeal to all potential customers, regardless of ability. In recognition for their efforts toward communication accessibility, Nokia has been recognized by Wireless Week, The Los Angeles Times, and Mobile Phone News. In January, 1999, Nokia was named a "Next Generation" company for employment of people with disabilities by the editors of WE Magazine.

On June 30, 1999, Nokia received the Access Innovation Award from the Association of Access Engineering Specialists (AAES) for the Nokia LPS-1 Loopset. The award, which recognizes innovations and advancement in access technology, was presented during the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) annual conference in Long Beach, CA.

Planning Ahead

Nokia is far from finished with the efforts of its internal Accessibility Solutions steering committee. The company continues to conduct independent research and surveys, holding focus groups and developing training manuals and engineering guides for future product design and production. David Dzumba says, "We are determined to make the wireless future accessible to everyone. We believe we are far ahead in terms of awareness and product development", he says, "But there is still so much to be done."

Teaming with Assistive Technology

On August 16, 2001, Nokia announced a cooperative arrangement with assistive technology producer Prentke Romich Company to demonstrate Pathfinder compatibility with the Nokia 8290 mobile phone.

Pathfinder is a powerful communications tool equipped with a color touch screen, a static keyboard, and a built in dictionary that enables people, who are otherwise unable to speak, to build and synthesize sentences.

The cooperation between PRC and Nokia results in a solution that enables people using Pathfinder to make phone calls using an "off-the-shelf" cellular phone such as the Nokia 8290 wireless phone. By pressing a combination of keys that are synthesized into speech, Pathfinder controls the Nokia 8290 mobile phone via an infrared link, allowing Pathfinder to dial a number as well as to place and terminate a phone call. The system converts the Nokia 8290 to a hands-free phone by using a microphone to transmit synthesized speech and a separate speaker used for broadcasting the voice, or other sounds, being sent by the other party on the line.

"Nokia continues to deliver on its strong commitment to improving communication for all of its customers by working with Prentke Romich Company allowing us to provide even more advanced functionality." said Maini Williams, Research and Technology Access Unit Manager at Nokia.

References

Accessibility Solutions Project (1999). "Meeting the Needs of A Diverse Global Marketplace". Irving, TX: Nokia Corporation

Riley, C.A. (1999). "An Easy Cell" (2001). WE Magazine. July-August, 1999.p. 84.

August, 2001
   
           
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