Panel – Brian Norton, Belva Smith, Josh Anderson, Wade Wingler | Q1 Wheelchair ramps Q2 Smart plugs in real life Q3 Using Echo to send text messages Q4 Large print thermostats Q5 Computer and wheelchair interfaces Q6 Cheapest Internet access
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WADE WINGLER: Welcome to ATFAQ, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions with your host Brian Norton, Director of Assistive Technology at Easter Seals Crossroads. This is a show in which we address your questions about assistive technology, the hardware, software, tools and gadgets that help people with disabilities lead more independent and fulfilling lives. Have a question you’d like answered on our show? Send a tweet with the hashtag #ATFAQ, call our listener line at 317-721-7124, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The world of assistive technology has questions, and we have answers. And now here’s your host, Brian Norton.
BRIAN NORTON: Hello and welcome to ATFAQ episode 58. My name is Brian Norton and I’m the host of ATFAQ. Today I’m not in the studio. I’m actually at a remote location. I do have my friends in college who are gathered in the studio, and I’m talking remotely. My microphone may sound weird, different from everybody else’s today. I wanted to go around and have everybody introduced themselves that are in the studio. Belva?
BELVA SMITH: Everybody. Brian, welcome back.
WADE WINGLER: Welcome back “ish.”
BRIAN NORTON: I’m not quite there. For everybody that don’t know Belva, she is our team lead on our vision side for Easter Seals crossroads. Josh?
JOSH ANDERSON: Hey Brian.
BRIAN NORTON: How are you doing?
JOSH ANDERSON: Doing good. How about yourself?
BRIAN NORTON: I’m doing great. I’m not at work right now.
JOSH ANDERSON: We all know. We are making nice faces about it.
WADE WINGLER: We wish we could be at a remote location.
BRIAN NORTON: Josh is the manager of clinical assistance technology at Easter Seals crossroads. We also have Wade.
WADE WINGLER: Hey everybody.
BRIAN NORTON: Wade is the vice president of all things information and assistive technologies at Crossroads. He’s also the popular host of AT update and we are glad he is here running the sound and doing our engineering today.
For folks who don’t know the show, maybe this is that your first time listening to the show, I want to give information about how it works. We receive feedback and questions that come in a variety of ways to us throughout the week, and we set around as a panel and try to answer those as best we can. We have a few different ways for you to ask questions. Those ways would be a listener line that we’ve set up, 317-721-7124. We also have an email address, tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org. We also have a twitter hashtag. The last several weeks we’ve been beating the hashtag horse trying to get people to call in and give us the hashtag tweet. That hashtag is #ATFAQ. We will continue to beat that force until we start getting some tweets. Again, hashtag ATFAQ.
We also really encourage folks as they listen to the show, there will be question that we try to answer that we have some answers to but know that you also have answers to them. We would love for you to participate by providing feedback and giving us a call and letting us know what your thoughts are on a particular question. That helps everyone out when we, as a whole group, are generating responses and answers for folks. We can get more well-rounded answer is if everyone jumps in and participates. Please do that. You can give us your feedback in the same ways you submit your questions, the listener line, email address, and Twitter hashtag.
Again, if you have friends that you think would love to listen to the show, there are a variety of ways to listen to the show. You can find it on iTunes, ATFAQshow.com, also in stitcher, Google play store, in a variety of other places.
Without further ado, we will jump into our questions today. We didn’t have a lot of feedback today but we will jump directly into questions.
BRIAN NORTON: Our first question is from Sean. Sean is working with a lady who need some assistance for her father who is in a wheelchair. Going into his house, he has three steps, and he is not able to go to doctors appointments. Can you provide me with some information about assistance he may qualify for having a ramp built for his house. Father is in a wheelchair, has some steps he needs to traverse to get into and out of his house, has a difficult time getting out to go to doctors appointments and other things that are medically necessary, and is looking for ways that he might qualify for assistance in the area. I’ll open up.
BELVA SMITH: Just over the weekend I met some folks that happen to volunteer for a group called SAWs. There is a website SAWsramps.org. On that page, you can apply for a ramp at a reduced or possibly free cost. I would suggest starting. Since it is just three steps to get up and down, hopefully that wouldn’t be too difficult for them to do.
