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 offer 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.
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, 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: Light weight unit offers voice answering. Its multi-point feature may not be easy to access by those with physical impairments. Able to connect to two devices simultaneously. There are options for ear bud sizes.
- BlueAnt Q3: Uses voice commands to answer calls, hear your messages on the go and connect to two devices at the same time. Its multi-point feature may not be easy to access by those with physical impairments. Note: Our experience has shown the Q2 is slightly more durable than the Q3.
- 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). 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. 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 Explorer 500: Inexpensive Bluetooth headset with certified HD voice clarity, smartphone voice control, multi-lingual notifications and magnetic USB strap. Note: Doesn't provide voice answering.
- 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 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. 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 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. This is especially important if your phone doesn't come with voice control. 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 and charge or power your device. Note: You can still drive your wheelchair while the unit is plugged in.
- NetDot Magnetic Charger Adapters:Makes it easier to charge your phone, especially if you have limited hand function. Available for Android and iOS devices.
- 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: 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.
- 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.
Adaptive Phone Grips
The following tools are designed for those who have limited hand function.
Able 2 Grip: Effective training aid providing ergonomically correct gripping positions that help patients develop proper muscle memory. Designed for those with arthritis, hand or arm weakness, limited range of motion or fatigue.
Love Handle Cell Phone Grip: Enables easier one-handed texting, photos, selfies and holding your phone or tablet. Made of soft, comfortable elastic you can hold your device with just a finger.
Pop Sockets Grip: Offers a secure grip for your phone or tablet so you can text with one hand, snap better photos and stop phone drops. Can also be used as a stand while watching videos on your phone.
Ring Cell Phone Holder: Made of transparent acrylic, this cell phone ring holder kickstand will fit any phone with or without a case cover. Can also be used as a kick stand.
Ungrip: Provides a loop of fabric attaches to the back of your phone. This allows you to safely hold your phone to your ear or in your hand without the risk of dropping it.
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. And more retailers are selling inexpensive styluses, including your local Dollar Store.
- Caduceus by iFaraday: 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.
- 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.
- SALT by iFaraday: This Shallow Angle Lightest Touch (SALT) stylus allows users to hold it as low as 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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.
Bendable Telescopic Mouth Sticks: Adjustable design allows for better visibility and a more natural writing or typing angle. One is a pointer for keyboard or page turning, the other will hold items such as pens, pencils or paintbrushes.
Stylus for Stickies by iFaraday:Lightweight aluminum tube with soft, silicone mouthpiece.
Mouth Stick Stylus Pro: Adjustable with slider tube and ergonomic snap fit mouthpiece.
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, telescopic mouth stick from Performance Health) 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: Remove the rubber top from the end of the mouth stick.
Step 3: Cut the end off the Stylus and smooth. You are now ready to connect the two parts.
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.