Archive for December 12th, 2008

Texting by Ear

That's my handsome nephew Robbie with his handsome father Rick.

That's my handsome nephew Robbie with his handsome father Rick.

I came home, checked our answering machine. There it was. A message from my nephew. The message was alarming. Not because of what Robbie said. Just that he called me!


My extended family lives all over the country. We consider ourselves “close.” But we rarely, if ever, phone each other. We email. We send cards. Some of us are even starting to use facebook. But we don’t chat on the phone.

Robbie’s message said he had a question. I should call him back that night. All I could figure was that he needed information about:

1) A homemade gift he was making for Mike, or
2) some woman he was interested in who lives here in Chicago.

Turns out #2 was right. But the woman he was interested in was. me! “I was just wondering,” he said when I phoned him back. “How do you text if you’re blind?”

The answer was easy. I don’t. And from what I’ve been able to find out, few blind people do. I mean, there are phones that let us send text messages. The research I’ve done since Robbie’s momentous phone call, however, has not turned up a single phone allowing blind people to read a text message after it appears on our cell phones.

The LG VX8350 from Verizon, for example. A review on the American Foundation of the Blind website touts the LG VX8350 as the “most accessible off the shelf cell phone for blind or visually impaired people.”

• Creating text messages is accessible, and you just follow the voice prompts. You use the multi-tap method for composing the message, pressing the 2 key once for the letter A, twice for B and 3 times for C, etc.
• There are some inaccessible aspects, e.g., the pound sign (#) is the space bar and the OK key sends the message, which you wouldn’t know without a good manual or learning with a friend. Punctuation is accessible. You press the 1 key once for a period, twice for a comma and it reads it out to you.
• Important Note, the LG VX8350’s voice cannot read text messages you receive.

So this LG might be the most accessible, but it still can’t read text messages aloud to us.

A2006 article in gizmag Emerging Technology Magazine gushes over a Samsung “Touch Messenger” cell phone for the blind That won an Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA) that year. Only problem? The “Touch Messenger” is not in production yet.

The innovative Touch Messenger enables the visually impaired users to send and receive Braille text messages. The 3-4 button on the cell phone is used as two Braille keypads and text messages can be checked through the Braille display screen in the lower part. Once this product is commercialized, it is expected to dramatically boost the quality of life for visually impaired people, numbering as many as 180 million worldwide.

I have no idea what it was that made Robbie wonder how I’d be able to text. He is 25, though, so I know he spends a lot of his day with his thumbs on his phone. That, plus his genetic aversion to chatting on the phone would make him curious about how I manage without being able to text. I promised him I’d look into it, and told him if I figured out a way, he’d be the first person I’d text. “My first message will be ‘Hi’” I laughed. “That will probably be about as much as I can handle .”

But then I found a post called How To Send Email To Any Cell Phone (for Free)
that explained how I can sit at my computer, compose an email message, and text it to a cell phone!

Here is how it works:

Most of mobile carriers offer free Email to SMS gateways which can be used to forward simple text emails to a mobile phone. And the good news, majority of those gateways are free and available to the general public. You just need to know the number and the carrier of the recipient to start emailing them to mobile phone

I had no idea which carrier Robbie used, so I just typed his phone number in and tried it with three popular ones (the site provides a list of email addresses to use with a bunch of different carriers). Since I could use my computer keyboard, my message was a bit more complicated than a simple “hi.” I wrote, “omg, aunt betha cn txt now.”

Wondering what Robbie’s response was? Me, too. He can’t text back to my email address, and if he texts to my cell phone, I won’t be able to read his message. My God. Robbie and I may have to break a family tradition. Pick up the phone. Actually talk to each other again!

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December 2008
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