Kym Reinstadler

Assistive Technologies - Go Ahead. Make Your Life Easier.

By the time he was 50, it was obvious my brother had a hearing loss.

Maybe decades of working around heavy equipment assaulted his hearing.  Maybe he attended too many rock concerts and sat too close to the speakers.  Maybe it's just part of aging.

Our mother suggested he get evaluated for hearing aids, but Bruce wouldn't hear of it.

He said he could compensate.  Besides, he didn't want to look "old."

Needing an assistive device to do something you used to be able to do on your own can seem daunting, but the trepidation is usually short-lived.

I wasn't enthused about getting my first pair of eyeglasses in the sixth grade, but finally being able to see the world clearly made me forget concerns about how I looked to others.

Most of us are accustomed (or spoiled) by automation in our homes.  Programmable heating and cooling, automatic garage door openers, remote controls for TVs, and kitchen appliances are all assistive technologies, and nobody's embarrassed to use them.

These days, so much information and communication is virtual and the tools to help us are digital.

Both IOS (Apple) and Android (Google) operating systems have built-in screen-readers (Voiceover and TalkBack, respectively) and magnification apps.  They sport other accessibility features too, that help users with limitations in vision, hearing and motor skills.  

More possibilities will debut this fall.  IOS 8 will be introducing a Braille, a gray-scale mode for colorblind users, improving its magnification feature (Zoom), and building in audio description on entertainment where that track is supplied.

Android L will allow users to invert and correct colors on the screen - features that will help people with low vision and color blindness.

Here's a look at a few popular applications (apps) in different categories that can help compensate for chronic, short-term or age-related disabilities.  They were featured in a webinar titled "High Quality Apps for Accessibility" by Jonathan Campbell, assistive technology specialist at the Minneapolis-based Pacer Center and Simon Technology Center, which is dedicated to making the benefits of technology more accessible to people with disabilities.  

Reading (Text-to-Speech)

  • Read2Go (IOS) 
  • Go Read (Android)
  • Voice Dream Reader 
  • EZPDF (reads PDF files, which are not readable by most screen readers)

Reading (Digital Book Players)

  • iBooks (IOS) 
  • Kindle (Amazon) Newer models have accessibility features
  • Nook (Barnes & Noble)
  • Blio (Kurzweil Technologies)

Writing

Apps with word prediction features that guess what you're typing, which allows you select the word you want from a list without having to type the whole word.

  • Fleksy
  • iReadWrite
  • Co:Writer App

App that allows you to type without repeated tapping

  • Swype

App that records audio as you type notes, and allows you to bookmark important information to find that audio fast

  • AudioNote

Vision

  • TapTapSee (Snap a photo, uploads to a server, then provides an audio description of that image)

Communication (Picture/Symbol Systems)

  • Proloquo2Go
  • Tobii Sono Flex
  • LAMP Words for Life
  • Speak for Yourself
  • My First AAC

Campbell also recommended some apps that help people remember, organize and manage tasks.  Notes and reminders can be written, spoken, or given as pictures.  Popular accessible organizational apps are:

  • Wunderlist
  • Evernote
  • Any.do

Many of these apps - like other assistive technologies - are conveniences for the disabled and able-bodied alike.

I sometimes use the Voiceover feature on my iPad to have technical journals read to me aloud.  It's just easier than plowing through multiple-page articles published in tiny type.

And I don't even want to imagine how I would function without Evernote.  it's how I remember what I remember.

Are Voiceover, Evernote and my eyeglasses signs that I'm getting old and "losing it"?

Maybe.  But I don't care as long as they help me function.

Do you hear that, brother?

Written By Kym Reinstadler

Thoughts on First Person Language

 As a child, I concluded that intriguing people had disabilities.  

There was the mysterious hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Boo Radley – who probably was on the autistic spectrum, or maybe was just a recluse. I cheered the transformations of Clara (Heidi) and Colin (The Secret Garden), kid-invalids whose health and dispositions improved with friendship, sunlight and fresh air. And who didn’t adore Corky in the TV series “Life Goes On”?

Written by Kym Reinstadler

Written by Kym Reinstadler

Thinking back, I marvel that I grew up knowing very few real people who had disabilities.

Friends in the neighborhood had a big brother with brain damage – the result of falling down a flight of stairs in a walker when he was a baby – but I never saw Bobby because he lived in an institution. There was a girl named Heather in my junior high who used a walker because she had cerebral palsy, but I never had her in any classes. There was Becky in my high school biology class who sat front and center because she was deaf and needed to read our teacher’s lips. Becky’s voice sounded unusual when she answered questions, but it wouldn’t occur to me to look down on a classmate who always gets the right answer.

What I’m saying is that I knew of a few people with disabilities, but I didn’t really know them.

Back then I probably would have characterized Boo Radley, Corky and Bobby as “retarded” or “Down Syndrome,” never imagining they might consider the label derogatory. Clara, Colin and Heather were all “invalids” in my frame of reference. Becky reads lips, so that makes her deaf, right?

It wasn’t until 1988 -- when the director of a Disability Network-type of agency made a presentation to reporters and editors at the California newspaper where I was writing -- that I was introduced to the concept of person-first language.

The concept is pretty basic:

Name the person first and the condition second. Say "people with disabilities" rather than "disabled people” to emphasize that they are, first and foremost, people.

I could see her point, especially when she said referring to Ray Charles as “the great blind musician” was a sentence structure that minimized his talent.

Who doesn’t know that Ray Charles was a great musician? Whether he was also blind or had vision to see through walls is an unrelated attribute.

So, I embraced person-first language as disability etiquette. It’s become second nature, but it’s also tiresome because it throws speed bumps in writing.

Here’s why: Adjectives come before nouns in normal English syntax. Describing a wheezing person as “asthmatic” has an economy of words that “the person who has asthma” lacks.

Following the same linguistic prescription, should the mechanic be called “the person who repairs automobiles” and the artist be called “the person who makes art”?

Plus, not all disability groups like person-first language, including the deaf and the blind.

Since I didn’t view disabilities as derogatory, I didn’t feel the concern for person-first language issue until my Dad’s final trip to a hospital emergency room.

Alzheimer’s Disease had pretty much drained Dad from his body by then. He’d had a stroke. It had been more than a year since he walked, talked or recognized family members.

As my Mom and I sat with Dad in the ER, one doctor at the end of his shift walked briskly by with another doctor coming on duty. As they passed our cubicle, the only word uttered was “aphasic.”

Hearing someone sum up his whole 78 years of being with a label that means “can’t speak” stung. So, I got madder than a hornet’s nest.

“What about all the things he could do when he was still himself?” I thought.

I knew my Dad was going to die, if not that day, one day soon.  I wanted to savor his humanity, not have him dehumanized.

Did I complain to the medical staff?

No.

I knew the first doctor was just quickly passing along the most essential piece of information that the second would need to provide care. The patient didn’t speak. Questions could be addressed to his wife and daughter.

Even in his last days, Dad was more than “aphasic” to me. My friends with bipolar disorder are more than their mood swings. I have a friend who is a great writer, teacher and father, which is more important than the fact that he’s blind. I have a good friend who uses a wheelchair, but I’d list a dozen things about her before I’d remember the chair because it seems completely incidental to her.

Now that I’m grown up and know real people with disabilities, I understand why person-first language is more than good manners.

It’s telling it how it is.

Where do you stand on person-first language? Why?