JOSH ANDERSON: There is also ramps.org. The very bottom one is free ramps program. You can look up any state. They don’t cover the whole state can’t just areas, but they are a small volunteer organization. Just pulling it up quickly, the first one that come up is SAWs, Servants At Work program. There are other ones so it depends on where you live. They are a nonprofit volunteer church organization. They will come out and build ramps for folks who are in need and don’t have any other source of funding to do that.
BELVA SMITH: You can also make donations on that page if you are feeling like you want to give to an organization. You can click on the donate button on the page and make a donation directly to the program.
WADE WINGLER: I know that SAWs is a central Indiana organization. Did you say ramps.org is broader than that?
JOSH ANDERSON: You can click on any state. I know this person said they were in Indiana.
WADE WINGLER: So you can find more local ones.
JOSH ANDERSON: Definitely. They are varied. All kinds of organizations that do it. I’ve looked on here before for someone, and I think a local Elks club showed up, or local Eagles, probably they have a few carpenters that are members of the organization and do that on their spare time.
BELVA SMITH: I would caution this individual to make sure that whoever they find to do the ramp for them, that they make sure that they are following the regulations. I know we’ve talked about that briefly before, but the ADA regulations are very important since you’re going to be using it with a wheelchair.
JOSH ANDERSON: Make sure your rise and run isn’t too often.
WADE WINGLER: Those IDEA guidelines are great to figure out exactly what that ramp should look like. Although if it is on a private residence, it is not required to follow those guidelines, but it is a good place to start in terms of what that should look like in terms of landing in rails and that stuff. I would suggest that no matter where you are in the US, you can also call your local assistive technology act program. In Indiana, that’s the INDATA Project. They don’t necessarily do that service, but I’m going to tell you that every AT act project should know where the local ramps organizations are and should help you be able to find that. If you want to find your local AT act, we have a website, www.eastersealstech.com/states. That will take you to a list of all the programs around the US states and territories and you can connect with them that way.
BRIAN NORTON: Something that is great about the tech act projects, we have a loan library here in Indiana; we have supportable ramp that you can use. Oftentimes ramps are needed just for a temporary accommodation. You are not sure how long you might need those cop but our ramps are available – I think we have anywhere from a two foot ramp to a six foot ramp that are available for 30 day loan for folks. I know other projects have those as well. Definitely reach out to your local AT act. If it is a temporary accommodation, maybe you’ve fallen ill or are just getting better, you may not need those for a long period of time.
The SAWs organization, just a personal story for me, across the street there was a person from where I live who had one of those put in by SAWs. The great thing was they put it up, and unfortunately the person they put it in for passed away shortly thereafter. They actually came back out and took it out as well so I didn’t have to stay permanently in place. They seem like in a willing organization to help you with your ramp needs, either for a short period of time or for a long time and stay in contact with you to help you out. Just a personal experience with that organization was pretty good.
WADE WINGLER: I’m looking at their website, and they are listed as a guide star platinum participant, which to me indicates that they probably do a pretty good thing with their charitable dollars as well.
BRIAN NORTON: The other thing I would mention it if you are looking – we talk about tech act projects with their loan libraries, that they are tuned into the support throughout their state. A lot of those assistive technology act projects also have alternative financing programs. If you need to be able to pay a contractor to build a ramp for you, or to be able to purchase materials to build your own ramp, you might be able to talk to them about that and also be able to apply for a low interest, extended interest bank loan to be able to fund your own project with regards to ramp and access into and out of your house. Certainly something to investigate and see if that would be the right thing for you.
BRIAN NORTON: This next question is from Brian. It’s myself actually. I wanted to post to the group for all of our listeners. It’s something I’ve been going back and forth with recently, trying to learn a lot about. That’s smart home assistants. We have Google Home and Amazon Echo. What I want to find out from folks is how do you use smart plugs or smart outlets in your home or office environments. I’m looking for a list of different appliances that people connect, if that’s your TV, stove, those things, and how it can automate the home or office environment for someone who isn’t able to access those standard things like light switches and buttons and knobs. Maybe we can have a discussion and fill it in more with folks who are listening in and their ideas.
BELVA SMITH: This is a great question to get some listener feedback on, Brian, especially since you are opening the door to see how people are using the technology. For me personally, I only have one the smart plug in my home. I use it in Tod’s office. I have it to turn the light on and off. The reason it is valuable to me is because getting to the lightswitch for his light means I have to enter the office and walk all the way across the room in the dark. Trust me, if you’ve ever seen his office, that can be risky. To be able to turn on the office light anywhere in the house is very convenient. I don’t want to go in there with a vacuum in hand to start vacuuming without having a chance to look the floor over and make sure that it’s safe to bring the vacuum in there.
