Author Archives: Kathryn Wyeth

“Ok Google” as Assistive Technology


KathrynBy MATP Staff Member Kathryn Wyeth

I have this powerful assistive technology and haven’t been using it effectively. I noticed my mom was having trouble using her Android phone to make calls. She is losing vision due to a variety of issues including Macular Degeneration.

In researching and playing around with settings on her phone, I realized the Google Now assistant could help.  Google Now is already installed in all Android 4.1 (and above) devices and can be downloaded on Windows Phone and iOS devices too. Setting up Google is simple: Just open the “Google” app and answer a few questions, like your home and work locations, transport means, interests, and so on. (You can skip questions you don’t want to answer.)

screen shot with G in red circle (google icon) and the word "Listening..."First, I needed to move the Google app to her home page, since it wasn’t there. She still wants to lock the phone, so does need to unlock it first, but now can just say “Ok Google” followed by what she wants the app to do.

So calling people was the first issue. Now she can just say, “Ok Google” then the person’s name as it is listed in her contact. Of course, the contacts were a bit of a mess, with multiple listings for some of the people, so we spent a bit of time cleaning this up.

Then we found this tip: How to set up Google Now Contact Relationships.

Google has updated Google Search (and thus Google Now), adding the ability to recognize commands based on the relation the contact is to you. So for people she calls often, like me, she can now say “Ok Google” then “Call my daughter.” This avoids some potential confusion with multiple contacts who have names that are or sound a like.

The other thing we needed to do was make sure that phone numbers for people who had multiple numbers had descriptions that she could remember. If there is more than one say, Mobile or Home number listed, it could be confusing. So in my listing, we edited the contact, selected “custom” for the phone type and gave it a name she’d remember.

She has more than one son. We set them all up as “Ok Google, ____ is my son”. When she says “Ok Google, Call my son”, the phone lists the first two names or and then she can say the name of one of the other 2 sons if she wanted to call someone else. So not quite as good, but it still works.

Woman with glasses and hat smiling

Mom on 80+ birthday

So I wondered if we could assign nicknames for some of her contacts who had the same or similar sounding names. For example, if there were two Susan’s she might call frequently, one could be “Neighbor”, the other would be “Susan”. This did not work. Only relationship names seemed to work.

The advances in technology are great! Now many things that used to be expensive assistive technology are built-in. Voice input can help everyone, including people with disabilities who either can’t see, manipulate a touch screen, or have better spoken than written literacy. My mom and I have just started the learning curve in using Google Now via voice command. Do you use it? What do you use it for?

Here are some additional resources for using Google Now

  • How to use Google Now
  • The complete list of ‘OK, Google’ commands from CNET
  • Huge cheat sheet tells you everything you can do with Google Now voice commands

When Spring Didn’t Come


As I sit here using my light box, listening to the rain on the roof, I wonder when can I start tapering off using it each morning? I use the light box to help keep my circadian rhythm in tune with the rest of the world. Otherwise, especially in Winter with my tendency toward Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Delayed Phase Sleep Disorder (i.e. extreme night person!), I would not sleep at night and be useless during the day.

crocus budsWith more natural light in the warm months along with more opportunities to be outside, I don’t need to use the light box every day. I usually taper off sometime in the spring, typically by the beginning of June and then start again in mid-September.

Spring usually brings more energy, you know, that feeling we used to call “Wanting to run naked through the woods”. Not that we did, but it was a pretty good description of the feeling. [There used to be a TV show called Northern Exposure. One episode was about the annual spring “bull” run through town.]. Maybe the feeling has a theme song like the song “Here comes the Sun” by the Beatles. The urge to get outside, to throw open the windows and clean out the dust of winter (see “AT for Spring Cleaning!)

Except one year when spring didn’t come. Oh yes, outside the birds returned and flowers bloomed and the days got longer, but inside me, it was missing. Actually the lack of the “wanting to run naked through the woods” feeling made me even more depressed.

This was more than SAD. For those of you who have had major depression, you know. But it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. I’d get advice like “It’s a beautiful day, get outside, open the blinds, you’ll feel better.” So I’d try and the contrast between the Spring outside and the darkness inside me simply made me feel worse.

silhouette of a person sitting on chair holding head with one arm with words in background like Unimportant, unwanted, useless, broken, alone.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” – T.S. Elliot

Did you know, contrary to a common belief, suicide rates don’t peak during the winter holidays. They are highest in the spring and fall.

If you have SAD and use a light box and find you can’t taper off in the Spring as usual, please reach out and get some help. There’s apparently something called “reverse SAD”. However, it’s also possible that something more than SAD is going on. Depression is a life threatening condition and not to be taken lightly. Please take care of yourselves and of each other.


