For a number of years, Panasonic, one of the largest producers of consumer electronics, has worked in designing products with accessibility features. Today, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires accessibility in the electronic and information technology employed by the federal government. Panasonic is committed to helping the federal government meet their obligations under Section 508. The following are some examples of their efforts to meet current accessibility guidelines.
In 1990, Panasonic expanded the scope of their international Usability Centers to include accessibility concerns. In 1998, multinational Task Forces were created to work throughout the Panasonic Group of Companies in order to ensure that accessible features and services continued to be developed and implemented worldwide.
Panasonic currently employs Universal Design principles when making its products. Special emphasis is placed on telecommunications and other products that are essential in the employment and independence of people with disabilities.
Accessibility features in their products include, logical control grouping and sizing, controls that are tactilely discernable, audible and visual indicators, HAC (Hearing Aid Compatibility) and TTY compatibility, speakerphone features, and other key characteristics.
Their efforts to comply with accessibility have resulted in products called Accessibility Feature “Firsts”. Some examples include:
- The 2.4 GHz cordless phone with Talking Caller ID
- The TDMA wireless phone with TTY compatibility
- The PV-DM2791 Triple Play. A TV, DVD Player and VCR in one, that like all other Panasonic video products, allows selection of Secondary Audio Program (SAP) used to provide Video Description via a dedicated button on the remote control, rather than requiring selection via a visual menu
- RTIV software that provides accessibility to scanners and printers to blind and low vision customers using screen reader or screen magnification software at their workstations. This software allows access to functions, settings, and diagnostics such as door open, paper jam, etc from a desktop PC
- Copiers which maintain wheelchair access with finishing units and stapler/sorters attached
With the Speech Technology that Panasonic’s Laboratory has developed the future seems promising. Their text to speech and speech recognition technology may potentially evolve into the development of truly universally accessible user interfaces for many types of products.
Panasonic’s customer service handles inquiries via TTY, e-mail, phone, fax, and regular mail. Product documentation is provided upon request in alternate formats, including Braille, audio, and electronic files. In addition, an Accessibility Call Handling Procedure has been put in place to ensure that every effort is made to accommodate customers with disabilities by immediately escalating inquiries that are not successfully concluded on the initial contact.