What I found is recently – I don’t know if you want to call it getting lazier–
BRIAN NORTON: I say we call it getting lazier.
BELVA SMITH: Lot of it is getting lazier. There is a joy to being able to say, “Turn the light on. Turn the light off. Turn the TV on. Turn the TV off. Turn on the diffuser. Turn it off.” I would also like to say no one is connecting the stove to it. I’m not sure they are really intended to turn on and off stoves.
JOSH ANDERSON: Probably not.
BELVA SMITH: If I could use it on my outside grill, I certainly would. I about exploded myself with the grill trying to push the button to get it turned on. If I could say turn it on and turn it off, that would be great.
JOSH ANDERSON: Don’t burn down the house.
BELVA SMITH: Exactly.
BRIAN NORTON: Part of the reason I thought of this question is I’ve been doing a little bit of research, wrapping my mind around – we are seeing more and more from clients who are asking about home automation. They have these old environmental control units that they’ve been using in the past. The manufacturers aren’t in business anymore and can’t update those. As you think about how readily available these smart assistants and smart plugs are to be able to voice activate and automate your home, I think things are going to move in that direction.
I did some research. It seemed like for the most part, smart plugs turn things on and off. There is not a whole lot of variability between them unless you get a dimmer switch for a light. I found a smart washing machine, a smart dryer. You can control your air conditioner. I’m trying to think about the other things these environmental control units controlled. It’s things like the TV, being able to change the channel and do other things. I see things that are coming out. Dish Network allows you to use Alexa to be able to control your TV, be able to change channels and other things. I’m wondering what are some different applications so I can start wrapping my mind around what all you can do with this technology besides what everybody used to do, turn things on and off.
BELVA SMITH: As far as I know, you cannot use the Amazon echo to change the channels.
WADE WINGLER: Nope.
BELVA SMITH: I will say that Comcast, as long as you have the XFINITY X1 package, they do have a talking remote that allows me to voice channel change. I say, “Show me Judge Judy or peoples court.” Or I can say, “Go to HBO.” The TV will go to that. Or I can say, “Show me all the movies with Tom Celica.” It will bring up all the movies with Tom Celica, and I choose which one I want. That’s a feature of the Comcast cable provider.
BRIAN NORTON: Dish network just came out, Amazon Echo can connect to their dish receiver. You can use Alexa to control the dish receiver to do all that stuff with your TV.
JOSH ANDERSON: The newer versions of Amazon Fire and Fire TV stick have it built into their controls. You can’t do it from the standalone device. Is that right?
WADE WINGLER: Correct. There are a lot of other things. In my house, we use ours a lot. We use it to turn on and off a fan in our bedroom. My wife is the kind of person who needs to have a fan running while she is sleeping. At Christmas time, we had our Christmas tree connected to it because you didn’t want to crawl under the Christmas tree to plug it in. We use it for the music and other stuff as well. If you go to Pinterest and put an Amazon Echo, it’ll give you tons of ways that people using that device and some unusual ways. They talk about turning off the TV after they’ve gone to bed. You have a smart plug connected to your TV but you can turn it off after you’ve already left the room just by giving a command to do that. They talk about using it to turn the crockpot on while you are at work. There is another example of listed devices that are Echo compatible that people don’t know. There are some air filter things, some ceiling fans that are designed to work directly with Amazon echo. The HiQ brand of fans, you can turn the fan off or on, adjust the speed, adjust the light intensity. There is a series called Rockio sprinklers that you can control your lawn sprinkler with Echo. There is another thing called Garagio that connects to your garage door opener and will allow you to have Alexa – Belva, we are probably setting them off with this podcast.
BELVA SMITH: Her blue ears are perked up.
WADE WINGLER: You can open and close the garage door. It also works with your fit bit so you can get some information from your fit bit. They also talk about some of the doorbell systems. In our house, we also use the thermostat all the time. We say, “Alexa, turn the thermostat up two degrees.”
I think it’s important to think about, when you combine your Amazon Echo or smart plugs with the IF service, If This Then That, then all of a sudden you get that geo-fencing stuff going. Here’s an example that would be good in my house. You can plug a curling iron into a smart plug and set that up with if this then that, so if my wife’s cell phone registers more than a mile away from the house, it turns out that outlet. If you forget to turn the curling iron off, when she leaves the house, it could turn it off. You can also set it up where you can have a blender set up so that if your smartphone gets within a mile of the house, it turns on the blender and starts making margaritas for the end of the day. I think there are some more clever things you can do with that, but I was surprised when I went on Pinterest and plugged in Amazon echo and found tons of clever ideas that people have.
