Vodacom takes away a little more independence from the visually impaired in South Africa

Standard Bank’s short dial number service, which allows a Standardbank account holder to dial a short number from his or her mobile phone in order to recharge a mobile phone with airtime from a Standard bank account, may be discontinued.

The service is currently only available on MTN and Cell C.

Vodacom South Africa discontinued the availability of the short dial number on their network, saying that noone is using this service.

However, this is not true as many shocked Vodacom South Africa blind users have been expressing their concern via mailing lists and other social media.

One user wrote: “As a blind person, I was given a little more independence and dignity by not having to ask a sighted person to go to the bank with me just to recharge my account or to give them money to by a recharge voucher, in most cases just to be cheated!”

Another said that: “I was able to recharge my phone under a minute, all whilst walking, I was so used to the process…”

The process was really simple. All one had to do was to dial a short code number from a phone, and the system would then prompt the caller via an interactive voice response system, to enter their card number, customer selected pin, to select the specific network that they want to purchase airtime for, to specify the phone number and Standard Bank account to be used for this transaction and then to specify the amount to be loaded.

After this, the system would confirm all the details and one could then confirm the recharge, make changes or cancel the transaction.

The system was happy to be interrupted, if you already knew the drill, so that it was indeed possible to recharge a pre-paid number in less than a minute.

The general feeling amongst visually impaired and even elderly people with vision loss is that they are losing an important part of their independence as a result of Vodacom’s decision to cancel their short dial service.

Vodacom cancelled the short dial number, 11333, on the 15th of August although the number was already out of service before then.

When I contacted Vodacom’s (Special needs) helpdesk, they told me to use the USSD service, *120*2345#. However, many blind people do not have accessible phones and thus, this service is out of reach for a majority of these users.

When I pointed this out to the consultant, I was told that this is not Vodacom’s problem and that Standard bank is in charge of these services.

Regardless of who’s fault this is, many Vodacom users are now not able to recharge their prepaid accounts independently and as frequently as they may need to.

For those on Cell C and MTN, things are looking up though, for the moment, since the service is still working on these networks.

Perhaps Vodacom users should look at porting their phone number to one of the other networks so that they may enjoy the benefits of having access to the Standard bank short dial service while it lasts.

To access the short dial numbers for Standard Bank, dial 14311 from a Cell C phone or 565 from a MTN phone.

Standard bank did not provide a response by the time of publication.

Is accessible public transport important to you?

If accessible public transport in South Africa is important to you, please read on.

GAATES is the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments.

Marnie Peters is the contact at GAATES and her email address is gaates.marnie.peters@gmail.com

Their website can be found at www.gaates.org.

Click here to fill in the survey.

Please complete the survey so that they are aware that we have a serious
problem in South Africa with the lack of accessible public transport.

———————————————————-
Dear GAATES Family,
In 2012, GAATES established a Transportation Committee to focus on the many
transportation and mobility problems that exist for people with disabilities
around the world.
In the transport field, accessibility is seldom an absolute and independent
requirement of new development – either of vehicles or infrastructure. This
means that inaccessibility is often being perpetuated, and people with
disabilities continue to be unable to live independently, access work,
education, healthcare etc.
In light of the upcoming High Level Meeting on Disability and Development,
we want to establish an inventory of the problems that exist currently and
establish what the priorities are for action.
To help us with that process we would be very grateful if you could take a
few minutes to respond to the survey which you can access at
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TTYLDW6

Please complete the survey and submit it by Monday September 9th.
We look forward to sharing the results and establishing priorities for
action.
Many thanks in advance and continued best wishes.
Sincerely,
Ann Frye, Chair, GAATES Transportation Committee

Source: Tony Webb, NAPSA Mailing List.

Vodafone Smart mini; is this the affordable accessible phone that we all have been waiting for?

Note that I have compiled the below after having read various forum posts and reviews. I will update tis post if there is anything new to report.

What is the Vodafone Smart Mini?

The Vodafone Smart Mini is a true budget phone. It’s available for r799.00 on a prepaid basis from Vodacom South Africa, which gets you a phone with a 3.5-inch screen, 1GHz single-core processor, 4GB of built-in storage and a 2-megapixel camera running on Google’s Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS.

Where can I get my hands on one?

Vodacom launched the device today, 7 August 2013 at r799 but, warned that the price may vary from store to store.

Vodacom South Africa indicated that customers that sign up on a “Top Up 135 plus” contract at R149 per month will receive two Vodafone Smart Mini handsets for the price of one.

According to the MyBroadband forums, the deal includes R135 worth of airtime, 100MB of data per month, and a free Starter pack for the second phone.

Key Features

Budget r799 price tag; 1GHz single-core processor; 3.5-inch, 480 x 320 touchscreen; 4GB built-in storage & microSD card slot
Manufacturer: Vodafone

Design

According to various online reviews, the Vodafone Smart Mini is not much of a looker. It is a squat, square, plastic phone that looks exactly what you would expect from a r799smartphone
– cheap materials pieced together in a simple, unassuming manner. The phone is only available in black and, can’t be customised.

The Vodafone Smart Mini has just two physical buttons (power/sleep and a volume rocker), both of which are surprisingly sturdy in their housings and offer a reassuring amount of resistance during use, according to Reviews.

