assistive technology

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)


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


  • 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

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

A.T. to the Rescue!

As someone who works with Assistive Technology (A.T.) devices on a daily basis, I’ve seen first-hand what A.T. can do to help people with disabilities remain independent.  Technically, assistive technology is any device, equipment, or item that lets a person with a disability be more independent and have an improved quality of life. 

Automatic door openers are considered assistive technology.

Automatic door openers are considered assistive technology.

All of us use A.T. on a fairly regular basis.  If you don’t think so, consider that every time you put on your glasses, you’re using A.T.  That’s also true of each time you turn on your air conditioner, dishwasher, wash machine or dryer.  There are so many items that fall under the category: items to help with cooking and cleaning, dressing and grooming, cognitive improvement devices, recreation items, devices to improve mobility and environmental controls.  There are literally thousands of items, all designed to help you remain independent.

If you need any of these items, you’ll likely be glad to learn that many of them aren’t overwhelmingly expensive.  Many A.T. devices cost less than $50, with a substantial amount under $20.  For higher priced items, Michigan participates in a Federal Loan Program called the Assistive Technology Loan Fund (ATLF).  The ATLF helps people with disabilities who can’t afford A.T. purchase what is needed.  Those who have a disability, guardians or family members, may borrow up to $30,000. 

Disability Network/Lakeshore is the site for the ATLF in Allegan and Ottawa Counties.  If you’re looking for help in either identifying assistive technology to help you remain independent, or paying for it, please call the DNL office.  We’d be delighted to assist you!

Chris Wistrom,

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 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 The phone number is 269-216-4798.

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