BELVA SMITH: One of the things we didn’t mention is I believe there are some keyless door locks now so you can actually lock or unlock the front door. When I think about the individuals I’ve worked with over the years – and I know, Brian, you and Wade have had a lot more experience working with the individuals like this – the primary things that the folks I worked with wanted to be able to do that they weren’t able to do was light on and off, fan on and off, TV on and off, and they can do all those things with a smart plug.
BRIAN NORTON: I hopped on Pinterest and plugged in Amazon echo. There is a ton of stuff.
WADE WINGLER: It’s going all the time. More companies are creating Alexa skills that go along with their hardware. It seems to be emerging as the platform for that stuff. I think we will see more as time goes on.
Brian, not stepping on your host toes because you are not in the studio today, but this would be an excellent thing that our audience might chime in on. This will be a great want to hear on our listener line. If you call in, we can do a segment on an upcoming show where you talk about the things, more than just turning lights on and off, that you are doing with your Amazon Echo. If people want to call, that number is 317-721-7124.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s a great idea.
BRIAN NORTON: Our next question came in through email. Does anyone know if there is a way to call/text message using Alexa without a cell phone number? I patient does not own a cell phone number and has been using the iPad to run the Alexa app. He would like to be able to make calls, send messages hands-free. He does use Siri to make calls to other iOS users through face type, but Siri tends not to hear him as well as Alexa does. Belva, you were talking about an app a while ago, right?
BELVA SMITH: You have to be able to have a cell phone number. It doesn’t call land lines. It will call cellular numbers, that I’m aware of. I thought at some point – and this is not something I’ve done – you were able to make phone calls from the iPod touch. I don’t know if that was only true if you already had an iPhone and happened have an iPod touch at the same time. I did do some research and was not able to find anything that verify that you could actually place a call from the iPod touch. I guess from what I know, my experience would say that without having a cell phone, this individual would not be able to use Alexa to make a phone call.
WADE WINGLER: There is a skill that I’m researching called SMS with Molly, which is a skill you can install on Alexa that will allow you to put in, according to the description here, up to six people into a speed dial. You can say, “Alexa, tell SMS with Molly to tell Belva ‘leaving now'”, and it would send you, Belva, a message that said that. It would come from a generic phone number and you can only do 30 text messages a month. I don’t know if it is a situation where you can pay and get more text messages or not. It is called SMS with Molly. That’s the name of the skill you can install. You have to go to their website SMSwithMolly.com. There is a place where you can log in, set up your information, and get the service going. That might be something to look at. If you are going to be limited to 30 messages a month, that’s one per day, that may not be much for people who use that a lot. I haven’t used that myself. I just read about it.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s a fairly new skill set for Alexa. They haven’t been able to make phone calls only recently.
BELVA SMITH: Recently, yes.
WADE WINGLER: You can send messages from echo to echo. I could tell my Alexa to send something to Belva’s.
BELVA SMITH: And I call you. As long as you are in my contacts, I have it call you.
WADE WINGLER: It is echo to echo. I think this SMS with Molly is sending it out to the web and they are using a text messaging service to send it out from there.
BELVA SMITH: Brian, what you are mentioning was the skill that allows me to have an emergency group of folks so that I ask her to contact my emergency list.
BRIAN NORTON: Is that called Ask My Buddy?
BELVA SMITH: Yes. Everyone would get a text and a voice message letting them know that they need to check on mom or need to check on grandma or whatever. It’s not a phone call where I say, “Hey, the sun’s out and it’s beautiful here.” Or even a text where I say what I want to say. It’s just a specific text that says you need to check on mom.
BRIAN NORTON: Interesting. It does look like this is possible but there are some limited options with that. SMS with Molly gives you a limited amount of text messages each month. Ask my Buddy sent it out to a group of folks that you pre-determined, and emergency list of folks. You can make calls with the echo but only from echo to echo, not to a phone or anything like that.
I’ll throw this out to the audience. Maybe you guys have some different information on that. That’s our understanding at this point. If you have some information to throw in, give us a call. We would love to hear from you. Our number is 317-721-7124. Or send us an email at tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org.
