Feb 18 AT 2:14 PM Ian Wheat 23 Comments

Android for the disabled: Carrier friendliness

Remember how excited you were to find out that Google was releasing an open platform? Weren’t you eager to use an OS capable of running or doing just about anything that can be coded in that crazy Java language? I certainly was, and still am. One of our favorite benefits of such a platform is customization. The ability to run just the software you want in just the way that fits your needs.

So what about those of us with less common needs? No, not my “need” to be able to stream Pandora smoothly to my phone–I mean how some people need, or don’t need, certain services because of real physical disabilities.

In the world of businesses selling services, different means difficult. Sure, companies diversify their services all the time to reach broader audiences but when it comes to differences in actual needs–not differences in taste, desire, want–service providers are slow to respond.

We’re talking about meeting the needs of the disabled here, not our own personal “need” for faster cell data networks.

Did you know that some cellular carriers do not offer data-only plans, even in 2010? And the carriers that do offer data without voice plans don’t exactly go out of their way to advertise them, either.

Back in November, Android and Me ran an article about the problems T-Mobile customers were having with getting a data only plan for their G1 or MyTouch3G phones. I’m sorry to say that the situation has not improved much since then. In fact, T-Mobile is, based on my amateur research, the most expensive of the four biggest U.S. carriers if you want a data only plan. BlackBerry users can have a fairly cheap data only plan, but users of other smartphones are required to have a voice plan as well.

In the pricing layout, T-Mobile is followed by Verizon, then AT&T, and winning the fight, Sprint. Sprint allows its customers to purchase a fully subsidized HTC Hero or Samsung Moment with this plan, too. The only downside here is that the plan must be ordered online.

Here is a breakdown of those plans, based on my own amateur research. (By research I mean that I called each company and scoured their web sites until I found this information.)


  • Price: $59.99 for “Even More Talk 500 Minutes”
  • Addons: $20 for unlimited data and messaging
  • Total: $79.99
  • Where to buy: Call in to T-Mobile sales line or ask nicely at a corporate store

This is really disappointing. T-Mobile has been such a big proponent of Android handsets since day one, but they only offer data-only plans to BlackBerry users. Apparently you can still upgrade from a SideKick plan to a G1, possibly a MyTouch3G, without being forced into a voice plan, but that’s definitely the exception, not the rule. T-Mobile gets an F on my grading scale.

Update: T-Mobile also offers an Even More Plus plan for $59 that includes 500 minutes, unlimited text, and unlimited web. This is a non-contract plan so customers must pay full price for their handset.


  • Price: $54.99 for “Nationwide Messaging with No Voice Minutes”
  • Addons: None needed. Comes with unlimited data and messaging.
  • Total: $54.99
  • Where to buy: Online at VZW.com, possibly in a Verizon Wireless store.

I have to say I was really surprised to find this plan on the Verizon web site. It’s reasonably priced, works with any smartphone that VZW offers, and was fairly easy to find. Overall I’d give say this warrants a B- considering the coverage you’d get with it.


  • Price: $30.00 for unlimited data only plan
  • Addons: $20.00 for unlimited messaging.
  • Total: $50.00
  • Where to buy: In an AT&T corporate store. Apparently not available through AT&T sales toll free line.

This one was harder to find. I had to call the toll free sales number, ask two people, and then call the local corporate sales store. The good news is that you can have any smartphone you want with a data-only plan for just $30 per month. To get messaging just pay another $20. Not a bad deal, considering that AT&T does have very decent coverage. I’d give this plan a B.


  • Price: $29.99 for “Sprint Relay Data Only” or SRDO
  • Addons: None needed. Plan comes with unlimited data and messaging, as well as 5GB of PAM (Phone As Modem, aka tethering)
  • Total: $29.99
  • Where to buy: Online only at Sprint Relay Store.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Sprint not only offers a full suite of relay (text, audio, video) services for deaf customers, but they also have an online store with products and services targeted specifically toward the deaf. (True, AT&T also offers a wide array of relay services, but Sprint has more information and better pricing on their data only plans.) Considering that you’re taking a downgrade in coverage but an upgrade in price, I’d give this plan an A- and call it a day.

So we know that if more carriers can follow Sprint’s example, they can step up their game and improve their offerings, targeting the deaf and hearing impaired market segment. But what about app developers and Android hackers? Android is a very full-featured platform and is possibly the closest thing to a full-fledged desktop operating system within the mobile phone market. What can be added to make it more deaf-friendly? Or will better data-only plans sufficiently meet the needs of the deaf Android user community?

