Add a Smartphone to your holiday shopping list… for the seniors in your life

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. I’m crazy. I bet you tried to imagine your beloved senior texting, or even making a call and laughed. I was lucky enough to spend the summer around my grandpa, an 86 year old NASA physicist who helped put a man on the moon with the computing power of a basic calculator. In this time we upgraded him from a flip phone (which he never used when he had) to an iPhone 8. Why on earth did we embark on this learning journey with a man who had no desire to text, get addicted to Candy Crush, or even chat on the phone? Good question people of the internet. Turns out that 40 years working in wind tunnels without ear protection combined with age meant that my grandpa’s hearing just wasn’t cutting it and the hearing aids he had for the past two years weren’t either, it is a noisy world out there. So he went to his audiologist who recommended these next gen hearing aids that could be paired via bluetooth to a smartphone and adjusted  via an application. Pretty neat. 

Cue the learning process. As the family’s “tech” person, I spent my summer helping my grandpa learn to use his new hearing aids and smartphone and it has changed my perception on smartphones for older adults. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider switching your loved one to a smartphone.

Hearing Problems or Hearing Aid Use

Example of hearing aid and control application
  • Hearing Aid compatible smartphones: Many commercial hearing aids are now Bluetooth compatible. This means that once initially paired, the aids can be controlled (volume, directionality, power) via an application (hearing aid specific) on the smartphone. Additionally, settings can be adjusted so that their phone notifications (ringer, texts, etc) will ring in their hearing aids. For a list of iPhone compatible hearing aids click here. For general phone compatibility click here
  • Live Listen (Apple): This feature uses your iPhone’s mic to focus conversations in loud environments and stream this audio directly to hearing aids. This is a game changer for 1:1 conversations in public places and is compatible with several commercial hearing aids and is now compatible with air pods (wireless Apple headphones).
  • Sound Detectors (Samsung): This feature can be enabled and allows the phone to listen for doorbell sounds and crying babies (second one might want to leave off) and sends an alert to the user if that sound is detected.
  • Flashing Notifications: This allows users to have either the camera flash (iPhone) or the notification light (Android) flash for notifications (calls, texts, etc).

Vision

Magnifier App in iPhone
  • Dynamic Text/ Font Changes: These settings on various devices allow the user to make text larger in apps and on the web for those who have trouble with small type.
  • Magnifier (Apple)/ Magnifier Window (Samsung): This can be added to the control panel and uses the phone’s camera to magnify anything, newspaper, photo, or prescription bottle! In the app you can enable the flash to brighten the view, as well as invert colors/adjust contrast for easier viewing. On screen items can also be zoomed in for higher detail.
  • High Contrast Keyboard/Fonts (Samsung): These settings allow for high contrast keyboards and fonts which help for identification and reading

Dexterity Issues

Assistive Touch Menu on iPhone
  • Assistant Menu (Samsung)/ Assistive Touch (Apple): These menus help those who are new to touchscreen use and “gesture” control or have trouble with dexterity. These menus float on screen and allow complete control over the phone and functions just with single finger tapping.
  • Touch Accommodations (Apple): These are settings that can be enabled to ignore repeated accidental touches, or set the phone to register only the final position of a touch on screen as deliberate (i.e. if they touch and drag their finger it only selects what they end on). 
  • Siri and Google Assistant: No need to touch the screen, phones and function can be controlled with their voice!

Applications for Seniors

One of the many benefits of smartphones is access to the respective application stores. There is an app for just about anything and this does not exclude seniors both for fun and safety! Here are some of the types of apps that may be good to add to your loved one’s new phone. 

  • Medication Reminder Apps: Not only does this allow them to have a place with their up to date list of their medications but can delivery automatic reminders for them to take their medication, what it is, how many and even what it looks like! Many of the apps have cloud capabilities so that caregivers can check use and update remotely.
  • Panic buttons: Apps like this function similar to a fall alert button but have an app that will send location information to emergency contacts with the press of a button. Some are compatible with Siri and other voice commands.
  • ICE Medical Information: These applications (built in on some phones) allow the user to input critical medical information, emergency contacts, allergies, medications and other first responder information and can be accessed without needing to unlock the phone.
  • Video chat (FaceTime, Skype, Hangouts): Allow for long-distance relationships, sharing, and help finding those darn keys around the apartment.

If all of the above are not enough reason to reconsider getting granny an iPhone, also take into consideration learning new things can be exciting and help keep their faculties sharp. Sure, there is a learning curve and my grandpa has surely surprised me with his progress, but in my opinion it is worth it! My grandma even mastered emojis!

