How Smartphones Are Helping Australia's Deafblind Community Reconnect

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Instead of collecting dust in a drawer, your old smartphone could be used to assist on of the 288,000 Australians living with no hearing or sight use technology to reconnect with family, friends and the wider community.

Not-for-profit mobile phone recycling program MobileMuster is collecting unwanted smartphones during the month of September to be donated to Able Australia, where they will be used to educate people with deafblindness on how to use speech recognition and Braille readers.

Michael Doherty broke through many barriers when he first received his smartphone through a donation. Using a braille display, he sent his first unassisted SMS to his sister. Every week he collected phone numbers from old friends, family and supports and reconnected with his lost world.

Through these conversations, his independence grew to a point where he was actively arranging his own social life, using taxis and going on holidays. He quickly learned how to take photos and was able to send them to his friends so they could share in what he was doing.

Every week he explored new territory on his phone, doing things that we all take for granted like setting an alarm to wake up in the morning, checking the weather or using a calendar instead of relying on his memory. Michael says his life has been transformed by his smartphone and it enables him the independence that we all take for granted.

"Deafblindness is very much Australia's forgotten disability," Able Australia's Scott Darkin says. "Nine out of ten deafblind people will experience depression and anxiety and the simple act of donating an unwanted phone is an easy way to show your support to Australia’s deafblind community".

"Your old phone could be the vital link that transforms a socially isolated person with deafblindness into an active member of their local community," he continued.

The impact of mobile technology on Australia's productivity and workforce participation was the focus of a recent Deloitte Access Economics research report commissioned by The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

"The research found that mobile technology allows people with deafblindness to communicate, engage and interact, thereby improving their daily lives and opportunities to participate in the workforce", said AMTA's Chris Althaus.

Australia has over 31 million mobile phone subscribers who, on average, replace their handsets every 18 to 24 months.

"We know there are approximately 25.5 million unused mobiles sitting in homes and business around Australia, some of these may be smartphones that could help the deafblind community," Spyro Kalos from MobileMuster says. "Now is the perfect time to donate your unwanted mobile phone to a great cause".

iPhone 4 and above, Samsung Galaxy S4 and above, LG Nexus 7 and above, Nokia Lumia 540 and above are eligible for donation to the program. Able has requested no cracked screens, and to include the charger if you have it.

Each smartphone is checked to confirm it is working, and any data left of the phone is wiped to ensure privacy. MobileMuster says any mobiles and accessories that can't be reused will be recycled "in a safe, secure and ethical way, with all data being destroyed in the recycling process."

MobileMuster has over 3,500 drop off points around the country and you can donate an unwanted smartphone free of charge from anywhere in Australia by downloading a free reply paid label, packaging up your old smartphone and charger, attaching the label and posting it back.

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