Peggy Walsh contributed a few homemade tones to the project earlier this month. She’s a non-sighted person who lives in the Oakland neighborhood of the city. Today I went to try and see if we could get some of the project’s tones on her phone. The plan was to call Verizon (her wireless service provider) from her landline while we were together, so she could give them account information, and I could navigate through the phone menu, if possible and necessary, to save and set the tones. I’ve written other posts about ringtones and accessibility issues on this blog, so it was important to me to see if we could get this more personalized feature working on her phone. The idea was to ask someone at the call center to walk us through a test (sending a “saved” sound on my phone to Peggy’s phone).
It turns out we could not get the ringtones on Peggy’s phone. A wonderfully helpful and patient customer service operator named Toni (from the Michigan call center, we were later told) helped us with our task. I spent about 40 minutes on the phone with Toni, telling her a tiny bit about the project and why I was calling on behalf of/with Peggy. “I’m working on a public art project where I help people make ringtones through field recordings and then distribute them for free. I’m a sighted person, so tones as identifiers are useful to me when I have my hands full, but blind people could really make good use out of setting and saving ringtones since they can’t see the picture or text caller IDs that come through like I can…” I also let Toni know I’d be blogging about our conversation, and I mentioned Stevie Wonders’ advocacy on behalf of people with accessibility issues at this year’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas.
Toni said that these models of cell phones had features helpful to non-sighted people:
The LGVX5500, LGVX8360, LGNV2, Samsung U430, Samsung GLEAM, and the Samsung Knack feature options similar to Peggy’s ICE “In Case of Emergency”) phone. They offer voice command, and text to speech capabilites. They can read the phone number of incoming missed calls and voicemail alerts, and the signal and battery strength. These models also have what Toni referred to as “specialized ringtones.” I’m not sure what she meant by that.
Because I was curious about this, I asked Toni if Verizon had specialists “on call” to work with the sight impaired, Toni said she wasn’t sure about, that but every operator had information on file that might be useful to Peggy as a non-sighted person.
We soon found out that Peggy’s current phone can’t store and receive ringtones; and that she was not eligible to upgrade just yet. In terms of which model would be appropriate for Peggy if she upgraded, Toni said the LGNV2 easily allows a person to send, save and set ringtones to the phone (on my phone these commands are “save as ringtone” and “set as ringtone”).
But Peggy is not due for an upgrade until August of 2010. I asked Toni if Verizon would make an exception and allow Peggy an early upgrade, now or some other time before 2010, based on here accessibility needs. Toni said she’d forward that request to her supervisor, but that if Peggy wanted to have the capability to receive and save ringtones, she would also have to be on a calling plan of at least $49.99 (right now Peggy’s plan costs less than that).
I thanked Toni for her time, and asked to speak with her supervisor (to compliment Toni for having done an outstanding and thorough job). Toni attempted to transfer me into her supervisor Andrea’s voicemail, but the transfer did not go through–the line went dead. So we called Verizon back, and a gentleman at another national call center typed up the compliment for Toni in Michigan (he said that’s where she worked) on Peggy’s account information.
So I fired up my computer and played a bunch of tones for Peggy. Which five would Peggy put on her phone today if she could?
Here is Peggy’s desired ringtone rotation (or playlist):