Assistive technology (AT) is my passion. It combines the best of my engineering, medical, and maker mind to solve problems for myself and other disabled people. As I have been adjusting to being a full time wheelchair user again I have had to modify, create, and improvise not only my physical environment but also my habits and goals. Having a background in AT, many of these changes came to mind automatically or through the suggestion of the many brilliant likeminded individuals of the internet. Through this, I have discovered large gaps in resources and information ranging from adapted driving to basic adaptive equipment to help you through the day. My hope is that this post will serve as a resource for people like me.
***This is an ongoing page, links will be added in as I finish posts***
This is one of the areas I found the biggest information gap in and incidentally, the category of AT that I knew the least about. Click the above link to read my post on how I drive being a wheelchair user, the wheelchair adapted vehicle I use, and information about disability driving evaluations.
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
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).
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
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!