The digital revolution is going far beyond computers, apps and personal devices. Technology is transforming essential everyday items so they can also be used by those with disabilities.
Smart Pens allow you to synchronize audio with notes you write on special paper. Some come with built-in microphones while others record using your smart device. For example, you can record everything a teacher says and later replay any part by tapping the pen's tip on notes you’ve written during class. The pen will automatically take you to that point of the lecture and replay it for you. Smart Pens take the stress out of note-taking because you only need to jot down key points and you can later refer to the recording for the exact, word-for-word details.
The pens listed below are compatible with Windows and Mac.
Enable users to capture, search and share handwritten notes on the digital devices they use every day. Three models hold from 200 to 800 hours of recorded audio.
- Livescribe 3: Your handwritten notes instantly appear on your Tablet or Smart Phone so you can easily convert them to text and send them to friends or colleagues. The audio is recorded on your iOS 8 or Android smart device, not the pen. Click HERE for a brief video.
- Echo: Allows you to download and share your notes and audio recordings through a wired connection as a Pencast PDF or audio file. The audio records directly to the pen.
Smart watches interact with your smart phone, allowing you to access some of the phone’s functions and apps directly from the watch. Some of these are accessed by touch screens while others require arm movement.
- Apple Sport: Allows you to accept and make calls from the watch alone; requires iPhone 5 or newer and the phone must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the watch. Simply raise your wrist to access Siri. Comes with magnetic charging cable and can be used as a remote for Apple TV.
- Motorola Moto 360: 2nd generation (compatible with iOS 5S and above and Android 4.3 or later) requires a phone and does not have a speaker, so you must use the phone to make calls. Has a pedometer and heart rate monitor. Offers “okay Google” voice control, touch screen, and wireless cradle for charging.
- Pebble Watch: Interacts with Apple and Android devices. Operated with a button, not a touch screen. Compatible with Android or iOS. Doesn’t handle calls, but will deploy email, text messages and modifications.
- Samsung Gear Live: Must be connected to Android phone running Android 4.3 or newer. Has voice recognition and dictation, but the watch has to be tapped or moved to activate this function. Note: doesn’t handle calls, but will deploy email, text messages and modifications.
- Samsung Gear S2: Has SIM card so you don’t need your phone in close proximity, but it must be paired with a Samsung Galaxy phone with Android 4.3 or higher. Note: you can make or receive phone calls from this watch, as well as charge it wirelessly.
Watches and Timers
Talking watches announce the time when you push a button. More expensive models offer additional features, such as different alarm sounds, stop watch, military time, large numbers, male voices, etc. Timers can remind you to do weight-shifts, take medication or help with bladder management.
- Alarm Unisex Talking Watch, Date and Stopwatch: Announces the time and day of the month and up to four appointments or reminders a day. Can be set to announce the time hourly.
- GYMBOSS: Repeating interval timer ideal for those with memory issues. Also includes beep and/or vibrating alarm options that can remind you to perform weight-shifts and tell you when those weight-shifts are completed.
- LS&S (Learning Sight and Sound): Sells three dozen talking watches priced from $10.
- WatchMinder: Can be programmed to set up discrete vibrating reminders throughout the day. Helpful to those with short-term memory loss to remind them to take their medications or perform a weight-shift in their wheelchairs.
These products help those with vision problems balance their checkbooks, pay their bills, etc. Their speech synthesizers read aloud each number, symbol or operation and “tell” you the answer to the math problem.
- Independent Living Aids (ILA) Talking Calculators: Offers 10 models priced from $13 to $325.
Switches provide alternative access for those with limited mobility. They are used to control devices that help perform many aspects of daily living, from opening doors to changing channels on a television or answering the phone.
- ABLENET Switches: AbleNet provides educational and technical solutions to help children and adults with disabilities. According to the company, “What can appear to some as simply a ‘button’ can — properly selected and installed — open worlds of access to communication devices, environmental controls, computer software, and mobile devices.”
The following are some of our favorite Ablenet switches:
- Big Red Switch: Features a five-inch activation surface. Comes in a variety of colors.
- Buddy Button Switch: Requires only 3.5 ounces of force to activate its 2 ½-inch surface.
- Micro Light Switch: Just 1/4th-oz. pressure required. Comes with four brightly colored stickers.
- New Blue2 Switch: connects to your device through Bluetooth, provides single or dual-switch access to iDevices running iOS 7, Apple desktop or laptop computers running OS X Mavericks and all switch accessible apps or software on iOS, OS X, Windows, Google Chrome and Android. Click HERE to watch a brief video about the product.
- Plate Switch: Thin switch activated by a light touch. Includes five brightly colored stickers.
- Powerlink 4 Control Unit: Allows you to control up to two electrical appliances with single switches. You can also modify how long appliances will be turned on.
- Specs Switch: Small enough to be worn, this 1 3/8th-inch switch is most often used as a mounted switch. 24-inch strap included.
Other Popular Switches for those with Limited Movement
- Clarity AS100 Air Switch: Originally designed to operate a telephone, can be adapted for a variety of switch-operated devices. Note: this is a sensitive switch that does not need to be in the user’s mouth.
- Ultimate Switch: Used as a head switch or for any part of the body, comes with a 19-inch gooseneck and universal clamp and can be attached to a bed, table top or wheelchair. Requires only the slightest touch, yet can withstand the abuse of gross body movements.
- Ultra Light HD 1 Switch: Smaller than your thumb, this switch requires little pressure and provides tactile and audible feedback.
- BeyondSight.com: Colorado company that enhances the independence of those with vision impairments through adaptive technology.
- YouCanTooCan.com: Denver-based retailer specializes in products designed to increase personal independence.
- AbleData: Doesn’t sell products, but provides objective information and links to many brands of assistive technology and rehabilitation equipment.
- AbleNet Inc.: Markets more than 800 technology products and curriculum solutions for professionals who serve those with disabilities, as well as the end-users themselves.
- Broadened Horizons: Focuses on equipment for individuals with limited or no use of their hands and arms. Their products focus on independent living, recreation, travel and environmental control.
- Enabling Devices: Has been creating innovative communicators, toys and switches for individuals with disabilities for more than 35 years.
- R.J. Cooper: Develops hardware and software products for those with special needs. The company’s goal is to provide “personalized solutions for challenging situations.”
* 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.