ATU372 – Apps for anxiety – Laura Hall – Michigan AT Program |


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Apps for anxiety – Laura Hall – Michigan AT Program |

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UTA patents headset that allows persons to point to objects of interest using their eyes

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——-transcript follows ——

LAURA HALL:  Hi, this is Laura Hall, and I’m a program manager at Michigan assistive technology program, and this is your assistive technology update

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 372 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on July 13, 2018.

Today I have an interesting conversation with Laura Hall.  She’s actually a program manager at the Michigan assistive technology act program, so our Michigan counterpart up there.  We are going to have a conversation today about a whole bunch of apps for anxiety.  Interesting conversation.  We come up with a whole bunch of different apps that serve in ways I didn’t expect.  Fascinating stuff.  Also have a story about the University of Texas who has a new patent on a new kind of eye gaze system that I haven’t seen before, doing something pretty cool having to do with eye-movement and wheelchairs.

We hope you’ll check out our website at  Send us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project.  Or give us a call on our listener line.  We love to hear your questions and comments.  You might just hear your voice on this or one of our other shows.  The number is 317-721-7124.

Like this show? Check out our question and answer show, assistive technology frequently asked questions, ATFAQ.  Check it out at or wherever you your podcast.




[1:50] University of Texas, Arlington, patents new eye gaze technology



If you’ve been working in the field of assistive technology very long, eye gaze isn’t something new to you.  Eye gaze is something that will allow a person to control their computer or whatever with movements of their eyes.  However, there is a new group of researchers out of the University of Texas at Arlington to have a patent on a new set of eye gaze technologies that does something interesting and difference.  It’s a set of goggles you look through.  Think augmented reality here.  They will both let you see what’s happening in your environment and also track your eye-movement at the same time.  The thing I think it’s interesting or different about this is it’s designed to allow them to control what they call in article here mobile platforms, a.k.a. wheelchairs.  We are talking about, especially for someone with a spinal cord injury or ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease the ability to wear a set of goggles that will allow you to control your wheelchair with your eye-movement.

Clearly we are talking about very researched, beta kind of things here, but the article then talks about some of the details about how it’s going to work.  There is a quote from Christopher McMurray who is a Peter science and engineering lecturer at UTA.  He says, “The latest version of our device can be worn as a pair of ski goggles with cameras on top and I trackers embedded in the lenses, making it very easy for patient to use over long periods of time as it moves with them.” Lots of exciting and interesting stuff here.  I’m going to encourage you to check out the article.  It’s posted over at, and I’ll pop a link in the show notes.  You’ll read a headline that says “UTA patents headset that allows persons to point to object of interest using their eyes.” Check our show notes.






WADE WINGLER:  Let’s face it, there are always days when we are anxious about various life events.  For some of us, anxiety as a disability and represent something that requires a greater level of intention.  In our world of there is an app for everything, I wanted to spend some time on this topic of apps for anxiety.  I was super excited when Laura Hall, who was a program manager at the Michigan assistive technology project, which they are our counterpart in Michigan, decided that she would take time on her day off and come and talk with us.  Welcome to the show and thank you for coming in on your day off to talk with us.

LAURA HALL:  Thank you, Wade.

WADE WINGLER:  Tell me a little bit about you and your job and how you became interested in assistive technology related to anxiety.

LAURA HALL:  The Michigan assistive technology program has helped with an organization called Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.  I started working with Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, or MDRC, about six years ago.  I have a disability myself, so I think that’s what led me in the direction of wanting to work for a disability justice movement.  My role within the assistive technology project as a program manager is to work with some of the sides that we subcontract with to provide services to people in the community.  We are able to provide device demonstrations, trainings, reuse of items with a website called That allows people, similar to a Craigslist, for disability equipment.  [Inaudible] selling or giving away or looking to buy.  We also provide some alternative financing options to purchase assistive technology, and we provide short-term loans of items so they can try it out in their home and figure out if it will work with them long-term.

WADE WINGLER:  That sounds kind of familiar because we do a lot of the same things here in Indiana.


WADE WINGLER:  So talk to me a little bit about apps for anxiety.  Why did you become interested in this? And why do we need apps like this?