Tips for an Inclusive Halloween

Halloween can be a real struggle for kids (and adults) with disabilities. Here are some examples of aspects of halloween that are not accessible:

  1. Walking around in the dark
  2. Being surrounded by people who look different than normal
  3. Sensory considerations with costumes
  4. Sensory considerations with house decorations (flashing lights, motion activated stuff, jump scares)
  5. Lots of walking/ rolling and physical accessibility of getting to house’s doors
  6. Talking to strangers (Trick or treat, asking for candy, responding to what your costume is)
  7. Food allergies or inability to eat
  8. Fine motor skills needed to grab candy
Here are a few adaptations/considerations that will help mitigate these challenges:

Food allergies/ inability to eat: Meet the Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative to include those with food allergies or special diets in trick-or-treating and to raise awareness. To participate paint a pumpkin teal (or print a picture and tape it to your door) and stick it on your porch. When you go out to buy candy, also buy some non-food items for kids. Examples: silly bands, party favors, bouncy balls, silly putty, vampire teeth or stickers! Party stores have lots of this stuff! Then, when trick or treaters come, simply hold two bowls and let the child choose! Believe it or not, there are even some kids who just don’t like candy (real bummer for Halloween).
Resources and further details found here! This year they have even added a map where you can tell the world your house is participating!

Trick or Treaters who don’t say Trick or Treat

There can be many reasons why someone might not verbal say trick or treat. They may be deaf, have anxiety related speech issues, be nonverbal, or just unaware that they are supposed to/why they are supposed to. Some may carry cards like this. Some may have a communication device. Some may just expect you give them candy. When in doubt, just give the kid some candy!

Decorating Your House

Keep in mind that for kids, terrifying is more likely to mean they will skip your house rather than bravely wandering forward. Be careful of extension cords as tripping hazards, poorly lit uneven surfaces, steps needed to climb to get candy ratio and other dangerous factors that might be hard to see at night, kids are unpredictable and hopped up on sugar. Also consider use of strobe lights, fog machines, and motion activated decorations as they may cause sensory overload, breathing issues, seizures etc. If you do want to use a strobe light, set it at a lower interval and it will be less likely to cause problems. Remember: its about the candy, costumes and fun…
Pro Tip: If you live in a house with more than 5 steps you might want to consider sitting down by the sidewalk during the main rush to hand out candy if you don’t want to get skipped!

Be patient and Enjoy!

Give that kid who appear to be indecisive a little extra time to look at his options, he might have allergies, motor planning issues, or just wants to get candy he actually likes instead of accidentally grabbing the stinkin pretzel bag. Don’t force children to speak to get candy. Give compliments on costumes even if you have no idea what they just said they were but also keep in mind that a kid not wearing a costume may have sensory issues, fabric allergies, or is scared of costumes. Also, if a teenager, adult, or other non-kid comes to you trick or treating don’t make them feel out of place, they’re participating and nothing wrong with being a kid at heart!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

IDK MY BFF JILL

If you don’t know that reference it is from an 2007 phone commercial. Classic.

Anyways, I wanted to write a post about technology as assistive technology (AT) and more than just soul sucking relationship ruining screens that give you cancer. I will talk about how I use my devices as AT and why they are important for me and because of such, will be talking exclusively about Apple iOS devices because that is what I use. I plan to do another post about iOS as AAC devices and switch access eventually so this isn’t the longest most boring post ever!

I am a die hard Apple fan. I was a die hard Apple fan before I got sick and have fallen even more in love since then. First, I am in no way paid by or speak for Apple or anything, I don’t know why people have to say that but they do so I will! Second, I am not going to talk about Android because I know nothing of Android. I know they do not have as extensive built in accessibility features but they work better for some and that is fine. Lastly, I’m mainly going to be talking about why I choose Apple products as a person with a disability and what features help me or might be of help to those with similar conditions. So leggo my eggo (not paid by them either 😦 )!
First I’m going to talk about some settings/features that aren’t technically accessibility settings (other menus) but that I have found to be helpful. 

