Sprint Commitment to Accessibility
Remarks prepared for presentation at M-Enabling Summit, Arlington, Va.
June 6, 2013
Good morning. Thank you, Acting Chairwoman Clyburn, for being a champion for people with disabilities, and John, for your influence in empowering people with disabilities. And thank you Axel and the G3ict for inviting me to be here today.
It is an honor to be the first Fortune 500 CEO to address this conference. I’m proud of the progress Sprint has made in making our products more accessible and in helping to improve the quality of life for our customers with disabilities.
I’ve been asked why Sprint focuses so much on people with disabilities, and why even my business cards have braille on the back. We’re all the product of our experiences to a certain extent. My maternal grandmother, who lived with us while I was growing up, was blind.
The aged are becoming a force in the market. Arnold Palmer once said, “You know you’re getting old when all the names in your little black book have M.D. after them.” A few years ago, our Baby Boomer generation started reaching retirement age. Every day, 10,000 U.S. citizens turn 65 years old. This will happen every day for 19 years. By the year 2030, nearly one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, versus about one in eight before the Baby Boomer retirement started.
Between a third and a half of Americans over the age of 65 have at least one disability. This represents a new level of accessibility needs, one with the potential to profoundly affect many industries from health care, to real estate, to transportation.
People with disabilities rely on mobile technology just as much as their able-bodied peers – perhaps even more so. Apple’s FaceTime application provides face-to-face video calling. A Sprint customer with hearing difficulties can make unlimited FaceTime video calls with their iPhone, communicating via American Sign Language with no worry about overage fees.
In spite of advances like FaceTime, barriers still prevent people with disabilities from taking full advantage of the latest technology. People with disabilities may have difficulty hearing voices, discriminating sounds or seeing screens – the same challenges many face with aging. They may have cognitive issues dealing with what can seem like overly complex technology. Since more than one in four people with disabilities live below the poverty level, they may have financial concerns when upgrading to newer technology.
Sprint has a strong Corporate Responsibility platform, and I consider building this platform to be one of my most important responsibilities as CEO. We focus our actions around three critical areas – planet, people and products.
We further our commitment to the planet by leading the wireless industry in the area of sustainability.
We are advocates for natural-resource reduction and device reuse and recycling. For the past two years, Newsweek magazine ranked Sprint #3 among America’s Greenest companies, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America named Sprint the Mobile Telecommunications Sector Leader, and the EIO, or Environmental Investment Organization, named Sprint the highest-ranking U.S. Company in the 2013 Environmental Tracking Carbon Rankings.
We have joined with other major U.S. telecom carriers to help put an end to texting while driving. We provide Internet-safety resources for parents, educators and children – available at no cost, even for those who may not be Sprint customers.
Our commitment to offering products to people with disabilities is more than just good corporate citizenship. It makes business sense. The latest U.S. Census finds that people with disabilities make up the country’s largest minority group. From a marketing perspective, (young) people with disabilities, aged 16 to 34, represent $220 billion in discretionary spending – that’s more than the GDPs of half this country’s states.
Today’s mobile phones can do it all – email, videos, or Web surfing. But the key app for many people is still the old-fashioned voice call. For customers who are deaf, have hearing loss, or who are speech disabled, making a phone call can present challenges.
Our Sprint Relay service has helped these customers for more than 22 years. Here is a short video to
show how callers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can enjoy the natural flow of an interactive telephone conversation through Captioned Telephone Service, or CapTel, from Sprint Relay.
[Video available here]
Sprint Relay services fill a vital need. We have processed more than 2 billion relay minutes since 1990, and we currently provide relay services to 33 states and to the federal government. Just this week, we announced a collaboration with United Cerebral Palsy to better enrich the lives of individuals with Cerebral Palsy through Sprint Relay speech-to-speech services.
I am proud to announce that we now offer our Wireless CapTel by Sprint app on all iOS platforms. This app allows users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to enjoy real-time conversations with their hearing friends, and family members through their iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices. The app will officially launch later this month, but those of you with Apple devices can download it today at no cost from the Apple App Store or iTunes. No other major U.S. wireless carrier has developed an app like this.
