A Personal Emergency Response Alternative?

After the sudden death of her husband on New Year’s Eve, a friend was really in a daze. She has a lifelong hearing loss and now has arthritis that can flare up in times of stress. She also had a stroke a few years ago and has fallen at home before.

Her family and friends thought some type of personal emergency response (PERS) device was needed. She and her husband had tried a service in the past and hated it.  They had the service calling at all hours for false alarms, would forget to put the device on and did not think it was worth the money.

apple watch in rose gold with fabric bandHowever, as someone with training in art and design, she loves Apple products and has an iPhone. We decided to try the Apple Watch from Verizon which will connect to service even if her phone is not nearby. Apple phones and the watch now have an SOS feature.

Apple Watch face with the SOS featureThe SOS feature on the watch works in few different ways, depending on how you’ve set it up.  Here’s information on how to make an SOS call:

  1. Press and hold the side button on your watch until the Emergency SOS slider appears.
  2. Continue to hold down the side button. Wait for a countdown to begin and an alert to sound.
  3. You can also choose to turn off auto call and instead drag the Emergency SOS slider to start the call.
  4. When the countdown ends, your watch automatically calls emergency services.

You can also add emergency contacts using the Health app on your iPhone. When you have emergency contacts identified, after an emergency call ends, the SOS feature alerts your emergency contacts with a text message, unless you choose to cancel. Your iPhone/Apple Watch sends them your current location, and, for a period of time after you enter SOS mode, it sends updates to your emergency contacts when your location changes.

hand holding apple watch with icons of all apps on the face

She loves the watch and finds new feature on it every day! I’ve reminded her how to use the SOS feature a few times, but we haven’t actually called 911 yet. The other day, she was talking to a neighbor and she’d forgotten to charge her phone. The phone turned off due to low power in the middle of the call. The neighbor was worried and called back. She was able to answer the call using her watch and explain what happened. Otherwise she would have had the First-Responders at the door.

She’s also learned to ask Siri on the watch to call people. This could be a helpful first step if she needs some help but it’s not a life threatening situation. We’ve begun practicing with these feature by calling friends who are close by and willing to help.


  • The best AT is the one the person will use.
  • The watch is fun and attractive.
  • If she doesn’t hear the phone ring, which happens at times due to the hearing loss, the Apple Watch vibrates on her wrist for notification and she can see who is calling. This is also an advantage as she may decide to just call back if the phone is not close by.
  • The Apple Watch has multiple uses while a typical “panic button” or Personal Emergency Response is limited in function.
  • No monthly fee though for the cellular version, Verizon has a monthly $10 line charge.


  • Battery life. The watch needs to be charged just about every day.
  • Many falls happen in the bathroom and, according to Apple:  “Showering with Apple Watch Series 2 and Apple Watch Series 3 is ok, but we recommend not exposing Apple Watch to soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and perfumes as they can negatively affect water seals and acoustic membranes.”
  • It’s difficult or impossible to practice using the SOS feature. If you can contact your local 911 you might be able to go all the way through the steps to practice, otherwise risk accidentally having first-responders show up at your door!
  • Cost may not be covered by some services/insurance while the traditional PERS could be covered.

For my friend, the Apple Watch has been a source of joy in a dark time. It remains to be seen how useful it will be as PERS.  Have you used a smart watch as Assistive Technology? Please share your experiences!

Here’s some more information on using the Apple Watch and SOS feature:

Maintaining Your AT – Wheelchair Edition

By Lucia Rios, Guest Blogger

Someone resting feet up on an empty wheelchairOne of the most important pieces of assistive technology in my life is the manual wheelchair. It’s the accessory I never leave home without. Wheels enable my independence. Wheeling gives me confidence. Not only has my wheelchair been customized to fit me, but each ding, scratch and tear tells a deeper story of its use.

I use my wheelchair 365 days a year. I use my wheelchair from the moment I wake up until the time comes for sleep. That’s a lot of time!

Yet my wheelchair is not just an object to get me from one place to another, it’s part of my world and loved.  Just like a car, a manual wheelchair can only take so much. I think a wheelchair undergoes more abuse than a car because the demands of its use are constant. And yet it’s like owning a car – you’ve got to keep it running.

I must admit that I’m totally clueless when it comes to maintaining a car, which is why I use a mechanic. You can ask for referrals from friends and there seem to be many options on places to take your car. However, I realized that durable medical equipment providers – such as Airway Oxygen and CareLink – are not always the easiest to connect with or affordable when on a budget.

Let’s be honest, it’s an expense to own a car and the same goes for maintaining a wheelchair. As I started to utilize my wheelchair more often I noticed the upkeep took time, money and problem solving.  I’m not one to keep my information to myself, so here are solutions I learned along the way.