I can already see issues here for those of us blindies who are thinking of relying on this phone in any way.

Without a physical home button, I don’t want to imagine what a challenge it would be for anyone who uses TalkBack, to answer a call. If the screen doesn’t always register gestures, this may be the area that will be a key factor in deciding if this phone will be suitable for totally blind persons to use.

Screen Quality

The Vodafone Smart Mini’s 3.5-inch screen might be the same size as the iPhone 4S, but that’s where the similarities end.

It’s not especially bright, sharp or colourful, and the ambient light sensor is slow to adjust brightness when required.

It has a 480 x 320 pixel resolution, which equates to a 165 pixels-per-inch image density. Although this is not particularly conducive to enjoyable video playback or image viewing, neither is it dreadful. There is some visible pixelisation and colour contrasts are weak.

Disappointingly, the screen looks slightly recessed from the rest of the phone, which does nothing to help its low quality appeal and acts to further emphasize the already dire viewing angles. The Mini’s touch panel is not the most responsive or accurate either, with attempted presses of one area of the screen often causing reactions elsewhere. This becomes increasingly apparent when browsing the web where multiple links are often grouped in close proximity, while multi-touch gestures are slow and sometimes glitchy.

Should I buy the Vodafone Smart Mini?

If you are thinking of using this phone with Talkback as a totally blind person, my answer is no. I will update this entry if my opinion changes though. however, if you have some useful vision left, it would be worth a try.

It wouldn’t serve as a backup phone either if you are totally blind. You’d probably do better with a cheap secondhand Nokia with NSR installed.

Final thoughts

If you have expected a miracle, this is unfortunately not it. I must say though that, this phone is well priced for what it offers and there are not many phones in the same price range that offers the same functionality.

If you are looking to buy a phone for your kid, this is a safe bet.

Should you be looking for a cheap accessible speaking phone though, I would rather recommend the Samsung Galaxy Pocket plus, or Pocket Neo or even the Galaxy Y Pro with its nice qwerty keyboard.

DotWalker – A GPS App for Android

If any of you remember the gps Symbian app called loadstone, you will be happy to know that DotWalker for Android, is able to do many of the same things that Loadstone did and a lot more.

What is it exactly?

DotWalker is a travel assistant application primarily designed for blind and visually impaired users but it also enables eyes free control for everybody else.

This application provides navigation tools by handling a set of discrete points, which can be approached in several modes of control.

Next, you can use a talking compass if you feel like you might have lost your way.

Routes can be created manually, on the move simply by shaking the device, or with the help of Google maps direction service.

Points of interest can be enhanced by recording audio labels or linked to other media sources.

Special approach mode directs you to the desired point by announcing direction and distance.

Open street maps, can also be imported into DotWalker. I was able to do this with loadstone and have quite a few custom maps from those days.

On the point location can be supplemented by audio street view. Address announcement as an option. More is in the making. Currently published as limited lifetime test version.

My experience

I was so excited to check this one out that I didn't really bother about tracking documentation or anything similar. I just jumped right in.

"Irresponsible," I can hear some of you mumble but, not at all.

Unfortunately I ran into some problems when I tried to create a root with a Samsung Galaxy s4.

I wouldn't want you to think that I am trying to hide the good news from you.

So, below, please find the podcast showing you how it crashed on me. I was rather disappointed but, I'm sure a fix will come soon.

In the meanwhile I can report that the screen layout is quite simple to understand and that all buttons on the initial screen are properly labeled. However, it crashes when I attempt to select the nearest or roots options.

When you open the app, it will give an audible indication when it finds satellites.

From the top of the screen, below the status bar, we have:
The title, DotWalker
Then, it shows us the number of satellites that it is able to pick up.

In my case it said:

Sat: 14

In the next line, it said:

Root 1. 0 nearest

I suspect that this is a sort of status message to do with name of the root and how many other roots might be closeby. I might be wrong though.

Then, we have a huge empty space, probably intended for future use, before we hit the bottom of the screen where we are greeted by two rows.

The top row contains three columns and the bottom row contains two columns. Although one could technically say that it contains three columns since the middle column's spot is taken by the phone's physical home button.

Each column contains a button.

In row one, column one, we have the point button.
In row one, column two, there is an info button.

In row one, column three is a button labeled nearest.

In row two, column one, is a compass which works really well.
Then we have a physical home button, in my specific case where column two might have been if we were including the home button but, we are not so, in row two column two, just below column three which is in row one, we have the roots button.

Visit the DotWalker web site at http://www.dotwalker.wz.cz/dotwalker_en.html.

Get DotWalker on the Playstore.

So, that is it for the intro and my first bit of experience with DotWalker.

Below is the podcast to give you an audio version of my failure.

 

The Accessible Android blog is back.

Access Ana's Android blog is back.

 

This time she decided to go with WordPress.com.

 

Be sure to keep up with her blog at AccessibleAndroid.wordpress.com.

 

You may recall that there was a similar blog by her hosted on Google's BlogSpot however, that blog deals primarily with the older versions of Android.

 

Should you be using an older version of Android, why not visit the older blog at AccessibleAndroid.blogger.com.

 

We will keep an eye on that blog and naturally link to any interesting posts.