Mobile devices can enhance accessibility. The iPhone features a host of accessibility apps. Sprint offers the Samsung M400, which features adjustable font sizes, text-to-speech functionality, a dedicated 911 key and an “In Case of Emergency” button.
I am pleased to announce that next week, Sprint will begin selling a new mobile device designed to further meet the needs of customers with disabilities. The LG Optimus F3 is the first phone to come pre-loaded with Google TalkBack, which allows users who are blind or visually impaired to receive assistive voice prompts. By pre-loading Google TalkBack onto the new device, we’ve enabled users to start getting prompts the moment they take the phone out of the box and turn it on. Other phones require a full set-up process before prompts are available. The device will be available on June 14, and will be priced below $30.
Apps are popular. In the first quarter of 2013, more than 13 billion apps were downloaded by wireless customers. We took providing apps one step further with a product we call “Sprint ID Packs.” A Sprint ID Pack is a set of pre-packaged applications, widgets and ringtones. An entire, comprehensive “experience” can be downloaded to the phone in one step. ID Packs are currently free on compatible Android phones.
Sprint was the first carrier to develop multiple applications in a single download to meet the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities with our Sprint Relay ID Pack, which includes voice-mail transcripts and visual and vibrating alerts. Our Active Senior ID Pack collects more than 20 senior-friendly applications and services, like the AARP, MedsTime, CapTel by Sprint, and the recently launched Health Savvi, a health and medical management app. Our Sprint ID Packs for customers with disabilities and seniors have been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
We are building on this success with our newest Sprint ID Pack called “Accessible Education.” This ID Pack is available today and is ideal for children with disabilities. It features apps like WebMath and Equation Finder, and access to Khan Academy’s educational library of 2,200 lectures and tutorials.
Accessible technology must be backed up with equally accessible customer support. The 2013 American Customer Satisfaction Index was recently released, and Sprint is the most improved U.S. Company in customer satisfaction, period, across all 47 industries studied during the last five years. Serving customers with disabilities is an important part of our customer satisfaction mission. Sprint works directly with these customers and their caregivers. Our unique video customer service allows mobile customers to talk directly to Sprint Customer Care reps who use American Sign Language, eliminating the need for a third-party translator which can make calls three times longer. We also recently launched instant messaging and online chat-support options.
At Sprint, we engage experts in disabilities, such as the American Council for the Blind, the National Association of the Deaf, and – of course – our customers. Customer device feedback for early accessibility features fueled enhancements to later accessibility features.
We also get innovative ideas from our own Sprint Relay team, the majority of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The team supporting our deaf and hard-of-hearing customers truly understand the needs of these users.
I am particularly proud of our newest employee-stakeholder group. We recently launched REAL DEAL, an Employee Resource Group for employees with disabilities and their co-workers. Employee Resource Groups provide an opportunity for networking and interaction among those with common concerns or interests, and provide input and feedback to the company so we can better serve an increasingly diverse customer base.
Lastly, we appreciate the collaboration we enjoy with many of you in this room. Perhaps Helen Keller’s words describe it best: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
George Burns said, “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.” As I look to the future, four trends come to mind, mobile technology, the ubiquitous internet of things, crowdsourcing and social networking. Relating this to personal experience, my father, who lives a few minutes from here, and who I saw last night, turns 92 soon. Mentally, he’s sharp as a tack. He follows the Sprint stock price and press about Sprint much more closely than I do! But he has difficulty moving around. These four trends make physical mobility less important.
Imagine how much intellectual horsepower and business and life experience could be harnessed, as well as improving the sense of purpose and the quality of life for the aging Baby Boomers, if we could engage the collective, active minds of our seniors to help solve the problems of mankind, and help them find and communicate with others who share similar interests or passions.
Dwight Eisenhower observed that “Pessimism never won any battles.” I’m optimistic about how wireless technologies will empower people with disabilities to contribute even more to our society in the future.