Bike Shops

road bike hanging in repair shopTo be honest I didn’t think of this solution by myself.  While interacting with a new friend – who also uses a wheelchair – I told my woes about wheelchair maintenance. Having to make an appointment at the medical equipment provider, high costs, etc.  He asked if I thought about using a bike shop.  I hadn’t.  

So I started visiting bike shops.  I asked for help airing my tires, and inquired about buying tires for my chair.  The first pair I bought were under $30 and there was no service fee to put them on!  I was hooked.  I ditched the medical equipment venues and went to my local bike store for all my wheelchair maintenance needs.  

Tires, lights to use at night, tightening of spokes and unexpected flats – the bike store was my go to.  Better yet, I didn’t have to schedule an appointment!  With each request I was treated with dignity, charged a reasonable fee, and air was always free!           

Online Stores

When I was being fitted for a new wheelchair – which is exciting because at that point my wheelchair is on its last spin – I hear what insurance considers “extras”.  

  • Tires with better traction for snow – an extra $100 to upgrade.
  • Vibrant colors – insurance won’t cover your preferred choice so you’ll have an out-of-pocket expense.
  • A bag to hold personal items – sorry you’ll have to pay $50 for a standard black tote.
  • And the list goes on.  

Frustrated and looking for a cheaper solution I went online.  I was excited to see their were options for a wheelchair user that were not only affordable, but trendy.

Social Media

I’m a huge fan of social media, especially when it comes to spreading awareness about the disability experience.  Being able to use pictures to explain barriers that I face in my day-to-day life has been a great way to educate, but also challenge others to think of their environments.  Facebook has also been a go to when I’ve run into problems with flat tires, inaccessible venues and a quick way to ask for assistance!  

Once my tires went flat while I was at the store.  I typed a quick message on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of an open bike store – it was business service hours.  Within minutes I had offers to assist, website addresses to bike shops, and a person willing to pick me up!  I took up a friends offer and met him at the local brewery so he could patch up my tire.  He fixed it, bought me a beer and gave me my own small tire repair kit!  

So, I’m curious, what maintenance tips do you have for your AT?

Holiday Wishes

Continued Universal Design of Products

triangle warning sign with man tripping over a blockI love gadgets and technology that make life easier. Some of the items we’ve added to our house recently are the Amazon Echo and Smart Plugs. My husband has difficulty with fine motor control and balance. We tried other options like a touch lamp and motion detection. Coming into a dark room and finding even an adapted lamp switch or light was a hassle. The cat kept turning on and off our touch lamp and setting off the motion sensor. We connected lamps to smart switches so now he just asked Alexa to turn on the lights.  I am convinced this has prevented a few falls!cat half in a basket on the floor

What is really wonderful about some of the AT options we’ve added recently is they are mainstream consumer items. My holiday wish is for this trend to continue. It is so much easier to build accessibility into the infrastructure than it is to retrofit or do remediation after the fact. Which leads well into wish number two!

More Accessible Web Resources

I attended the Accessible Learning Conference at Kellogg Center in East Lansing this month and was really pleased to see the strides made in making learning, including documents and web resources accessible. We’ve come a long way since I first designed a website using html code back in the mid 90’s!  There is so much growth in this area and it’s a challenge to keep up but so important to strive for equal access for everyone.  It’s just the right thing to do of course, and the recent court cases, like the win against Winn-Dixie and settlements as a result of advocacy by Marcie Lipsitt with the Michigan Department of Education continue the push for access!

Want to learn more about Web Access?

Al Swain at a picnic tableLife is Good

A wonderful  person and friend who was active with the disability community in Lansing once said at a Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC) Board retreat that his wish for the future was for everyone to wake up in the morning with the thought “Life is Good”.  Thank you Al Swain, I miss you.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
May all your wishes come true!

Watercolor paining of a dandelion flower in seed

The Struggle is Real – Grocery Shopping while Disabled

By  Lucia Rios, Guest Blogger

full grocery store aisle with extra display in the middleThe first time I was left on my own to shop, my wheelchair accidentally hit a large Rubbermaid display.  It came crashing down and anyone within earshot probably heard.  I had two thoughts in that moment – Rubbermaid makes a lot of noise and did anyone notice it was me?!

  • Heads turned
  • Mouths opened
  • Eyes shifted in my direction

Yup, I was caught. So how did I gracefully exit an awkward situation?  I merely said “oops” and sped off the other way in search of my companion who was also my ride home.

I wish I could say my shopping experiences have turned out better since I was a teenager, but it depends on what I’m buying and the venue.  As I became independent and lived on my own, the biggest shopping struggle was for groceries.

