Digital Life 22.7.2013 12:00 am

The R150 phone that’s changing lives

A week ago, the big news of the cellphone world was the announcement of the new Nokia flagship phone, the Lumia 1020, with a likely price tag somewhere above R7 500. But it is unlikely to make as much difference to as many people’s lives as a humble phone that sells for 2% of that amount.

FOR a gadget to be revolutionary, it does not have to contain revolutionary new technology. A week ago, the big news of the cellphone world was the announcement of the new Nokia flagship phone, the Lumia 1020. It’s a Windows phone with a 41 Megapixel camera and a likely price tag somewhere above R7 500.

But it is unlikely to make as much difference to as many people’s lives as a humble phone that sells for 2% of that amount – also made by Nokia. It’s the Nokia 100 and, as the name hints, is one of the most basic of all devices the company manufacturers. The price tag: R150.

It also turns out to be the low-cost phone that is best suited to a range of needs identified by the South African Mobility for the Blind Trust (SAMBT) for use by the blind. The SAMBT more usually supplies folding canes that are suitable for taxi trips, banknote recognition templates, liquid level indicators (for pouring safely), needle threaders and talking watches. But they also teach clients how to achieve greater independence in the use of their cellphones. According to Ian Hutton, well-known journalist and managing trustee of the SAMBT, one of the biggest challenges had been to find affordable and sturdy talking watches.

Then came the breakthrough.

“We discovered by chance that Nokia’s current 100 phone model has a talking clock and alarm function as well as an FM radio, and its retail price of about R160 is quite a bit less than the cheapest, flimsy talking watches we are currently able to obtain.”

There were still a few hurdles in the way. When the SAMBT approached retailers to order the phones in bulk, they were met with flat refusals. One of the reasons given: each phone needed the user’s RICA information, meaning that the user had to provide identification and proof of residence upfront. This is not only incorrect – it’s the SIM card that needs RICA details – but also obstructive in an environment where the impact of every obstruction is magnified. Other outlets claimed they could only sell two phones to a buyer.

Fortunately, Hutton found one outlet – a CNA branch in Eastgate – that was more than happy to assist. The SAMBT is buying the phones from its own funds, but also inviting businesses and the public to participate in the campaign. For every R150 donated, a phone will be bought for a participant in the organisation’s “independence training” programmes.

Hutton explains that blind people are taught the most basic of activities, such as how to use a white cane correctly, how to cross roads safely and how to get where they want to go without getting lost, or worse.

“So now, you can go where you want and when you want because you won’t need sighted help. This part of the training is called orientation. Then there are things most people take for granted but that those who can’t see find impossible to do. What about cooking, for example, or making a call on your cellphone?” asks Hutton.

“How do you use an ATM, let alone recognise the different coins and banknotes once they are in your hand? Well, there are ways and means of doing all those things and more when you are blind and independence training will teach you how.”

The SAMBT is currently running the independence training programme in De Aar, in villages around Phokeng in the North West, at clinics near Manguzi

in far north-east KwaZulu-Natal, at Bartimea School in Thaba- Nchu, and at Tshilidzini School in the Venda area of Limpopo (see more details at www.sambt.org.za).

The SAMBT has invited companies and individuals to act as partners in the programme by donating Nokia 100 phones.

“They cost R150 and you could decide how many phones you want to donate,” says Wendy Landau, administrator of the SAMBT.

“For your donation you would get a Section 18A certificate, and names and photos of the people who will get the phones.”

The Trust virtually guarantees the devices will make a major difference in the lives of the recipients – and that’s something that could be claimed of few of today’s flagship phones.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.

 

 

 

 

 

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