WADE WINGLER: Brian, as we are closing out this question, it’s Ask My Buddy or SMS with Molly, are the places you can go and check out those apps.
BRIAN NORTON: Our next question is from Donna, asking a question in regards to her daughter Dorothy. Dorothy has macular degeneration and her sight is increasingly being impaired. As you are already aware of this condition, we can only assist with larger, bolder letters, and contrast seems to help as well. I hit a huge obstacle helping my mom due to her being unable to read her home thermostat. I contacted Honeywell with the issue and they replied with no help for her. I wonder if this was something to be able to assist her with. Looking for an accessible thermostat and help her mother who has macular degeneration.
BELVA SMITH: And Donna is the daughter of Dorothy. She is trying to help her mother.
WADE WINGLER: Which is very nice.
BELVA SMITH: Good job Donna.
WADE WINGLER: This is a Dot and a Nest, right?
BELVA SMITH: For the VIP 3000 talking thermostat.
WADE WINGLER: I don’t want to look at it. I want to say Alexa, what is the thermostat set too?
BELVA SMITH: I never know the temperature inside my house as much as I do now because I’m constantly checking and adjusting it. If you want to go low tech, MaxiAids offers a talking thermostat called the VIP 3000 talking thermostat. I should know the price on that but I don’t. I’ll have it here in a few seconds for you.
I feel like there are two parts to her question. I feel like she is asking is there a device that can help her mother, but then can we provide the services that her mother might need for this. Yes, we can absolutely sit down with her mother in figure out what might be a good option, but there would be a fee for that service.
WADE WINGLER: We offer that in Indiana. I’m not sure where they are. I feel like I’m doing a commercial for the AT act today. This would be another great example that no matter where you are in the US states or territories, if you found your local AT act project and say, “Hey, I’m interested in these kinds of solutions.” They should be able to direct you to local resources. I think with some of the stuff, you will find a local HVAC will have some familiarity with this and might be able to help, especially if you explain your situation. And AT act should definitely be able to point to a vendor.
Regardless of what thermostat change you might be looking at here – we haven’t even talked about solutions that don’t involve changing the service that – there are some compatibility issues. We just moved not too long ago. In our old house, the nest thermostat wasn’t compatible, but in our new house it is. You have to do research to make sure it is.
BELVA SMITH: You definitely want to make sure you get your heating and air guy involved. I had the same situation where I thought I wasn’t going to be able to add the smart thermostat, but as it turns out I was able to. The price on that, the VIP 3000, is $198. You may purchase it from Maxi aids but I would definitely get a professional to make sure – it’s all about do you have the right number of wires and are they the right color and what stage furnace do you have, a two-stage or three stage. Those are not things we typically know the answer to.
JOSH ANDERSON: What about a handheld video magnifier? You can change the contrast can’t make it larger, and then you would be able to see the thermostat. You would also be able to see prices at the grocery store, read directions on the back of a can or soup or just even figure out it is a can of soup as opposed to something else. That may be something that will help you more even though you’re just looking right now at the thermostat. They are more expensive. I think they run anywhere from $400-$800 depending on bells and whistles. Not always take you back to the AT act projects, but they usually have quite a few in stock that you can try out and see which ones work and help the most. There are usually low vision stores around most states. They might have one that is used or an older model that you can get for a lesser price. That way she should hopefully be able to see what it is saying on the thermostat depending on what kind it is. You can always make it larger and change the contrast. Hopefully she can get access to it. That would help her around the home and the community as well.
BELVA SMITH: Along those lines, I’m going to throw out an iPad mini. I know she may be afraid of the introduction of a tablet, but if she could use a tablet. I think for around $350 you can get the iPad mini, take a picture, and blow it up as large as the screen so you can see it. It would help her in other areas as well.
JOSH ANDERSON: The built in magnifier to all the iOS devices does have the contrast changes. You can invert the colors or change them as you need. Brought back I’m going to go back to what Wade originally mentioned. I’m fascinated just thinking about instead of trying to struggle to see it, when you can just ask and also increase or decrease with a smart thermostat, I wonder if that would be simpler.