  • Carts
  • High shelves
  • Narrow aisles
  • Heavy items
  • Parking
  • Snow
  • Rain

You get the gist.

All of these created frustrations as a person who uses a wheelchair for independence.  I’m a problem solver and so I started finding different ways to navigate a process that most individuals don’t have to think twice about.

Shopping Bags

Before the age of reusable bags shoppers relied on paper and plastic.  I used my own bag reluctantly – I didn’t want to be mistaken as a shoplifter!  But it was a reminder that my shopping experience was different.  While using a bag had its perks it still had its limits.  For example, people used grocery carts which are able to hold over multiple items.  You’ve got front storage, deep and large back storage, and space under the cart.  That’s A LOT of space!  My simple bag could hold between 10 to 12 items maximum, and that also dependent on what I purchased.  I was going to the grocery store multiple days a week just to buy the basic necessities for a meal, toiletry items, and household supplies.

Able-Bodied Assistance

Sometimes my schedule didn’t allow me to make multiple trips to the grocery store.  To be quite honest it was a hassle being at the mercy of how much my reusable bag could hold.  So during weeks that I needed to stock up on food and household supplies, I’d ask my immediate family to help.  It was great being able to get everything I needed in one trip, and having an extra set of hands to put away groceries was even better.  Yet feelings of frustration rose as unsolicited comments about my purchase choices were given.  I am an adult and feeling the need to defend a purchase of name brand pop versus the much cheaper store brand version was only adding frustration to the grocery shopping saga.

Curbside Pickup

With the advancement of technology, demand of customers, and busy lifestyles an option slowly worked it’s way to the forefront for some grocery chains – curbside pickup.  My sister told me about it and she began using it regularly at Target.  The trend soon followed at a few grocery stores in my city.  I was hesitant to use this because it required more planning on my part – I do better on the fly – and I would still struggle bringing the groceries in from my car.

Shipt Happened

And then it happened … Home Delivery!  Shipt was being offered through Meijer.  It’s a shopping delivery service that you can access via online or through an app on your smartphone.  It’s not geared toward people with disabilities as AT, but as I started utilizing the service I realized that it WAS exactly the AT I had long needed.  It’s easy to use and yes it takes some preparation, but because of its portability (online and phone), I could shop for groceries by preparing my list a.k.a. “cart” as needed. I shopped before I went to bed when I realized I would be out of toilet paper by the end of the week.  I shopped during my lunch hour when I had a craving for some fruit.  When I was finished shopping, I selected a time, confirmed the details, and voila my order was picked up by a deliverer.

The time arrived and my grocery delivery arrived at my door with a friendly person asking if she could help carry them inside to my kitchen.  I accepted the offer and as she left I thanked her.  As I put the groceries away I was smiling – grocery shopping has never been so easy!  That was my first of many experiences using Shipt as AT.

Pros and Cons

screenshot of Shipt grocery cart

I have left the grocery shopping to Shipt delivery for the past three months.  For me it’s an accommodation that works out wonderfully for my lifestyle.  Instead of the frustration and anxiety that occurred with grocery shopping, I’m able to utilize an invention that anyone can access and maintain independence.


However, as I started to use the service – I mean it’s great – I also encountered some unanticipated costs.

  • First of all the delivery is not a free.  It’s a service that’s provided and the cost is $99 for the year or $14 a month.  I didn’t sign up for the yearly subscription right away.  For two months I paid the monthly fee.
  • There is a $35 minimum to get free delivery.  If your order is small then $7 is added to your order.
  • Cost of product is a bit higher using Shipt than in the store.  On their website it states “ For example, a loaf of Wonderbread costs $2.29 in the store and $2.59 to have it delivered to your door using Shipt.” I didn’t realize at first I would slightly pay more for each product.  I’m able to budget this added cost, but someone on more of a fixed income may not be able to.
  • Items you want are not always available.  This has happened to me a few times, but I was able to substitute it for another product.
  • Delivery time is not always available when you want it.  Since it’s grown in popularity there are so many individuals using this service.  You may have to get your order delivered in an off time or set up a time the day before.  I don’t mind having my deliveries at odd hours.  I’ve had groceries delivered at 9 p.m. before.

I’ve found the pros far outweigh the cons in my world.  I absolutely love the convenience of having my groceries from Meijer delivered through Shipt.  The Shipt deliverers I’ve encountered have such kind and communicative individuals.  They have gone above and beyond to help put groceries in my kitchen, or text me when a product I wanted was not available.  Using a delivery service as AT has expanded my independence.  It’s also a great way to talk about AT with other individuals who are using the service.

What has been your experience with grocery shopping while disabled?