Here is my challenge for app developers, operating system hackers, customization tinkerers, all of us–spend a bit of time thinking about what you can do to make or keep Android a platform that is easily used by the handicapped and disabled.

And here’s another challenge, one for cell carriers: step up and be fair to those who already have a hard enough time communicating. Do your part. Don’t be evil.

Challenge for AAM readers: What can we do, as a community, to increase the usability of Android for people with all sorts of disabilities?

As a long time fanatic for open source software and operating systems, Ian Wheat naturally fell for the little green Android. They live together quite happily, with Ian's wife, in Roanoke, TX, and spend many hours together writing about technology, watching funny television shows, and killing zombies in Left4Dead2.

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  • http://www.bossyman15.com bossyman15

    Great post! I’m deaf too and have htc hero from sprint! Glad to see you talk about this stuff.

    One thing i want to tell you. I did try to upgrade to G1 from sidekick a year or 2 back and nope no data only plan available. I think they pretty much lost most of their deaf customers because of that.

    • http://Website Ian Wheat

      @bossyman15: That is a shame. I have heard from a user or two recently that they were able to talk to customer support in order to get the SideKick plan sustained on a G1… but I’m pretty sure that took managerial override, unfortunately.

      Are you using the SRDO plan for $30 a month?

  • http://Website Eronarn

    Two things to note about T-Mobile:

    1) There actually *is* a data-only plan T-Mobile plan. It is the middle option listed on T-Mobile’s site under the “Internet & Email” plan section, and it costs $40/month. T-Mobile will tell you that it won’t work with Android, but many people have been able to use it with Nexus Ones successfully.

    2) If you call T-Mobile, you can opt out of the Text portion of the Even More Plus 500 plan. This has been reported to be either a $5 or a $10 per month discount.

  • http://Website Andres

    There is also the Eyes-free Project (http://www.cyrket.com/search?q=eyes-free+project) which helps the visually impaired.

    my mother’s eyesight is slowly degenerating, and while she isn’t very tech savvy i can imagine giving her an older android phone at some point.

    • http://BabbleDroid.BlogSpot.com Ian Wheat

      Wow, Eyes-free is really cool. I hope developers keep churning out stuff like this to help the disabled use Android.

  • http://mobilewowpower.com WOW MOBILE

    Good research, I will pass this along to company headquarters to see what we can offer the hearing impaired community. Thanks for the insight.

  • Brian Stringfellow

    Thanks for the info on availability of data-only plans!

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  • http://Website Bob

    Why is the “F” ranked company at the top in the article, and the “A” ranked company at the bottom?! That makes no sense.

  • http://Website E

    Ok, not sure where you got the info, but your pricing for T-Mobile as stated above is off. There are 2 options I found you can go with first th actual pricing for the plan you list above;
    Even More Talk w/ 500 minutes is only $39.99 + $30 data add on, brings the total cost of that plan to $69.99 not your stated $79.99, w/ unltd txt it would be $79.99

    the other option would be the no contract Even More Plus Talk + Text + Web, which is $59.99 total!!! And if you want with their installment plan option adding the phone to the cost would make it approx $79.99/month, until you pay off the phone, then it drops back to the $59.99

  • http://Website Jerry

    What do you mean by a DOWNGRADE in coverage??

    Are you saying ATT got better coverage than SPrint????

    WHat are you smoking??

    • http://BabbleDroid.BlogSpot.com Ian Wheat

      Jerry, the coverage itself may be more/less reliable depending on your location. What I am commenting on is the coverage *area.*
      Sure, AT&T and VZW can argue over who has bigger 3G coverage… but Sprint can’t enter that argument at all. Sprint’s coverage area is smaller. True, it covers everywhere I want to be (I’m a Sprint customer) and it covers almost all major cities, but it’s just not as big of an area as AT&T or VZW.

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  • http://Website jg79

    for AT&T’s $30 plan + $20 for messaging:
    1) couldn’t you bypass texting via google voice?
    2) do you get per minute rate on phone calls?

    for Sprint’s plan, looks like android/palm devices are not allowed to be PAM, and also they won’t do per minute outbound calls on it…kind of a strange restriction.

  • http://Website Austin

    Does the AT&T plan require you to buy the phone upfront, and does it include the Iphone?