BELVA SMITH: There are a lot of variables that go into that. Number one, does grandma have Wi-Fi Internet in her home? Maybe she does or doesn’t. That will be the first thing that would be required. Yes, the convenience of being able to say what’s the temperature, set the temperature to 76, or set the temperature to 69 is very nice. I can do that from anywhere in my house. First we have to make sure that she has Internet in her house, Wi-Fi, the home device, be it Alexa, Google. If you’re going to go that route, you have to make sure the thermostat is not only compatible with your furnace but also compatible with that particular device. They don’t all work together. I hope they would and I’m hoping in the future there is a universal that all of this smart stuff can come together. Right now everything is very specific. You have to make sure everything will be compatible.
BRIAN NORTON: When you talk about that universal Internet of things terminology, I think people are starting to try to tackle that and bring things together and bring them under one umbrella or make them known to folks. That would be interesting to see where it goes as a field. I think there is a lot of benefit to folks just being able to control your environment, health and safety concerns. There is so much that folks can benefit from to connect these things. When you can get reliable, accurate data back and forth between you, your medical professional, what’s happening in your environment, it’s a great thing.
BELVA SMITH: Like a Wade mentioned earlier about using the smart plug to be able to turn the fan on and off, I recently just put a new ceiling fan in my bedroom. I would’ve absolutely loved to have gotten one that would’ve worked with my Echo; however, at that time I justify the cost. The cost to get a ceiling fan that was going to be compatible with Alexa was way more expensive than what I wanted to do. Along with I would like to see everything become universal, I would also like to see the price on the devices come down a little bit. My thermostat, I can’t complain about. I think it was reasonably priced under $200 which is what I just said that talking one was. If you are just going to go by “dumb” thermostat, you can get that for $40. Any of the smarter or newer ones, Internet ones, are going to be in the $200 price range.
WADE WINGLER: Ask her friends who got a smart thermostat and ask what they did with their old one. I have two or three lying around.
BELVA SMITH: I tried to get rid of mine and no one wanted it.
BRIAN NORTON: I would like to encourage our folks who are listening, if you have any kind of information to chime in on this particular question, we would love to hear from you. You can send us a tweet with the hashtag ATFAQ or send us an email at tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org.
BRIAN NORTON: Our next question came in over email. The question is, for individuals that are unable to access the computer through their hands, what are the key product you are most likely to use, and the interface this to their wheelchair? Things like head or I gaze systems, sip and puff systems, tongue movement, blinking, etc.? Just wondering what type of access do you provide to folks in that situation, and do you also connect to their wheelchair.
JOSH ANDERSON: I think you named them all off there.
BELVA SMITH: I would say that’s the whole purpose of the evaluation, is to sit down with the person and find out what’s appropriate and how is it going to be appropriate. Absolutely if it requires something being attached to a wheelchair, and that certainly is something we would do.
BRIAN NORTON: When you think about what they are asking for, when they are thinking high-level spinal cord injuries and you are talking ALS, you have to assume that there is very little movement. They basically have head movement or shoulder and above movements. With ALS, you wonder are they able to produce enough speech that you can hear it and have enough breath control to be able to control voice recognition systems. I do think when you think about that, you are limited by what is his shoulder and above access. Things like a head mouse, using an on-screen keyboard with a head mouse to move the cursor around to select characters and symbols and numbers on an on-screen keyboard. Things like eye gaze systems are gaining traction these days. There are lots of less expensive I gaze systems then there have been in the past where you simply stare at something for a period of time, dwell select things on an on-screen keyboard to put text in your computer can’t be able to navigate and move the cursor around. Sip and puff systems are also out there, being able to navigate the mouse cursor using an on-screen keyboard and do things like single click, double-click. The blinking, those are switch access. There are some interesting systems that you can use to provide keyboard access to folks.
As far as tying them into the wheelchair, you certainly can. I know joysticks and some of the control systems for wheelchairs offer that ability to be able to switch input from being able to use your wheelchair to then being able to control your computer. It’s simply a setting change on your controller. You can then use the system that’s used to drive your wheelchair to be able to drive and navigate the computer.
The only thing I would say as regard to do we do that, oftentimes we see folks, at least in our clinical program where we do some of the down in the trenches with folks, we are seeing folks after they’ve already had their seating and positioning evaluation, after they’ve received their wheelchair. A lot of times at the point when they are doing seating and positioning, things like computer access aren’t often talked about although they probably should be, because it is just an upgrade controller with additional software that allows you to be able to switch those components from being able to use the chair to being able to access the computer. A lot of folks we see, they don’t have that option preprogrammed. Getting back to their seating and positioning specialist to be able to upgrade that can sometimes be a challenge. We are often using third-party software and hardware for the computer to be able to make that happen for them. It’s not integrated into their wheelchair at that point.
