Going Mobile

Only a few years ago, “going mobile” sounded revolutionary.

Not any more.

According to the PewResearch Internet Project, as of January 2014:

  • 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone
  • 58 percent of American adults have a smartphone (accesses the Internet)
  • 32 percent of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42 percent of American adults own a tablet computer

Some people with chronic or age-related disabilities are hesitant to try mobile devices, but J.J. Meddaugh, president of A.T. Guys in Kalamazoo, gives a good pep talk.

Meddaugh -- whose business has been selling assistive technology, training and support throughout Michigan for five years – spoke at the recent Visions conference in Ann Arbor.

For people who want accessibility features in a cell phone, but don’t want the pricey data contract that accompanies a smartphone, Meddaugh recommends the Samsung Haven, which is compatible with Verizon Wireless. It’s an “old-fashioned” flip phone with a traditional numeric keypad. All the menus and functions speak to help a user who is visually impaired make calls and send text messages. Cost is about $100.

“I recommend iPhones and iPads to most people, but I’m not a commercial for Apple,” Meddaugh said. “In fact, my phone is an Android. I can do that because I’m a geek.”

Apple builds accessibility features into all its products, Meddaugh explained. Voiceover, Apple’s screen reader, comes installed on every Apple device. A preloaded tutorial teaches the hover, tap and swipe gestures a user needs to navigate. Users can speak a command to Siri, Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant, to easily turn Voiceover on and off.

Learning Apple applications is fairly intuitive, and once you’ve learned to use one, you know how to use them all.

The interface is not so smooth on Android devices, but Meddaugh said it takes a savvy assistive technology user to work around limited accessibility features.

The most widely used screen-reading software for computers with the Windows Operating System is JAWS (Job Access With Speech), but it costs about $900.

Another good option is Window-Eyes, a full-featured screen reader that costs about $700 if bought separately but now can be downloaded free at www.windowseyeforoffice.com by those who buy Microsoft Office 2010 or 2013.

There are also free screen readers. The open source reader NVDA gets high marks. Windows 7 and Windows 8 come with a basic screen reader called Narrator.

Smartphones are popular because they’re versatile and portable. Meddaugh said most people have no idea how much they’ll use it until they have one.

He recommends that anyone shopping for a smartphone delay until the iPhone 6 debuts. This version will have a bigger screen – an advantage for low-vision users who need to magnify text and users with dexterity problems.

Meddaugh encourages people to think carefully before buying any device that is built to perform a single function. Do you need a global positioning system, when you can get that feature on your phone? Most people will get more utility from downloading the Nook or Kindle apps for an iPad than buying a Nook or Kindle themselves, he said.

Another reason for assistive technology users to choose iPhones, Meddaugh said, is the BARD app. BARD stands of Braille and Audio Reading Download. Eligible readers can download books, magazines and music for free with the app from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See the BARD application instructions for criteria.

Work on a BARD app for Android is being developed but no debut is imminent.

AT Guys website is www.atguys.com. The phone number is 269-216-4798.

What is your choice of assistive technology when it comes to cell phones?