For many people with brain and spinal cord injuries, phones provide security, independence and access to an increasing array of applications that make work, life and play safer and more fulfilling. The Tech Lab at Craig Hospital works with patients to understand the options available to them and how to access and use phones to enhance their daily lives.
Cell phones have a vast number of capabilities beyond calling and texting. Once able to access their cell phones, patients can call for help in an emergency or use a variety of smart phone apps to assist with memory, organization and hands-free operation. When physical access to a phone is a challenge, the Tech Lab can also help determine solutions for accessing touch screens, using Bluetooth headsets, tapping into voice recognition features and mounting cell phones onto wheelchairs or beds. For individuals with physical limitations, the most useful, basic features of a cell phone are Bluetooth compatibility and voice dialing.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires telephone equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities. The FCC’s web site has an “accessibility clearinghouse” page that allows you to search dozens of mobile phones according to their manufacturer, brand and features to find the right product for your needs.
There are many features to consider when selecting a Bluetooth, such as fit, comfort, and voice-answering and multi-point capability. Multi-point capability allows users to access their cell phone and computer through the same Bluetooth (by toggling between the two devices). Your phone needs to be Bluetooth compatible and have voice-dialing built in to be able to access your phone through the Bluetooth earpiece.
- BlueAnt Q2: voice answering, lightweight, multi-point feature, but this feature is not easy to access by those with physical impairments. Able to connect to two phones simultaneously. There are options for ear bud sizes.
- BlueParrott VXI XPressway: Designed for high-noise environments, BlueParrott headsets can eliminate up to 94 percent of background noise. This headset is versatile. Consider this product if you can’t find a Bluetooth that fits comfortably in your ear because it has an ear hook, a behind-the-neck or an over-the-head headband.
- Plantronics Backbeat Fit: Wireless, behind the ear headphones are waterproof and provide eight hours of listening and six hours of talk time. Note: Does not provide voice answering.
- Plantronics Marque M155: Inexpensive, lightweight, with voice-activated answering function. It also has options for ear bud sizes.
- Plantronics Marque 2 M165: Dual microphones reduce noise and wind to provide better sound quality. Say "answer" or "ignore" to handle calls. Inexpensive, lightweight and has optional ear bud sizes.
The following ear pieces are more easily-accessed by those with physical impairments and have a multi-point feature (i.e. you can pair them to more than one device and toggle between them). We have also modified the buttons with cabinet bumpers and/or pieces of plastic and plumbing o-rings:
- Dragon Bluetooth Wireless Headset: Allows you to wirelessly dictate to your computer while using Dragon Naturally Speaking software. Has a multipoint feature to allow pairing with two devices. Includes a USB adaptor and up to 10 hours of talk time.
- Jawbone Era: Sleek charging case more than doubles its four hours of talk time. Can be used to stream media, including podcasts, music, videos, and videochat. This product is lightweight and comes with a variety of earbud sizes and a multipoint feature. However, the button is more challenging to hit as it is located on the back, not the side, of the unit.
- Jawbone Icon HD and THE NERD: Easily connects to any Mac or PC. Once you plug in THE NERD, Jawbone's wireless USB adapter, you won't have to fumble with your Bluetooth settings again. This product is lightweight and comes with a variety of earbud sizes and a multipoint feature. However, the button is more challenging to hit as it is located on the back, not the side, of the unit.
- Motorola Hint: small enough to fit inside the ear and is activated with a swipe of the finger, instead of pressing a button. Contains three microphones designed to eliminate background noise. The unit announces the caller and waits for you to say “answer” or “ignore.” Comes with a portable charging case.
- Motorola Hint+: Compatible with any Bluetooth enabled smartphone or tablet, providing hands-free calling with up to 150 feet of range. 70 percent more battery life than previous model and offers improved volume and enhanced audio. Offers voice answering and comes with a portable charging case.
- Plantronics Voyager Edge SE: Portable case provides up to 10 hours power for headset recharging while you're on the go. Syncs to your contact list and announces the caller or number. Provides voice answering.
- Plantronics Voyager Legend: Offers more answering capabilities, a multipoint, feature and different earbud sizes. However, its button is located on the back, not the side, and is more difficult to access.
- Plantronics Voyager Pro HD: Dual microphone, 6 hours of talk time, 5 days of standby time, 3 gel and two foam ear bud sizes. Note: You can no longer purchase this product via their website, however it is available through Amazon or Newegg.
- Plantronics Bluetooth USB Adapter: allows you to link your Bluetooth earpiece to your computer.
Bluetooth Speakers / Car Kits
Noise cancellation and hands-free operation are essential to those who want to use their phones while driving. Car kits are also useful for people with physical limitations who want to access their phone from their bed (shown to the right). The phone must be Bluetooth compatible and have voice-dialing.
- BlueAnt Commute: offers both voice dialing and voice answering. When the phone rings, the Commute will tell you the caller’s name or number and ask if you want to answer or ignore the call. To hang up, you must be able to tap a small icon on the phone. Click Here for a demonstration video.
- Jabra SP200: Noise filter blocks out background noise. also features a large button for easier use. Simply hold the button approximately two seconds and use voice commands to place a call. .Tap the button once to answer an incoming call or hang up.