WADE WINGLER: It might be worth mentioning that there are some wheelchair control systems, like Quantum has one called the Q Logic 2, which allows you to use your wheelchair joystick to then control things like your computer and infrared remotes and things like that. It may be that if this person has wheelchair access worked out pretty well with a joystick, one of those Bluetooth or IR enabled control systems might be something worth looking at. Honestly, not knowing if they are a power wheelchair user, probably they would want to go back to the vendor of the power wheelchair stuff and say, hey, do you have the ability to do those kinds of controls.
JOSH ANDERSON: Picking one of those depends on the person’s ability. Eye gaze systems, you have to be able to control the eye movement and be able to stay pretty well in one position. The way the camera picks it up, if you move around a lot, it’s not going to be able to pick up your eye. The same thing with a head mouse, you have to be able to move your head to get two different places. Craig, who was here in Brian’s seat last week and should be this week since Brian is not here –
WADE WINGLER: Right, Mr. “I’m at home.”
JOSH ANDERSON: I do know he’s even mix a few together, use a head mouse for the individual but mix that with Dragon because the person did have enough voice to say click, so as he takes the head mouse, point at something, he says click or double-click and it will control it. There are ways of mixing things together as needed to make a special consideration for folks and what they can do.
BRIAN NORTON: Were you going to say something, Belva?
BELVA SMITH: I thought about it but I don’t know. I was going to say, something I think I’ve said about three times today. I think it’s one of those situation where there is not one tool. You have to have more than one option.
WADE WINGLER: This is not a one size fits all world we live in in the field of assistive technology.
JOSH ANDERSON: The job would be so boring if it was.
BELVA SMITH: We probably wouldn’t have a job.
BRIAN NORTON: If there is anyone listening who has comments on that or would like to provide feedback, we would love to hear from you. You can give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124 or send us an email at tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org. We would love to hear from you.
WADE WINGLER: And now it’s time for the wildcard question.
BRIAN NORTON: Our next question is the wildcard question. This is where Wade has pondered a question that we haven’t heard or had time to prepare for.
WADE WINGLER: Today we’ve been talking about a lot of different kinds of assistive technology. I was thinking as we were sitting here, yeah, spend $200 on a smart thermostat or spend a few thousand dollars on this or that. I got to thinking, some of the stuff we’ve talked about today is pretty expensive. We also talk about Internet of things and how everything is internet-enabled these days. Here’s my question: what is the cheapest way a person could get online? It doesn’t have to be a computer. If somebody came to you like an older person who says, “I’ve finally given in and I want to try to get on the Internet, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money. I just want to look at webpages and I want an email account.” What’s the cheapest way you could go about that and how would you do it?
BRIAN NORTON: That’s a great question.
WADE WINGLER: That’s what I’m here for.
BELVA SMITH: It would probably be a tablet. To do the tablet they are going to need an Internet service at home. I do have consumers who don’t have Internet at home, but they do at the public library, at McDonald’s, so they basically connect one they are out and about and there is free Wi-Fi that they can tap into and they can answer into their emails. I used to wonder why people sit at McDonald’s and Starbucks and do email. Now I think, I wonder if that person doesn’t have Internet at home. I may email a client and not hear back for a couple of days but that’s because they haven’t been anywhere to connect to the Internet. That still isn’t really cheap, but you can get some of the cheaper tablets for under $100.
I love that question because sometimes I find myself saying it’s only $200. Only $200?! That’s a lot of money.
WADE WINGLER: That’s a grocery trip for a month for some folks.
BELVA SMITH: Absolutely.
JOSH ANDERSON: The library has computers that are free to use and connected to the Internet. If you’re not far from it or there is a bust up close, you could go there every day and check every day and wouldn’t have to buy anything. You wouldn’t have to pay for a website or anything like that. If you really just wanted to do a couple of things and didn’t need to do them at home, or at least a good way to start. If it’s something you enjoy and want to do more, then maybe look into getting your own computer to get online.
WADE WINGLER: A good way to dabble.
JOSH ANDERSON: And it doesn’t cost a penny. As long as you get there early so not all of them are used up. I’ve known people who use them for job searches, to make resumes. They’ve done the entire thing from the library and it didn’t cost than a penny.
BRIAN NORTON: Depending on how annoying you want to be, your neighbor has a computer.