LAURA HALL:  In addition to my physical disability, which is cerebral palsy, I also experience anxiety, which identify as a disability.  A lot of this work I’ve done with anxiety apps comes from my own experimentation and looking for things that work for me.  Recognizing that so many other people RESNA and with that.  Apple in particular are a way that you can get sort of immediate relief and attention to what you are experiencing, what you are feeling, and bringing that feeling down.

WADE WINGLER:  Is this a new kind of thing, or do you think people have been using technology to manage anxiety for a long time?

LAURA HALL:  I think people have been using technology for a long time now.  If you think about it, while now there might be hypnosis apps, there were hypnosis tapes or CDs.  People that are practicing diaphragmatic breathing might have used a tape or CD for that.  A lot of things that are not [Inaudible] into apps are things that might be used in a therapy situation or cognitive behavior scenario.  I think we’ve been using technology for a long time, but now the apps made it more easily accessible for us.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s kind of true with our life in general.  There are a lot of things that used to be a device or service or something, and now it’s a map.  Now it’s pull it out of your pocket and start using it right there on the spot, right?


WADE WINGLER:  When we talk about different kinds of apps for anxiety, we’re going to get into categories in a little bit.  Are these apps things that would be used during therapy? Or the apps that are used sort of on the spot when anxiety becomes an issue? Or are they things you might use at home as you are thinking about your day or preparing to go out and knowing that anxiety might be an issue? Is this on the fly or preparation? Tell me about that.  The one I think it can be both.  Some of these apps are meant to provide assistance if you have an immediate panic attack.  You get on your app and practicing diaphragmatic breathing by on the spot.  There are some others where you can put down your thoughts for the day, what you are worried about, and then come back to them later and decide whether the worry in that situation was on the spot or was overly worried.  They can help you identify your cognitive biases, things like that.

It’s just a mix.  I think some of these are used in a therapy setting and some of them, apps that I discovered have been developed to buy therapy professionals.  There are some that have been developed by the military for use with veterans.

WADE WINGLER:  When you say that, it makes me wonder a little bit about the folks who are using this.  You talk about veterans.  I probably come to the conversation with some presuppositions about who might use this.  I’m guessing that these might be that can be used in the workplace or at home or at school or by kids.  Is that true? Does it cut across a pretty broad spectrum of the population?

LAURA HALL:  Yes, I think anxiety and general cuts across the population.  You may or may not know if someone has an issue with anxiety.  These apps are designed to work for everybody.  They kind of cut across all age groups.  There are some that are doing more for adults, and some are designed for children, some that integrate more of a gaming sort of modality.  I think it’s just about looking for what you are particularly aimed at wanting to do, whether it be increasing your mindfulness or you’re looking to learn a better way of diaphragmatic breathing or analyzing [Inaudible] stress and anxiety and what triggers you.  There are apps that do all of this.

WADE WINGLER:  Let’s start talking about some of these apps.  I know you’ve got them broken down into categories.  Let’s start talking about some apps.

LAURA HALL:  One of the things I know helps immediately the moment you have an anxiety attack — what you’ll learn when you read about anxiety coping strategies, one of the first thing you’ll see is regulating her breathing.  There are some apps that are simple and the fact that they just walk you to the process of diaphragmatic breathing.  They’ll help you to learn and perform those techniques for stress control.  One of those apps is called Breathe2Relax — the number “2” — Breathe2Relax. It actually takes you through the process of breathing in, breathing out, how long to breathe in, how long to breathe out.  I think we are in that moment of anxiety.  Sometimes it’s hard to notice the way you might be breathing from your chest and not breathing from your diaphragm.

Another app that was developed for veterans and was developed by the Center for Telehealth and Technology is available to help people track their moods and level of stress.  You would do this on may be a daily basis or when you’re having an anxiety attack.  You can categories them into emotions or feelings that you’re having.  They have some you can categories on your own, and then they have some that are already listed out for you.  It helps you track and see where your peaks are and where your triggers are.

In relation to other breathing apps, there are other apps.  There is one called Calm which integrates a lot of different things into the app itself.  One of them is definitely breathing, but they will also ask you to focus on a piece of scenery or something like that, just to add to that mindfulness of being in the moment.  There are many out there.  I could list many more.  Those are two other ones that I really recommend.