Visual Voicemail and Transcription

 

Phone>Voicemail
Apple’s visual voicemail system is one of the most underrated features in my opinion. For people with hearing/auditory processing issues, gone are the days of trying to remember which button to press to repeat the message…giving up and having to call VM all over again because you didn’t quite catch that middle part. New to iOS10 is a beta for automatic voicemail transcription. Now, when you click on a message and press play, the recording plays and an automatic transcription is written below. If it picks up a phone number it will be hyperlinked and a long press will give you options to call, message, or add number to contacts. For someone with Dyslexia this is a god send. I call/text wrong numbers constantly when I try to manually copy them down. Additionally, it is useful for those with hearing loss, auditory processing issues, or even if you want to scan the content in a meeting to know if it is urgent.

Find My Friends/ Location sharing in apps such as messages

At first I was not into having my mom be able to open an app and track my phone but it really has grown on me. This is definitely not the set-up for everyone (could be with someone other than your mom) but in times where I have gotten hauled off to the ER and they leave a VM on her phone saying “Julie’s in the ER”, being able to see which ER, if I am still there, or where I am if I am too confused to figure it out can be super useful. Again, not for everyone. 

SIRI

Siri is great and almighty electronic goddess, obey her.

EMERGENGY HOME SCREEN MEDICAL ID

(to set up) Health App>Medical ID> Edit
At the minimum please put in your organ donor status, name, and emergency contacts. It can be accessed by EMS/ED staff even if you have a lock on your phone. To view access, get to the lock screen with the number panel, click emergency in the bottom left, click medical ID.

ACCESSIBILITY SETTINGS (iPad and iPhone though most are available on laptop just different paths etc)

******There are so many– I’m just going over what I personally use******

Display Accommodations

 

Settings>General>Accessibility> Display Accommodations

 

Another brilliant addition to iOS10 was the Color Filters setting. This allows the user to tint their screen to their liking/need. This is a godsend for anyone with photosensitivity, migraines, color blindness, eye strain, and other vision conditions. It allows me to turn my screen a nice pinky-orangey tint that I would otherwise have to wear my specialty  indoor migraine glasses for. Another feature in this category is Reduce Whitepoint. This setting allows the user to reduce the intensity of bright colors on the screen by 25-100%. No longer need you be blinded by a white screen loading a webpage on ridiculously slow internet.
 

Speech

Settings>General>Accessibility>Speech
I wouldn’t be able to do much of my homework or social media without text-to-speech software due to eye strain, dyslexia, migraines, photosensitivity and reading comprehension issues. This is definitely one of my most undervalued helpers and it wasn’t until I was trying to read a textbook chapter on a different computer that I realize how much I rely on it and am assisted by it.
       Features/Settings:
  • Speak selection: when on, this will give you a “speak” button when you highlight text (next to copy/paste etc)
  • Speak screen: dragging two fingers from the top down will start speaking items on the screen
  • Highlight content: highlights words/sentences/words and sentences as they are read
  • Typing feedback: options to have keys/words/sentences you type to be read back to you
  • Voices: different synthesized voice options for speaker for gender, language, and accent
  • Speaking Rate: how fast the voice talks
  • Pronunciations: tell it how to say certain words like Ehlers-Danlos

Reduce Motion

Settings>General>Accessibility> Reduce Motion
This one is really helpful if you have vision triggered disabilities or just don’t want all the fancy graphics for things like opening and closing apps.

Switch Control and Assistive Touch

Settings>General>Accessibility>Switch Control or Assistive Touch
These are more specialized/complicated but amazing accessibility features I plan to do a separate post or maybe video for but I will just share their purpose now. Switch Control is for people with physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities who have trouble accessing all or many of their functions or their iDevices via direct selection AKA touching the screen with their hand or a stylus. It is a built in program that allows the device to be controlled and used entirely via 1 or 1 switches. Switches can be the whole screen, head movements, external switches (wired or bluetooth), sip and puff (controlled by mouth movements) and more! For an example of switch access by someone who can do amazing things with it, watch the video! Assistive Touch is basically an accessible menu for people who have physical challenges performing actions like pinching to zoom.

Subtitles and Captioning

Settings>General>Accessibility>Media> Subtitles and Captioning
I actually only recently learned about this feature but if you like subtitles or need them, make sure you have this setting turned on and it will automatically turn on subtitles when available in apps like facebook, netflix, chrome etc.

Accessibility Shortcut

Settings>General>Accessibility> Accessibility Shortcut
Another relatively new feature this one can wear many different hats based on your needs. What is does is set a shortcut on/off switch for a selected accessibility feature by triple clicking the home button. On my phone, this turns on the pinky-orangey tint from my Color Filters settings. Since I only use that at night usually, it saves me a couple clicks turning it on/off everyday. On my iPad, I have it set to turn on Switch Control (more on that later) for when I use that.