Health Apps as Assistive Technology?


By Norman G. DeLisle, Project Consultant

hand holding a phone with a red plus sign iconOne of the most interesting areas of app development is in health care. Not only are there a lot of apps, but they are constantly changing, and every platform (smartphones, watches, fitness devices, even the Internet of Things (IoT), etc.) is a part of this churn of possibilities-and failures. And they are usually described in many technological essays

A recent article reviewed the business categories of health apps and is a useful way to consider the role of a particular designed app as well as how customer-centric it really is. Those categories are:

  • Knowledge is Power
  • Contacting Health Professionals
  • Join an Online Community for Special Medical Needs
  • Health Alerts and Reminders
  • Promotion of Health and Wellness

It is important to note that these kinds of apps are generally aimed at a fairly large audience and their usefulness to persons with disabilities is more the case of an individual making use of an app that wasn’t necessarily designed for that specific purpose, but can be used that way.

Two categories that allow for greater customization are Reminders which are generally useful for any purpose and Online Community apps that are specific to persons with a shared interest in some aspect of disability culture and characteristics. Knowledge tends to be medically and diagnostically oriented and often does not deal with the reality of navigating a full and free life with a disability.

Promotion of Health and Wellness can offer generally useful information, but is often too general to be specifically useful or easily accommodated to the needs of a specific person.

There are continuing problems with making health apps genuinely useful to people with disabilities.

Woman wearing blue scrubs pulling a paper file from a full shelf of filesOne critical area is the requirement in many that you spend a lot of time entering personal medically relevant data, numbers, and diagnostic information. This is tedious at best and subject to mistakes, and illustrates a dimension of health care integration that doesn’t receive much attention. To make health apps easily usable, we need usable electronic health records and adequate security systems so that we can connect an app with our already existing records.

Another critical problem is that we can’t expect genuine customization of health apps until the layer of medical credentialing, information updating, and liability issues have some real standards that can be used in the development of apps.

Two things come to mind. One is that members of our communities should be taking the lead in developing and providing technical assistance to businesses that view such health apps as appropriate for development. The other is that we can’t take the current crop of apps too seriously, and we should probably view them as more like games than real medically useful tools. We can play with games, learn from them, and use them to solve small problems in our life, but they aren’t ready for us to use them as though our lives depended on them.


Just Right: My Workplace Oasis


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

When you experience life from a wheelchair, it often seems like things are literally just out of reach.  It never fails that the item I need from the grocery store is on the top shelf or the pan I need for cooking is in the cabinet at my feet.  Yet, there is one place where the things I need a neither too low nor to high – my office at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, which I call my “workplace oasis”.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I first joined the MDRC staff, my office was essentially a storage place with a conference room table as a desk.  During the first few weeks of my employment, I was hunched over the table to reach my keyboard and my things we constantly falling on the floor because I could only reach the parts of the desk that were within arms reach.  Luckily, my employer understands the role that workplace ergonomics and assistive technology plays in productivity, and we worked quickly to find a better solution.

Laura's adjustable height deskI received a workplace assessment through Michigan Rehabilitation Services.  We went through all the functions of my position, discussed what I was having trouble with, and tried a few devices to see what would work best.  Using the assessment recommendations, we purchased a power adjustable height desk with a curved desktop at 120 degrees.  It allows me to raise and lower the desk with the push of a button.  I find that it helps to change the height of my desktop throughout the day to prevent pain.  The curvature of the desktop enables me to reach things on the entire surface of the desk, not just what is right in front on me  My monitor is also on a mount that allows me to adjust it’s height.

Kensington Expert Trackball MouseI didn’t even realize until after the assessment that using a trackball mouse could be helpful.  It allows me to navigate on the screen using my whole hand, and the buttons are programmable, enabling me to click with the fingers that are most agile.  The ring around the trackball lets me scroll more easily, and overall the mouse eliminates many of the problems that I have with fine motor skills.