WADE WINGLER:  I know that there are some apps that fall into the categories of things like noise and sound and that kind of stuff.  Tell me about those.

LAURA HALL:  There are a lot of apps that are focused on ambient noise and sounds.  One of the neat things about the apps is you can combine some into your own personalized playlist.  One of those apps is called Relax Melodies.  For instance, you can put a rain sound with the sound of a train going by or the sound of the fire next to the sound of security is chirping in the background and kind of create your own auditory space to help with the relaxation.

There is another one called Noisily which I use a lot just in my day-to-day work that helps keep me focused.  It’s another one of those where you can mind the different sounds.  Maybe I want to be in a coffee shop where it is raining.  You can put those two sounds together and that’s kind of your auditory landscape for whatever you’re doing and help you breeze through the moment.

WADE WINGLER:  Laura, you are totally speaking to me directly right now because I love to camp and allow the campfire.  But one of my favorite things in the world is to take a nap on the porch during the rain when there is a tin roof.  I bet I could probably create that, right?

LAURA HALL:  You probably could.  I’m sure you could.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the smart homes because can do this stuff.  Amazon Alexa has a play relaxation sounds and she will ask you which songs you want to hear, these are your choices.  That’s really nice that they are starting to integrate with the smart speakers.

WADE WINGLER:  Speaking of me taking a nap on the porch in the rain with the tin roof, I know that we talked about some apps related to sleep.

LAURA HALL:  Yeah, there are a lot of apps that help you sleep.  Some of the same ones that are just for sound and noise folks also like to use for sleep to use those devices to load you into sleep.  There are some fairly neat apps that are out there also that can analyze your sleep.  You put your smartphone down next to you near your pillow, and it sort of tracks your sleep cycles based on noise and vibration.  Is actually one called Sleep Cycle that analyzes your sleep, and before you wake up, it will analyze want to wake you up when you are in your lightest sleep phase.  That’s trying to ensure that you are rested and relaxed when you wake up.  I just read that it also tracks when you snore.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

They are other apps that are meditation for sleep.  That’s one of those where there are many apps where you can just search and your App Store for sleep meditation, and those meditation apps are specifically focused on helping you go to sleep.  This is different from an app, but one of the things that has really helped me lately is a podcast that’s called sleep with me.  What it is, it’s just a guy who tells you bedtime stories.  But he has such an interesting personality that he has a way of telling the bedtime story in a way where it meanders off in so many different directions, and you have no idea what he’s talking about, what it does is it takes your attention off of whatever is keeping you from sleeping.  So if you are worried about your next big thing, you really can’t think about it.  You are too busy trying to figure out what this guy is talking about.  It works for me every time.  I never get through a full podcast.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s hilarious.  I can imagine as saying, so what do you do for a living? Well I talk in second with the people are guaranteed to fall asleep.

LAURA HALL:  It does bore you to death.  He actually calls himself your “bore” friend.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s great.  We’ve got in a good nights sleep, and we’re going to wake up and be productive.  We talked before the interview, and you said you have some apps that fall into the productivity category.

LAURA HALL:  I do.  One of my favorite ones is called Forest. What it does is it really encourages you to focus on your work and not on other things while you are working, especially your phone.  You would set a timer.  In my case, I usually set it for 25 minutes.  There is a thing called the Pomodoro system for productivity where you were for 25 minutes, you stop, take a five-minute break, and once you work through four 25 minutes and commence, you take another 10 or 15 minute break.  Forest is nice because you set the timer, and it doesn’t allow you to check your messages or answer calls or visit any sites on your phone.  When you stick to our task and are not distracted by your phone, you grow a virtual tree in a forest.  But if you don’t follow through, then your tree dies.  The point of the app is to build a forest of trees, and then he can look back and see how productive you’ve been over the week.  One of the things I like best about the app as well you are growing your trees, you are also gaining points or currency, and then you can turn that currency into an organization actually plants trees.  I like that one a lot.

