Mobile phones. Very irritating, but at times, very useful; a bit like men, really. Lots of you will have one, a mobile that is, I'm not discussing your private life at the moment. And I bet you phone owners will have either the latest in technology, with TOKS software downloaded from the internet via Blue Tooth wizardry or else you have such sensitive little paws that you can wheech around the keypad using only your thumb and know exactly what to press to instantly connect you with Auntie Effie in Oban.
Even I have a mobile; currently on to my second, which I have been using for just over a year. A tiddly wee purple thing, which twitters whenever it receives a call and flashes with violet lights at the slightest provocation. My sighted friends all regard it with some astonishment and say that none of them could use it. Its keypad is so tiny, as is its flashy lilac screen. Mind you, most of my friends are of a certain age, i.e. over forty. If they were younger, their reactions would be quite different. And that is the main problem with mobile phones. They are designed for users aged between twelve and about eighteen and a half.
This was reinforced recently when I was looking for a replacement phone. Personally, I am quite happy with the purple thing but the tariff to which I subscribe allows for an annual upgrade. Supposedly free but because my needs are considered to be specialist, I either don't upgrade, or if I do, I have to pay a surcharge.
Anyway, there I was in the shop, poking and prodding at various small, plastic objects. I prefer a phone with a flip lid. That way, when I finish a call, I know I've definitely switched it off. Also, I can't switch it on by mistake. Have you ever come home to find a message on the answering machine which consists of five minutes of background babble in some shopping mall somewhere on the planet? Well this criterion alone radically reduced my choice.
“I don't suppose you'll want a phone with a camera?” the assistant asked tentatively, no doubt worrying as to whether such a suggestion was politically correct. “You see, that puts the price up so all of these have a surcharge.” Another swatch of phones was pushed aside.
“All I need, apart from having a flip, is a phone with voice recognition for enough numbers to be useful. And preferably to make the relevant beeps and cheeps to warn me that it needs recharging or there's no signal. That's what this one does.” I waved the purple thing across the counter.
“Mm. Voice recognition hasn't really caught on. It's more about colour screens and downloading MP3 files and that.”
Oh really? What adult with a reasonable IQ gives a hoot for MP3 files or polyphonic ring tones? Adults use a phone to phone people. That is, talk to another person who is at a distance. If I want to listen to music, I'd either put on the transistor or fire up the ghetto blaster. I wouldn't weld a mobile to my lug! And I certainly wouldn't be listening to music whilst walking down the street in pursuit of a pound of mince.
So I haven't upgraded my mobile; I still have the purple twitterer. The staff in the shop were sympathetic but couldn't help. Well, the sympathy didn't cost them anything. And they'd never heard about TOKS software. I suppose I could track down a supplier via the web or the RNIB. But, supposing this gadget was affordable, how easy would it be to use? I live in the depths of rural Scotland. Amongst the few visually impaired people I know, I'm the only one using a mobile. I'll discount a friend who occasionally borrows a cast-off phone from her son. To use it, she peers at its screen, dabs a few keys, swears and then asks me to fire up my phone instead. And if we're in a part of the county which has a decent signal, I happily oblige. Flip open the lid and shout the relevant command. Purple lights shimmer and I'm connected to the local taxi firm or whatever. Even if the number isn't on my shout list, the little keys are distinguishable enough. If I take my time and the temperature isn't sub-zero which reduces my sensitivity somewhat.
“Gosh!” friends say, “I wish I could do that. I canny work this bloody thing unless I've my reading glasses on.” Or “See this blessed thing! Ye'd need tae hae the fingers o a dwarf to key in a number!” These folk don't want to download Crazy Frog in Jamaica as a ring tone or even the latest Franz Ferdinand tracks. They just want to talk to other human beings on a phone. Nor do they want to send a photo of their bar lunch half way across Britain to cousin Senga in Southport, nor are they particularly interested in text messages.
So why doesn't Nokia or Erikson or one of the other mobile manufacturers make a usable mobile? A screen if you must, but monochrome will do. Voice recognition for a decent amount of numbers. A basic screen reader to chatter through menus and text messages. That would suit most of the adult population and would probably need less memory and cost less than the models currently in production and aimed at the Youf Market. I think we should have the same rights as the young. We should be able to shout into our mobiles, “I'm on the train. Put the tea in the oven and feed the budgie.” And think of all the competitions on radio and television which can only be answered via text message. Even traditional phone-ins are now text-ins instead! Perhaps there's a MSP out there who will take up our cause; champion our case at the Court of Human Rights, as we're certainly being deprived. In fact, if we don't do something soon, text messaging will be the only way in which to contact them!