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 Assistive Technology Lab (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 offer a vast number of capabilities beyond calling and texting. Once able to access their cell phones, people 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 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.
Apple and select Android Phones offer numerous accessibility options for those with disabilities.
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.
Questions to Ask When Buying a Cell Phone:
1. Can you "wake up" the phone from a dark screen using voice commands only (not touching anything on the phone)?
2. Can you answer an incoming call with voice commands (again, without using your hands)?
3. What other voice features does the phone offer (i.e., open apps and email, play music, etc.)?
4. What is its battery life, and are there other ways to charge the phone (i.e., wireless charging)?
5. Does the phone offer any additional accessibility features, such as assistive touch buttons, to help you access physical buttons or gestures you may not be able to access?
Smart Phone Accessibility Apps
Sesame Enable - Uses your mobile device's camera to operate via your head movements. Download the app for a monthly fee or purchase their full kit which includes a smart device, app, and a two-year license. Note: Only available for Android devices.
There are many features to consider when selecting a Bluetooth headset, such as fit, comfort, 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 control built in to be able to access your phone through the Bluetooth earpiece.
- 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 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.
- BlueParrott VXI XPressway: Designed for high-noise environments, BlueParrott headsets can eliminate up to 94% 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.
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). The Tech Lab has 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. It has a multipoint feature to allow pairing with two devices. Includes a USB adaptor and up to 10 hours of talk time.
- BlueAnt Q2: Lightweight unit offers voice answering. Its multi-point feature may not be easy to access by those with physical impairments. It's able to connect to two devices simultaneously. There are options for ear bud sizes.
- Motorola Hint+: Compatible with any Bluetooth enabled smartphone or tablet, providing hands-free calling with up to 150 feet of range. It offers 70% more battery life than the previous model, as well as improved volume and enhanced audio. Offers voice answering and comes with a portable charging case.
- Plantronics Voyager Legend: Offers voice answering, a multipoint feature and different ear bud sizes. However, its button is located on the back - not the side - and is more difficult to access.
- Plantronics Voyager 3200 UC: Once you put on the headset, automatic sensors know to answer the call. An alert lets you know when you are speaking with the mute button on. You can activate Siri, Cortana and Google via voice command. It's able to change languages, has a portable charging case, and offers 10 hours of talk time. Also includes a Bluetooth adapter for PC connectivity.
- Plantronics Voyager 5200 UC: Four microphones work together to eliminate disruptive background noise, so you can seamlessly transition between environments. Offers voice answering and includes a Bluetooth adapter for PC connectivity.
- 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. This is especially important if your phone doesn't come with voice control. The phone must be Bluetooth compatible and have voice-dialing.
- Jabra SP200: Noise filter blocks out background noise. It 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 to hang up.
- 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.
- 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 it 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.
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 helpful features to consider.
- ClearSounds Amplified Alert Telephone: Provides 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.
- Clarity P300 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.
- Sero!: This hands-free telephone features a 100-name directory, speed dialing, VIP calling, and an internal answering machine with 50 recordable answering phrases for your safety and convenience. Note: Provides remote calling via IR remote.
Big Button Phones
There are multiple landline, corded and wireless phones 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.
Battery Packs and 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.
Adaptive Phone Grips
The following tools are designed for those who have limited hand function.
Capacitive Styluses and Mouth Sticks
Many communication products, like smart phones and tablets, operate by the 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, and more retailers are selling inexpensive styluses, including your local Dollar Store.
- Caduceus by Faraday: Developed for hand and wrist impairment, this product 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.
- SALT by Faraday: This Shallow Angle Lightest Touch (SALT) stylus allows users to hold it as low as a 45-degree angle relative to the screen and still make contact. Since it is seven inches long, you can rest your hand on a solid surface off the screen and make readable contact.
- Friendly Swede: Comes with three replaceable fiber tips that are easy to change and require no tools.
- ShapeIt Flex Stylus: Provides a pointer and stylus you can fully adapt to meet your individual needs. It will retain a customized shape until you change it again.
- Targus: Designed for touch screens, Targus makes it easy to take notes, draw or turn pages. This stylus is used by rehab engineers at Craig Hospital to adapt mouth sticks.
The mouth stick is one of the most popular assistive technologies available. Often, there is a rubber tip at the end to provide better traction, and a plastic or rubber mouthpiece at the other end that you insert into your mouth. Someone who has no use of the hands could use a mouth stick to tap on the screen of a smart device or phone.
How To Modify a Mouth Stick for Touch Screen Use
Step 1: Get the mouth stick and stylus ready for modification.
In this example, we are using a bendable, telescopic mouth stick from Performance Health and a Targus stylus; the stylus has a diameter that is larger than the mouth stick.
Step 2: Remove the rubber top from the end of the mouth stick.
Step 3: Cut the end off of the stylus and smooth. You are now ready to connect the two parts.
* 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.