There are the ones, an app called Carrot where you put on your activities for the day, and to provide you with motivation to get your activities done.  [Inaudible] getting your work done, this provide some pop-ups.  Time to get to work.  That’s nice also.  Some of the other side apps that can provide the ambient noise, maybe if you are working in a loud working environment or have loud voices around you, can help block some of that out as well.

WADE WINGLER:  I’ve always wondered and been concerned about stigma and assistive technology in the big picture.  As I’m thinking about these apps that were talking about, I’m wondering, is there a stigma with using apps related to your anxiety, or is the fact that they are on a smart phone not such a big deal? Tell me about your thoughts on that.

LAURA HALL:  I think [Inaudible] smart phone really does cut down with a stigma.  Nobody can really tell what you might be doing, even some of these where you are listening to a meditation or a mindfulness activity.  You can have headphones on and no one knows whether you are listening to music or listening to that.  The ones where you are tracking your symptoms or your triggers, obviously that just looks like you are typing in your phone.  I really do think that cuts down on the Sigma.  Of course, I wish to estimate didn’t even exist.  I think too often the mental health stigma keeps most people from getting the help they need.  I’m glad that there are some apps that can now assist with that in a way that doesn’t need to be broadcast to the entire world.

WADE WINGLER:  This is a great list of apps.  Tell me you have one or two more you can share before we are out of time.

LAURA HALL:  I do.  I’m going to share my last two different apps with you.  One is the app called Happify.  When you sign up, it asks you a series of personal questions about how you’re feeling and helps you determine your happiness score, is what they call it.  Based on your happiness score, that then recommends a selection of tracks that might help boost it.  It could be conquering negative thoughts or building self-confidence or building career success.  That it helps you complete a set of simple activities.  Today when I was doing my daily Happify, it had me talk about something I could do to reach out to a friend.  I typed out what I wanted to do to reach out to a friend.  I have a friend who like smiley faces, so I’m wanting to find something with a smiley face for her.  When I did that, and asked me how it made me feel.  You can track according to that.  There are some games, some soundtracks that go along with that also that are really helpful.  That’s one of those that you can use for free.  Certain portraits of it that you want to unlock, you pay the in app purchases.

Probably my favorite app is Headspace. It offers an initial 10-day, 10-minute course in mindfulness and meditation.  The reason I like this app is because it really breaks down meditation mindfulness to easy-to-understand steps. Starting with just closing your eyes and getting yourself in that space and thinking about what is mindfulness.  What do you do with certain thoughts? Think of them as cars passing by.  The person that leads the sessions is very good at starting with the basics and holding every day.  If you purchase the in app features, you get more specialized and unguided exercises that can help you with specific situations like work, your relationship, sleep, and I can of thing.  They even have bite sized emergency exercises to help you out when you feel like you need that in the moment.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s cool.  We’ve covered a whole lot of really good apps here today.  If there were a place where you would recommend people were to go look for apps, how do you find these? Is it a Google search or is there a place online to find these and more?

LAURA HALL:  I think a Google search can lead you to a whole lot.  There are a lot of places that have gone and highlighted some of the top 10 apps they might consider for anxiety or relaxation or sleep or productivity.  That’s one way to go.

I know a lot of the AT programs have blogs and articles that relate to this as well.  The Michigan assistive technology program has one as well.  The website is



WADE WINGLER:  After I asked the question, I realized there is also a blog post that I saw that helped me think of this issue to begin with. It was at There was a post back on May 23 of 2018 that had some apps for managing anxiety.  That would be a good place to look.  I guess our blog would also be a good place to look as well which is  I will put all of those links in the show notes of the people who are trying to jot these down or remember them can go back to the show notes or the transcript of the show later and check out the things we’ve recommended.

We certainly appreciate you taking time to be on the show today.  If people wanted to learn more about you and what’s happening with the Michigan AT program, is the best place for them to reach out to contact you at that

LAURA HALL:  That one is just for our blog.  If you want to learn more about the Michigan assistive technology program,  you would go to the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition website, which is To get to the assistive technology page, there’s the backslash /assistive-tech. It’s

WADE WINGLER:  Laura Hall is an assistive technology program manager at the Michigan assistive technology program and has been our guest today.  Thank you so much for being on the show.

LAURA HALL:  Thank you.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners.  That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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