JOSH ANDERSON: And Wi-Fi. All you have to do is learn their Wi-Fi, and boom.
BELVA SMITH: Maybe your neighbor doesn’t have their Wi-Fi secure.
JOSH ANDERSON: Must be terrible being your neighbor, Brian.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s right. My neighbors don’t talk to me anymore.
WADE WINGLER: He always has a new neighbor every two years.
JOSH ANDERSON: Isn’t that weird?
BRIAN NORTON: An inexpensive tablet, like you mentioned Belva, and going to a library or someplace that has public computers to give you access would be a good way to do it.
WADE WINGLER: I find that there are more and more Internet enabled devices. I have an Amazon Kindle or even the old one that you can get for almost nothing, it has a web browser. Maybe you can get onto your neighbor’s Wi-Fi and do that from home. Most smart TVs today, the Samsung or LG TV that you might buy, it has a web browser. We broke out the Nintendo Wii for our family not too long ago because my kids really like to play super Mario galaxy and bowling. There is a web browser in that as well. They are Linux-based, stripped-down, open-source browsers. If you want basic web access to set up a Gmail account, there are tons of options out there.
BELVA SMITH: I do want to say that dialup is still available. To this day I have a consumer who uses dialup for his Internet connection. I think he’s paying $30 a month for that. That is still an option. I think high-speed Internet, the cheapest you’re going to get it in our area – again I know we have listeners all over the place – here in Indiana, the cheapest you’re going to get high-speed Internet at home is around $40, and that’s going to be if you’re lucky.
JOSH ANDERSON: There are some programs where if you qualify for some different social programs —
BELVA SMITH: What you are talking about is not worth the hassle for the savings. It’s going to save you two dollars a month.
JOSH ANDERSON: I thought it’s $10 a month.
WADE WINGLER: One I know that works pretty well that we have had some expands with is Comcast. Comcast has a thing called Internet essentials. It’s $9.95 per month for high-speed Internet, but you have to qualify for free lunch. If you are in a household where a child would qualify for free lunch, you can get a legitimate Comcast connection for $10 per month. That’s only in areas that are Comcast service areas. Again, you have to have a child in the household who qualifies for a free lunch.
BELVA SMITH: That’s news to me. I haven’t heard that one.
WADE WINGLER: Internet essentials is the name of their program.
BELVA SMITH: Is that new or has it been around for a while?
WADE WINGLER: It’s been around a few years but is not something that gets wide publicity. We try to talk about it when we can.
BELVA SMITH: I’m going to making note of that and have some folks check it out.
WADE WINGLER: I also realize that in addition to Comcast having programs, AT&T, Cox Cable has something like that, Spectrum as well. There are a lot of cable providers who do Internet that have some low income qualified, low cost options. I’m looking at a website called cheaperinternet.com, they have a section called low income Internet that lists some of these more legitimate programs.
BRIAN NORTON: That’s our show for today. I want to thank Belva and Josh and Wade who joined us today. Thanks for being part of the show.
WADE WINGLER: Thanks for letting us be here. Hopefully you can be sometime soon. We miss you.
JOSH ANDERSON: We really do. We forget what you look like. I bet you’ve grown.
BRIAN NORTON: I want to thank you listeners. Don’t forget, without your questions or feedback, we don’t really have a show. Please participate. We’d love to hear from you. You can do that in a variety of ways. You can call our listener line at 317-721-7124 or send us a tweet with the hashtag ATFAQ or email us at tech@EasterSealsCrossroads.org. We certainly want your questions and would love to have you as a part of our show.
I want to say thank you to our panel today. Belva?
BELVA SMITH: It was a great show, good questions. I’m looking forward to the next show. Remember to let us know how you’re using your smart plugs.
BRIAN NORTON: Josh?
JOSH ANDERSON: Thanks everybody for listening. I can’t wait to see you next time.
BRIAN NORTON: Wade?
WADE WINGLER: Always a pleasure. Take care.
BRIAN NORTON: We will see you guys next time.
WADE WINGLER: Information provided on Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions does not constitute a product endorsement. Our comments are not intended as recommendations, nor is our show evaluative in nature. Assistive Technology FAQ is hosted by Brian Norton; gets editorial support from Mark Stewart and Belva Smith; is produced by me, Wade Wingler; and receives support from Easter Seals Crossroads and the INDATA project. ATFAQ is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more of our shows at www.accessibilitychannel.com.
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