by Bill Holton, Access World Contributor

In September of 2013, Microsoft teamed up with Code Factory to release Mobile Accessibility for Windows Phone. This screen reader software is free through the Ease of Access Center on smartphones running Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (GDR3) or later. For now, the software is available exclusively in the US, and text to speech is English only.

Mobile Accessibility (M.A.) for Windows is found in the phone’s Ease of Access Center. You’ll need sighted assistance to install the software, however, which is just the first of many ways this mobile screen reader disappoints.

The M.A. experience begins with a brief tutorial demonstrating M.A. touch commands, such as swiping left or right to advance in the same direction, and double tapping to activate an item. All M.A. gestures use one finger only. When the tutorial ends the entire Windows Phone interface disappears, and it is replaced with a grid of nine custom apps

Nine Apps

  • Phone
  • Contacts
  • Messaging
  • Alarms
  • Calendar
  • E-mail
  • Web
  • Location
  • Settings

This suite of apps is similar in design to the EqualEyes for Android package we described in the December issue. Each replaces standard smartphone apps with versions optimized to run with a screen reader. EqualEyes customizes their apps to run with Android’s built-in Talkback screen reader, however, which means as you grow more familiar with Talkback and the Android operating system you can begin to explore stock Android apps, and even third party apps downloaded from Google Play. M.A. uses its own built-in screen reader, and you cannot leave its walled garden of applications and use your phone’s built-in apps, or other software downloaded from the Windows Store—so you can never use the smartphone on an equal footing with your sighted coworkers, friends and family.

Perhaps to you a walled garden sounds like the perfect option. You don’t want to spend a lot of time learning dozens of apps. All you want is to be able to make and answer calls, check your email and text messages, and do a bit of occasional web surfing. Unfortunately, Mobile Access for Windows Phone may still not be the right smartphone access package for you. Discover why as we put the software through its paces on a Nokia Lumia 925 Windows Phone in the full article.