- Supertooth HD: links wirelessly by Bluetooth with your phone. To place a call, press a button and use voice commands. Your phone must have Bluetooth-compatibility, but doesn’t necessarily need voice-dialing. Programs up to nine frequently called numbers for voice-dialing. Tap the large button one time to answer or hang up.
Portable Battery Packs and USB Chargers
Portable Battery Packs and USB Chargers allow you to charge your phone when you’re on-the-go and might otherwise run out of battery. Battery packs provide power to smart phones whose voice features may not operate unless you’re plugged into a power source. There are multiple versions available; one example is the Easy AAC Portable Battery Pack.
- Cripple Concepts USB Charger: Plugs into your wheelchair charge port so you can connect a USB cable to your device and charge or power your device. Unlike other chargers, this will not prevent your wheelchair from driving.
- Rovi USB Charger: Provides easy charging of electronic devices when plugged into the charge port of your wheelchair. You might consider mounting this product on your power wheelchair for added convenience. You can still drive your wheelchair while the Rovi is plugged in.
- LG Gizmo Gadget Watch: allows you to send and receive calls from up to 10 contacts. Has simplified layout/face and you don't have to carry your phone with you to be able to use it. Watch is waterproof and can send pre-set text messages. Note: Requires a family member or caregiver's phone to install app and customize the watch. 911 does not count as one of your saved contacts.
Fewer people are using landline phones today, however there are traditional phones that can offer an increasing array of options for those with cognitive and physical impairments. Speakerphone and memory dial are also be helpful features to consider.
- Able-Phone: voice-activated and totally hands-free, operated without manipulating any switch or button.
- Fortissimo: designed for those with limited mobility, this extra loud speakerphone offers multiple options for switch access or hands-free control. It can be paired with a Bluetooth earpiece or can be used with a remote and headphones for private conversations.
- ClearSounds Amplified Alert Telephones: emergency dialing and remote call answering/disconnect by pressing a button on a pendant. Users can summon help in an emergency without paying monthly monitoring fees. The phone continuously dials three pre-selected numbers until someone answers.
- Photo Phone: designed for individuals with cognitive limitations. By clicking on photos of faces, users don’t have to remember names or numbers when calling.
- Big Button Phones: there are multiple landline phones, corded and wireless, that have large buttons. These are perfect for anyone who has trouble seeing or hitting smaller buttons. An Internet search will provide you with several options.
Capacitive Styluses and Mouth Sticks
Many communication products, like smart phones and tablets, operate by electrical current created when your fingers touch their screens. These “capacitive touch screens” can be challenging for those with limited use of their hands. Fortunately, there are a variety of products to help.
- Caduceus by iFaraday: Developed for hand and wrist impairments, it can also be used as a mouth stick. The shaft is bendable and can be fitted for gripping or attaching. Those who cannot use capacitive touch screens may be enabled by this product.
- Friendly Swede:Comes with three replaceable fiber tips that are easy to change and require no tools.
- GriffinMouth Stick Stylus– designed for both touchscreen and Home Button manipulation. Can be bended for positioning needs.
- iFaraday Stylus: aircraft aluminum tube with fabric tip which can glide more smoothly for someone with limited arm strength.
- Monet: Designed for painting and photo-editing on your tablet. Impersonates a watercolor brush or charcoal pencil so you can use any of your design app's features. This stylus is easier to hold and tap with for people with limited dexterity.
- Mouth Stick Stylus Pro– adjustable, with slider tube and ergonomic snap fit mouthpiece.
- Targus: a rubber tip stylus that won’t scratch the surface but will tap and swipe easily on the screen. This stylus is used by our rehab engineers to adapt mouthsticks.
How To Make Your Own Mouth Stick
Step 1: Get the mouth stick and stylus ready for modification. (In this example we are using a bendable mouth stick from Patterson Medical) and a Targus stylus; the stylus has a diameter that is larger than the mouth stick. It requires a thicker glue than a Super Glue type of adhesive).
Step 2: Cut off the heat shrink tubing from the bendable end of the mouth stick
Step 3: Peel off the heat shrink tubing from the bendable end of the mouth stick
Step 4: Cut off the bendable end of the mouth stick flush with the blue tubing of the mouth stick
Step 5: Smooth the end of the mouth stick
Step 6: Cut the pocket clip off of the Stylus and smooth. You are now ready to connect the two part. Apply the glue to the inside of the stylus and slide it onto the end of the mouth stick.
Step 7: Put hot glue into the stylus. We like to use hot glue for the bonding agent.
Step 8: Heat the hot glue in the stylus.
Step 9: Place the mouth stick into the stylus
Step 10: Heat the assembly where the stylus overlaps the mouth stick with a heat gun to get the glue inside the stylus to flow back over the mating surface of the mouth stick.
Step 11: Once you are confident the glue has a good bond set the mouth stick, let assembly cool. Test the joint to make sure that the mouth stick and the stylus are securely bonded and you are done. If the joint is not secure, reheat the overlapping area to get the glue to flow from the stylus onto the mouth stick tube. We use hot glue and a heat gun because this is the way the mouth stick was manufactured. It makes it possible to change out the stylus when it gets worn out without needing to buy another mouth stick. It is possible to simply Super Glue the stylus onto the mouth stick if there is a small gap between the mouth stick and the stylus.
* The Tech Lab offers these resources for educational purposes and does not endorse any products, including those mentioned on this site. Many others are available. Please check online for additional products, manufacturers and user reviews.