  • http://daviddbuk.blogspot.com/index.html Martyn Butler

    32 Million Deaf and Hard of Hearing Phone users in Massive Mobile Network Rip Off Scandal (9 million in the UK)

    I have been campaigning to get Networks to Listen to the Deaf & Hard of Hearing community for over two years.

    At most I get referred to a corporate web page with the usual We care and are committed to disabled users – But we are still going to charge you monthly for a “Talk Plan” because we think you should subsidise the hearing world for another 20 years … Thank you for using our network page.

    This would indeed make top headlines in every national and local newspaper and have mobile CEOs heading for the bunkers if these users had a voice, but year in year out the deaf community around the world have put up with the situation.

    In my case I have had a mobile since the days when a mobile was the size of a car battery. and every month I have paid out a portion of my bill for calls – they have been described as “Talk Time” – Bundled Minutes. And while most plans offer more and more of them there is no such thing as free.

    Over the years My landline and Mobile Minutes have cost me thousands of pounds.
    I cannot use them – I dont want them – but it seems I have no choice

    I have written to every European Network operator – Members of parliament – Regulators – and virtual networks. Mostly Im ignored or referred to some web page insisting that “We have a commitment to disabled customers” blurb.

    You would think that at least 1 clever network would seize upon the opportunity of reaching this vast demographic? 9 million Deaf/HOH users in the UK alone.

    Now some people have suggested we don’t NEED a phone – But its Not true I can for example Speak into a phone for 911/999 calls for an ambulance – Fire – or relay a voice message to my family – or indeed get a friend to make a call on my behalf, but the number of times I do this adds up to less than 5 mins a month.

    Facebook – GTalk – Gmail – MSN Messenger all provide my links to the hearing world, SMS is way less important than it was even 5 years ago and becoming less relevant with each passing day.

    ANDROID is the PERFECT PLATFORM for me and millions like me – Choose my contact and I can see instantly the best method to get my message across.

  • http://daviddbuk.blogspot.com/index.html Martyn Butler

    Pester your own networks – Please Give a voice to people that don’t have one.

    Together we could change the world – Remember that many deaf HOH members of our community are often the lowest paid – They can least afford to subsidise your voice calls.

    Android DEVELOPERS!!

    Can You think how useful a real Time SUBTITLED world could be if your out and about?

    Imagine being out Shopping or with a group of friends the isolation you feel if everyone Gets a joke except you – because you missed a punchline / or you sign up for a service but incorrectly miss read someone’s lips.

    ANDROID has all the tools ready to put together a reasonably reliable real time subtitling machine.

    Noise cancelling microphones – “Speak now” Search Prompt etc we are almost there….

    Here is a mockup of an AD I would dearly love to see in the Android Market Place


    Thanks you for taking the time to read this

  • http://www.joinwowmobile.net JoinWowMobile.net

    We are resellers of T-Mobile unlimited text, talk and 3G web for $89.95 but if you refer three customers you get your mobile service for free. I now have an Android phone for software application development with mobile service for free! Check it out at http://www.joinwowmobile.net/node

  • http://www.wowmobilemagic.com Wow Mobile

    It seems that the major cell phone service carriers are trying to offer cool phone features to try and retain business. I think with the retail business overhead associated with T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, it will be hard to compete with a company like WoW mobile. They use a referral networking business model and without the crushing retail overhead, they can offer unlimited service, including data without any bandwidth limitations. They offer three services, all unlimited: talk, talk / texting and talk / texting / Internet. Also, if a person refers three people to the same plan, they get their service for free. It is hard to compete with this model and Wow is offering Tier one cellular service. Their phone also has a built in hot spot that supports multiple users which eliminates the need for an aircard. Check out for a video on the details so you can compare the major services fairly. By the way, you did a great research job for this posting! Thank you, Michael

  • http://Website Lynda

    We have issues with the new Blackberries. The numerals are in red. I am not color blind and they are difficult to see in certain light. My husband is color blind and he could not see the numbers at all.

    I have several disabilities. I like that Verizon has the voicemail to email function (at a price). I don’t care for any company’s coverage or customer service. I am severely depressed and all of this cell phone stuff and problems I have been having with them just caps it off. I don’t think companies realize how important certain things are to the disabled.

  • http://Website David

    I wonder if Sprint Relay Store offers Samsung Glaxay data plan only soon?

  • http://Website Marissa

    One year later — has this situation improved at all? Thanks.

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