As accessibility gains in importance in the public debate and many governments have legislated on minimum requirements to grant access to services for persons with disabilities, one new operator in the United States has turned the tables, designing his service to cater specifically to the blind and vision impaired community. We talked to Robert N. Felgar, general manager of Odin Mobile to learn more about the motivation and the business case for a network operator focusing exclusively on blind and vision-impaired customers.
What was your motivation to create an operator dedicated to the blind?
Robert: For me a business has to satisfy two criteria: (a) it has to provide substantial public benefit, and (b) it has to be economically interesting. It is hard to motivate oneself and others if a business does not have an important mission. However, a business with an inspiring mission is not sustainable if it does not generate a reasonable profit.
What sets you apart from traditional operators and their accessible services?
Robert: Our entire focus is the blind and visually impaired. Serving this community is not an afterthought for us, it is our sole focus. We are determined to sell the most accessible devices in the world and to improve the customer experience with one-on-one training sessions for certain devices, providing accessible user guides in welcome emails, provide usage alerts through text messages as well as IVR* messages and offer rate plans that are attractive to a lower income demographic. We also donate a percentage of our revenue to organizations dedicated to the blind and visually impaired.
Is there really a business case for accessibility?
Robert: There are approximately 6 million Americans who are significantly visually impaired. This is a large market. If Odin Mobile is able to attract a modest percentage of these consumers, it will be a sustainable business. To do this we need to differentiate ourselves from the primary operators and offer blind and visually impaired consumers handsets and services that others do not.
What is your biggest challenge?
Robert: The biggest challenge is reaching blind and visually impaired consumers. Traditional marketing is not possible. As a result, Odin Mobile needs to market through associations with substantial numbers of blind members. In addition, we will market through organizations and governmental entities that provide rehabilitation services to the blind. This type of marketing requires substantial relationship building and takes time, effort and patience.
How is the feedback so far?
Robert: Feedback so far has been encouraging. Consumers have commended us on our efforts and organizations have been supportive and eager to form marketing partnerships with Odin Mobile. I anticipate forming partnerships with the major associations and organizations dedicated to the blind in the United States. As long as Odin Mobile offers real value, there will be support. The key is to identify that value.
What are your next steps/projects?
Robert: We have many plans. Soon we will be selling the Nexus 4 with our unique instructional package and the widget developed by IDEAL Group. This widget highlights on the home screen eight applications that may be particularly useful to people who are blind or visually impaired. With Talkback, the Android tool for eyes-free use, the user can explore the widget by touch. As the user moves his or her finger over an application, Nexus 4 announces the application’s name, describes its purpose and guides the user to the Google Play™ Store app if he/she wants to install it.
Next, we will be selling a basic mobile phone manufactured by gold GMT, a Swiss company. In the meantime, a number of states, including California, have programs to subsidize telecommunications equipment for the disabled. We are working on participating in that and other state programs. This is important because many people who are blind are also low income. As a result, affordability is an important component of any service.
If you would like to know more about Odin Mobile's offer and service, please have a look at the website: http://odinmobile.com
*Interactive Voice Response