A Modified Vehicle Could Change Your Life


By Brenda Henige, Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF) Coordinator, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Michigan staff

The MV-1 in red. The side ramp is extended and inside are the driver, passenger in a wheelchair, two children and a dog in the backseat.There are so many types of assistive technology, or AT, available today, which improve the daily functioning, quality of life, and independence of individuals with disabilities. One example of AT is a modified vehicle. Residents of Michigan who have a disability or their family members can apply to borrow money from the Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF) to obtain needed equipment or tools (assistive technology or AT), modified vehicles or modifications to a vehicle, or home modifications for accessibility through this program. A person can apply to borrow funds to modify his or her own vehicle or apply to borrow monies for a new or used modified vehicle. For such a purchase, it is common for applicants to seek financial assistance through other means such as grants. A wealth of information and resources may be found in the blog article, Funding Your Accessible Vehicle by Laura Hall, as well as in other areas of Michigan’s Assistive Technology Program (MATP) on the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition website.

For the MATLF program, an individual must have enough money in his or her monthly budget to repay the loan, be creditworthy, and have a reasonable debt to income ratio. An individual may apply to borrow up to $30,000 and there is no minimum amount required to borrow since modified vehicles may cost much less than the maximum allowed. The length of the loan will depend on factors such as the total amount borrowed and the expected useful life of the modified vehicle or other assistive technology. An applicant can request a pre-approval amount for a modified vehicle or can submit a price quote for a specific modified vehicle or modification.

Here are two situations where a loan from the MATLF program assisted individuals with purchasing modified vehicles to illustrate how obtaining a modified vehicle may impact a person’s life:

A van with a rampA woman sought a loan to purchase a modified vehicle which would allow her to obtain a van with a wheelchair ramp, for her electric wheelchair. She has a lot of back, leg, and nerve issues, and her husband has cerebral palsy, and he could not help her in getting into the vehicle and getting her manual wheelchair out of the vehicle was difficult for him. She said that this is the first time that she needed a modified vehicle, and She commented that she is “part of the world again”,” saying she was able to go to a White Caps minor league baseball game, which was the first time in six years since she was able to go to one. She said that using MATLF to purchase a modified vehicle changed her life in many ways. She also said that she regained her social life, and was not lying in bed forever anymore, and became able to go out to accomplish her own shopping, explaining that she is now able to shop for her own personal items like clothing. She stated that the loan application process was pretty easy, and complimented UCP of Michigan’s website, for its overview of what information is needed, the loan application process, and outlining how long it should take, that the information was straightforward. She worked with Clock Mobility, who she said was aware of our application process and time requirements, they told her about us, and she selected a vehicle. She made sure it would meet her needs, and ensured that she would be able to get in and out of it on her own.

Another individual applied for pre-approval of $10,000, for a loan to purchase a used modified vehicle due to having inclusion body myositis and its limitations. He needed a van with a ramp. He had some medical debt and was working to repay it. He got behind due to his medical problems. He determined an amount he could afford to borrow for a modified vehicle and for the associated monthly loan payment, allowing money in his budget for auto insurance and unexpected expenses. He was approved and began shopping for a modified vehicle. He thought he found a modified vehicle to use the loan for, but when he tried getting into and out of the vehicle, it did not work for him because the ramp was rated for less weight than what his wheelchair and he weighed together. This highlights the importance of making sure that the vehicle’s modifications will serve the individual’s needs. The next vehicle he found worked for him and it cost around $5,000, and he said that it is easy to get in and out of. With this vehicle, his wife is able to transport him both short and long distances, for daily activities and medical specialists that are in locations around the state.

When shopping for a modified vehicle, Make sure that you try out potential vehicles and modifications to ensure that they are suitable for your needs. There are a variety of types of modifications, including lifts, ramps, and hand controls – and they have various features and limitations and purposes. MATP has a recorded webinar about modified vehicles: Customize Your Ride!

Borrowing money through an MATLF loan enables individuals to acquire needed assistive technology, including modified vehicles, which really can positively impact their daily life. Please contact me for more information on the loan program and the application process at 517-203-1200, ext. 303 or at 1-800-828-2714, ext. 303. You may also view loan fund information by going to our website.

This entry was posted in Accessible Vehicles, Funding, Traveling with a disability and tagged Loan Fund, MATLF on by .

Point Louder – Audio Description


by Kathryn Wyeth, Program Manager, MATP

hand with finger pointing to the rightWhile presenting and 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.

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.

There are video players available with the ability to toggle on and off audio description, for example:The letters A and D used as an icon for Audio Description

  • JWPlayer
  • Ccplayer
  • The WorkShop Media Player

I’ve always wondered why YouTube doesn’t offer an audio description toggle button, since it seems it’s possible to offer this! There is a tool called YouDescribe, that enables volunteer sighted describers to take a YouTube video and create an audio description soundtrack.

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

Finding described television shows is now 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 (see resources below).

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


  • All About Audio Description A wealth of information on everything to what audio description is, to why to use it and how to promote it’s use!
  • Listen to a 9-minute audio on Video Description for Television,
    or listen to the full 24-minute podcast on Audio Description:  Where and How?
  • Described TV Listings page from American Federation for the Blind (AFB)
  • Audio Descriptions for Netflix Movies and TV Shows
  • DVDs and Blu-ray Discs With Audio Description in 2016
  • How to find audio-described content in the iTunes store
  • Guidelines for Audio Describing Meetings and Presentations (PDF)
This entry was posted in Accessible Formats, Blind/Low Vision, Web Accessibility and tagged Access, Accommodations, ADA, audio description, job accommodation, Print Disability, video on by .