Feature Story

Cisco honored with FCC award for designing accessibility features for the blind on its 8800 Series Phones

by Liza Meak

Cisco honored with FCC award

New software update allows a “text to speech” functionality.

A phone is a critical piece of equipment for any business. Yes, you use it to answer and place calls, but the display is indispensable for caller ID, call history, directory assistance, and other tasks like call forwarding. For those who are visually impaired however, using these features is nearly impossible and can keep millions of people at a major disadvantage in the workplace.

That’s where a team from Cisco’s collaboration business unit came in with an innovative way to help solve this issue for countless visually impaired people. 

Working with the American Council for the Blind, the engineering team designed and released a software update to the Cisco 8800 series phone, and created a “text to speech” functionality. This feature gives people with vision-related disabilities audible options, allowing them the same workplace capabilities as their co-workers.

“Advancements like this help to remove barriers for employment for the vision-impaired,” said Jim Brasher, a Cisco engineering product manager.  “We look forward to building on this in the future as we strive to provide the vision-impaired community the same workplace capabilities as people without disabilities.”

For the team’s efforts, the FCC awarded them the 2019 Chairman’s Awards for Advancement in Accessibility. These awards celebrate and honor public and private ventures to share best practices and solutions around accessible communication technologies. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was on hand to present the award to Cisco and said the award is about “Celebrating innovators who make it possible for Americans with disabilities to use their gifts. Enabling those with disabilities to use today’s technologies can help them realize their full potential.”

“This award is a tremendous recognition of the work our teams have done to enhance the usability of phones for the vision-impaired,” Brasher said. 

Cisco ships almost 3 million new 8800 Series phones every year, and another 8 million are already in the market. The software release is available for both new phones and those already in service.