Sadly, July 4th won’t  be Independence Day for some among us.

In 2005 Sprint announced Free Voice-Dialing Services for the Blind, Elderly, and Disabled ( ), to justifiable applause. For the first time, family members and caregivers could quickly and easily maintain on-line phone books for those who couldn’t even reliably dial cell phones, much less program phone numbers or “train” complicated voice recognition features. Now, names and numbers only had to be typed once into a web page, by a caring friend (who could be a complete klutz with technology), and a person with physical limitations had amazing new independence through their simple cell phone.

For example, my mother, blind from diabetes, lives in Los Angeles.  She keeps her phone on a thick string around her neck. I live hundreds of miles away in San Francisco. Without seeing or touching that phone around her neck, I spent just three minutes logged into her Sprint account. I typed in names and phone numbers to her eye doctor, her local taxi service, and my brother David. Just seconds later (and forever more) down in LA, mom just had to press <star> then <talk>, on her cell phone, then say “call eye doctor,” “call taxi” or “call David” and she was instantly connected.  Should my 89 year old dad have a heart attack, she could even speak numbers, like “dial 9-1-1,” , and an ambulance would be on the way. Nothing short of magical, Sprint’s “Voice Command” system was “speaker’s voice independent,” understanding any voice or accent. If my mom was incapacitated, dad could just pick up her phone and press <star> then <talk> and tell the same Sprint computer who to instantly dial. I’ll bet you know a son or daughter that could empower parents like my mom and dad this way, and make their lives safer.

As is often the case with the elderly, blind, or cognitively disabled, phones get misplaced or damaged. Not to worry, mom’s private phonebook now existed online, not on the physical phone. Mom’s caregiver in LA could pop by a Sprint store to pick up ANY cheap replacement phone. The very second the phone was activated, mom was back in business. Neither she, her caregiver, nor even the Sprint employee had to do ANYTHING. Replacement phones are assigned the same telephone number, and that’s all that matters. Nothing new to learn, no names/numbers for anybody to re-program. The same voice phonebook I spent three minutes to set-up, was right back at mom’s private service when she pressed <star> <talk> on the new phone around her neck.

Many others rely on Sprint’s “Voice Command” technology just like my parents, but it will be abruptly and quietly decommissioned on July 1st ( ). The people most affected by this are unable to complain effectively on their own behalf, and no other phone carriers offers such functionality. They’re in trouble.

Sprint advertises: “Our mission is to provide the highest quality service for our customers with disabilities” ( ) and “Sprint is committed to working with the Blind and Visually Impaired community to deliver user-friendly, accessible phones” ( ). Yet, incredibly, notification to their blind and disabled users was only by mail?  Not even a common-sense phone call or voice message? Most of Sprint’s blind, elderly and disabled “Voice Command” users can’t read mail, and will only learn they’ve lost the ability to call physicians, family, taxis, and ambulances–in the moment the need has arisen. This is very dangerous, and they’re at real risk.

Even if the service is unprofitable, how much could it cost Sprint-Nextel to simply leave it be? Are Sprint-Nextel marketing people pretending about their commitment to customers with disabilities? We should all nurture, advertise, and encourage more social advances like this, not kill them off.  Help Sprint-Nextel executives understand their civic responsibility as public service providers. If only for selfish reasons, one hopes whomever thought he or she could save a few corporate pennies will wake up and realize their own parent or loved one may need this someday. Can you make it your good deed today to send a quick email?  “Sprint Public Policy, Business Continuity Office:”   “Sprint Consumer and Business Products and Services:”

Urge these executives to intervene, and “Please do not decommission Voice Command for the blind, elderly, and disabled.” Somebody you love, perhaps even you, will need stuff like this someday. Consider forwarding this email to anybody who may be in the position to help somebody become safer and more independent, should this free and simple service not be thoughtlessly decommissioned on July 1st.

Bill Meyer
meyerw (at)