Mobile phones, PDAs and Bluetooth with a disability.

cellphone in ear lobe
Photo by agg.alex

Operating Mobile phones, PDAs and Bluetooth with a disability.

I often get questions about different devices and things via email. I will as much as possible answer these publicly here so we all can benefit from each other’s experiences via comments etc. So if ever you write email to me and don’t want it published you better say. I’d much rather be part of a conversation between us all.

This topic is a doozy. One that’s often come up and one who’s track I’ve been on for years.

Kristen wrote:

I wonder if you can give me some help. I came accross your web page today while
doing searches on the Internet for cell phones, PDAs, and GPS devices for a man
I’ll be working with who has a C5-C6 SCI. He would like to have one device
ideally. He has trouble hitting small buttons on cell phones and is very
interested in using a Bluetooth headset and voice recognition on the cell
phone. Do you know if we can do that with with a device that has all of these
things–cell phone, PDA, and if possible, GPS? Can you point me in the right
direction? I really appreciate any help.

The issue of access to phones for people living with disability is a complex issue and one that can have as many different solutions as there are unique individuals involved, and with abilities that can vary even with the same disability type. So I will make some general observations with some examples on how I use my chosen solution.

First, define what is is specifically that is needed. Differentiate. Sure a PDA can do all these things but what is the core function and most important function required? Is it phone calls, text messages, notes, gps, music listening, voice recording. If it is all of the above, prioritise – you’ll need to compromise and may not be able to control them all.

Next, don’t focus on what the trouble is, look at what is possible. I can’t hit small buttons with my finger – hell, there’s a lot of able bodied people who can’t operate the small devices around with their fingers – but I can press tiny buttons with a mouthstick, or a pen in my mouth. So small buttons may not be the trouble after all, and looking for devices with big buttons could send you down the wrong track.

convergence diagram
Image by PeterForret

Convergence is good and for people living with disability with limited control and not being able to easily grab different devices, it can be a necessity. But it might not be the best solution. For example, converged devices are often heavier, larger and there might be compromises on some parts eg: cameras on camera phones; besides which they can often be expensive. I’m not down playing them, just be aware that sometimes one device might not be the be all. For example, with bluetooth tehnology nowdays it’s conceivable that a phone could be mounted somewhere and never looked at – if you just wanted to make and take voice calls.

Once you’ve ascertained the method by which the device will be operated you can look at functions. However not before you’ve looked at my number one catch cry – position, position, position. If you can’t reach a device with whatever way you intend to operate it – finger, knuckle, stick, elbow, pen, tongue, nose – then it’s useless. As an example, I had a mobile phoe long before bluetooth and before I could operate it I’d need someone to put it in my hand. Then I could reach the buttons with my tongue to dial it. Later, to be fast enough to unlock the keypad, I’d have to do a tongue-nose to be quick enough. The thought of operating a phone let alone a PDA was as far away as flying to the moon, except for one little cheap thing – a lanyard. A cheap piece of ribbon hung around my neck changed everything. Why? Because I now had my device in the position I could reach it! Reach it to me means having it in a position where I can manouvure it up to balance on one hand while poking at it with a pen held in my mouth. This also means a silicone type cover is absolutely crucial to stop it sliding around. The lanyard also means if it falls off, I can still retrieve it myself.

Photo by superlocal

So, define how it will be operated and then how it can be positioned to enable that method. These may be different for the different required functions. Then look at the devices.

A word about Bluetooth. Again you need to look at what you’re going to be using it for. Phone calls only or music as well? If music, you’ll need the earpiece to support the Bluetooth A2DP profile as well as the device. There’s a lot of headsets out that support it now but they’re reasonably expensive and do you always want a set of cans on your head? Currently the smaller type ear pieces that will support A2DP are few (Jabra do one- BT8010). And remember, if you’re wanting to do calls as well, you need a mic in that.

I’ve been on this BT convergence track for years. Two years and three PDAs later and I ended up using a seperate mp3 player with earbuds rather than go without in the meantime.

As to answering phone calls with a BT earpiece, most will answer without having to hit anything, a function of the device itself. Most phones and PDAs support some form of voice command for dialing too. But note. It’s rarely totally hands-free. There’s usually a requirement that a button to be pressed first, either on the device or on the earpiece, to initiate the device to listen. And if it gets it wrong and dials the wrong person, how will you end the calling?

I wish I had an easy way to video how I use the device as that would be a lot clearer. You might be able to see something on the video interview I did on The Geek-stories or on Part 2 of the full version here on (just before half way in). Below is a photo of it (yes, a bad photo from a phone – I need a digital camera)

So there you have it. My pointers and thoughts on devices and BT for people with SCI from where I sit. There’s heaps more that we could go into detail about, but we’d need to start getting specific. Feel free to do that in the comments.

[tags]bluetooth, disability, pda, mobilephone, mobile, a2dp, convergence, adaptive, kludge[/tags]

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