Point Louder!

hand with finger pointing rightWhile facilitating a training session with a group, I was told to “point louder”, a humorous way to let me my pointing was not effective communication, since some members of the group were blind.

Audio description is the auditory narration of visual representations such as television programs, films and live performances. During gaps in dialogue, it describes visual elements such as scenes, settings, actions and costumes. Audio description is also called “video description” and “descriptive narration”. It is particularly beneficial to people who are blind and vision impaired and can help people with other print, learning and physical disabilities.

Here’s an example of a video with audio description on YouTube: The Hunger Games with audio description Katniss hunting, from Media Access Australia.

symbol for audio description "AD"

Ideally, audio description would be a separate audio track, which can be accessed by assistive devices and/or toggled on or off as needed.  On YouTube now, you can turn on and off closed captions, but you can’t turn audio description on and off. If you want to provide an accessible video on YouTube, you’d have to produce two versions, one with audio description and one without.

Finding described television shows has become much easier. As part of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, several of the most popular television networks have made certain prime-time and children’s programs accessible to viewers with vision loss by adding audio description.

A number of on-line streaming video services, like Amazon and Netflix now offer audio description. A good way to learn about these and new services as they become available is through updates from the The Audio Description Project: An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind.

Audio description is a bit of an art. I’ve attempted it. It can be difficult to determine what descriptions will be adequate for understanding, yet still flow nicely in the gaps in dialogue in a video.

In video and in person, it’s important to remember to point louder in order to achieve effective communication!


What’s Cooking?

Logo Disability Network Capital AreaBy Guest Blogger: Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area

When it comes to cooking, I have often shied away from trying many things. I have a gas stove and this can present some challenges with low vision, another reason is that I like being able to follow a recipe. It was not until I began pairing the All Recipes skill from my Echo with other types of AT, that I began thinking more and more was possible. Even though the skill has been changed and does not offer quite as much in the way of hands-free step-by-step verbal instruction, it is still very useful when you need quick, easy access to recipes, the ingredients, and the cooking instructions.

A rice cooker with inner pan and lidI find now, I am using the skill more so for the list of ingredients. Why you might ask? I have recently been introduced to using a rice cooker, yes, I said rice cooker, for a creative and simple way to make a variety of dishes. So far, I have made a turkey meat loaf, scrambled eggs, and taco meat in my rice cooker! The rice cooker has provided a way to cook smaller, healthier options with the touch of one button! I am loving it! I also have had the chance to use my talking digital cooking thermometer to ensure the proper temperature of the meat. It has been a game changer in the kitchen!

three sets of bump dotsOther types of useful AT for low vision I have used in the kitchen include; the double-sided spatula and bump dots for my microwave. I have also purchased a Keurig for an easier way to enjoy my cup of coffee in the morning. The K-Cups are pre-measured and there is no longer a concern of pouring the hot liquid from the pot into a cup!

If you are interested in trying out some of these items, visit the Assistive Technology tab on the Disability Network Capital Area website to set up a demonstration of low vision and a variety of other devices!

Want to Walk and Roll? Prepare for a Search

“You are in a competitive bid area” we were told as we looked for a vendor who would accept Medicare for a family member who needs a walker. (The Medicare competitive bid program began a six-month phase-in period across the country, including rural areas, on January 1, 2016.) We found the one vendor in the area, however, they don’t have the type of walker the doctor prescribed (a 4-wheel – “Rollator” walker). They might be getting some in, but when was not clear.

Unfortunately, vendors have left this rural area. There’s no one, we were told, who sells or repairs motorized scooters, for example, within 100 miles. We suspect competitive bidding influenced this lack of local resources. (See this advocacy article from the American Association for Home Care.)

blue walker in a kitchen with a seat and larger wheelsSo one option was to check on loan closets in the area. We also checked the ATXchange.org, and within a day or two a nice looking Hugo Rollator Walker was posted, however, it’s too far away to be practical.  The family member really wants to try to get a new walker anyway, as they are concerned about wear and tear on a used device.  Strike three on the search!

The next call was to the local Disability Network, the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, to talk with Carolyn Boyle.  She was able to provide the name of a technician at a vendor along with the person’s phone number and email address. Unfortunately, they are over 100 miles away, but we probably need to follow-up with this lead and make the trip.

While searching, I also found some helpful resources about how to fit a walker.

Until we can do more research and maybe schedule a trip, we installed a railing in the hallway from the bedroom to the bathroom, which will help during the night and in the morning, before muscles warm-up and become a bit more flexible. I’m working on at least a temporary solution, if the family member will agree and a device can be found at the local loan closet.

Are you in a rural area? Have you looked for durable medical equipment in the past couple years? Thanks for sharing your experience!