Working in the area of assistive technology, I tend to use a lot of devices, which means I need a lot of outlets and USB ports. I also can’t reach any of the lamp switches in my office, so we put them all on one power strip which is mounted to the side of my desk. This way, I can turn all the lights on and off with the flip of one switch.  What’s more, the mounted power strip has USB ports for charging devices and plugging in other input devices like a headset or speakers.  There are a lot of cords around my desk, but the power strip system I use tends to keep it in a state of controlled chaos.

Closeup of the DAS KeyboardFinally, I use a DAS Keyboard, a mechanical keyboard that provides auditory (clacking) and tactile feedback when the keys are pressed.  This type of keyboard works well for me because I can hear and feel when I make a mistake.

In a world where things often seem too high or too low, I am fortunate to have a place where things are just right.  My “workplace oasis” isn’t perfect.  The space around me is still used for storage (that’s what happens when you have the biggest office), but when I’m at my desk with all my tools at my fingertips, I feel the most comfortable and productive.

Have you used assistive technology to create a special space?  Let us know!




New Items on the


It’s such a beautiful summer day today! Hard to believe how this summer has flown by. I hope everyone has been able to get out and enjoy the warm weather!

As the summer winds down, are you thinking about going on a picnic? We have a great recorded webinar AT for Your Accessible Picnic which can help with ideas for making sure your picnic is accessible. Also this was just posted on the Trailer for Mobility on scooter with trailer attachedI thought it was a trailer to pull the scooter behind a vehicle and was pleasantly surprised to see it’s a trailer that attaches to the scooter. What a great place to stow picnic gear! It’s located in Traverse City. Check it out!

While on the, you may wish to check out some of the other great items! There have been a lot of new items posted lately. For example this Hydrolic sit to stand lift from Invacare  which was used for a 99 year old patient. The listing reads: “In perfect working condition. Will send details upon request or interest.” It’s being offered for free!

Or maybe you have something you can donate? This person is in Kalamazoo and  is looking for “Sensory items: Anything that is soft to the skin, or a comfort to a chronic pain disability, where everything hurts, inside and out.”

Enjoy the great weather while it lasts!


Give it a Push


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I staffed a table at an open house at a senior service center this week. As I was packing up the leftovers and brochures, I had three separate people ask me about the cart I was using to bring things back to my car. It helped me see that this cart that I’ve taken for granted for 6+ years is very useful and something others are interested in and can see uses for themselves.

I’ve been using the Versacart (also known as a transit cart) more often lately as my pregnancy progresses and I’m limited in what I’m allowed to carry by my doctor and by my own comfort level. My chronic back pain hasn’t been too much of a problem during pregnancy (yet—fingers crossed it stays that way) but I definitely notice if I overdo it. The Versacart helps a lot.

I couldn't resist. What's cuter than a Versacart with a cat in it, in a nursery in the making?

I couldn’t resist. What’s cuter than a Versacart with a cat in it, in a nursery in the making?

The Versacart is built on the chassis of a stroller, holds a great deal, but is easy to maneuver, folds pretty small for storage, and has no signs of wear after more than six years in the field. It is made of rugged, waterproof canvas, has a cover for when it rains, and can be operated with one hand if need be.

It might just be my favorite piece of AT right now. I use it to carry handouts and AV materials for presentations. Food for events, bulky AT, the Versacart can handle it all. People at the senior center talked about using it for grocery shopping and laundry, which I think it would also handle beautifully.

Pair it with a reacher if bending to reach the bottom of the cart is an issue, and you’d be all set!

I bought my Versacart on Amazon and we’ve bought them through there for the AT program, but I’ve noticed lately the price has gone up from the $40 range to $65+. Lately, I’ve seen them for $50 at Bed Bath and Beyond. There are often 20% off coupons available for Bed Bath and Beyond so you could find it for $40 that way. It pays to shop around for this item.

Do you have a piece of AT that others want when the see it? Is there AT that you use regularly that you don’t even think about anymore that is so handy others should know about it? Please share!