updated 9/16/2004 11:04:42 AM ET 2004-09-16T15:04:42

A new cellular application promises to help vision-impaired people who can't read the screen of a mobile phone.  It responds to spoken commands with voice recognition technology and reads back menu options, text messages, and other information to the user.

The new "TALKS" application being introduced by Cingular Wireless Thursday is initially available for use on one handset, the Nokia 6620. Cingular is a joint venture between SBC Communications and BellSouth.  The software was created in partnership with ScanSoft Inc.

"This is the first advanced cell phone released in the U.S. that allows users to access all of its many features through speech output," Paul Schroeder, an official with the American Foundation for the Blind, said in a statement.  According to the foundation, there are about 10 million people who are blind or have low vision in the United States.

Basic cell phone features that are generally inaccessible to the vision impaired include caller ID, phone settings, call logs, battery warnings, and calendar appointments, as well as creating, maintaining and dialing from a personal contact list.

The TALKS service is designed to handle those tasks, as well text messaging and e-mail, by responding to spoken commands and then responding with a computer-generated voice.  The software also can announce when email or text messages arrive, or when calls are missed.

In addition to the vision-impaired, TALKS could be attractive to people who desire hands-free calling while driving.

One possible drawback, however, is the cost.

While special deals enable most cell phone users to get a high-end handset for less than $200 or even free, the Nokia 6620 will cost $299 after a $100 rebate from Nokia with any two-year Cingular service contract.

That doesn't include the TALKS application.  The software is $199, though an introductory offer from Cingular will count all or half that amount as a credit against against the monthly service fee, depending on whether the customer signs a one- or two-year contract.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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