Category Archives: Android

“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

Expanding Subjective Experience Through Assistive Technology


By Norman G. DeLisle, MATP Staff Member

Old fashioned 3D Viewer with old photosWhen I began working with persons who had severe brain damage and their families in the early 70’s, there were no publicly funded rehabilitation supports outside of institutions. This included wheelchairs, accessible public transportation, or vehicles that could be easily converted for transportation of adults with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The lack of supports meant, among other things, that the personal experience of persons with TBI was impoverished because there were no tools for inclusion in the larger community. While this narrowing of personal experience was a vast improvement over what was available in any state institution, it nonetheless constricted the world, the learning, and the social relationships of the person with TBI.

There was no simple solution to this problem. We used sensory enhancement experiences to partially compensate. We would play tapes of normal household activities in the room of the person, timing them as they would occur in a typical home; we would use sharp and varied smells and tastes at normal meal times regardless of what the person could eat; we would play music through headphones; and, to the extent possible, we supported movement and travel.

As most of you are aware, there is a large and active initiative across many technology arenas to develop virtual reality experience systems, applications that can use the hardware and software, and various add-ons focused on specific kinds of experiences. I saw a recent article about a cutting edge project to include tastes and smells in the Virtual Reality (VR) universe of possibilities. In turn, this got me thinking about the greater effectiveness of 3-D experience in all the senses and motions when you compare it with the passive nature of images and text on the internet.

In particular, I think there may be an opportunity to enhance the depth and personalization of experiences for all persons with disabilities in the same way that such depth and personalization is expected by VR enthusiasts without disabilities. Learning in particular is more effective when as full a realization of reality as possible is available for the actions involved in that learning.

Obviously, VR has to be made accessible for all who want to use it. This goes beyond the immediately obvious use of multiple avenues of input and output. After all, reality is a richer framework of possibilities than text or images. Though fairly primitive, Second Life has shown that it is possible to accommodate people with disabilities to expand and enrich the experience of its VR platform. Hardware development and basic software development is the current focus of VR development, with the power of computers being the weakest link in the development of useful VR. Accessibility in VR will also require powerful computers and their availability to the general public.

But, when those core pieces have become “reality”, it will be time to think about, and create, pathways to supporting everyone in our community, including people with IDD, in making and using the possibilities of VR.

  • The World’s First Eye Tracking Virtual Reality Headset
  • VR tour of Buckingham Palace accessible on YouTube (using cardboard and your smartphone)
  • W3C: VR Technologies and Accessibility



This entry was posted in Android, Apps, Cognitive, Innovation, Mobile and tagged 3D, TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, virtual reality on by Norm DeLisle.

Thankful for Assistive Tech!


paper with "Happy Thanksgiving!" and fall leavesHappy Thanksgiving everyone from everyone at Michigan Assistive Technology Program! We all have so much to be thankful for this year, and with Thanksgiving coming in a few days, I am thankful for devices I use just about everyday.

First of all, I’d be lost with out some devices for low vision. For me, it’s not a technical disability, just eyes which are aging. I would be lost without Control plus the + key to enlarge websites so I can read the text.  I would not be able to indulge my creative side without magnifiers for those small seed beads and my Ott light.  For reading, my Kindle and the ability to enlarge the text size has me reaching more often for this digital text than the traditional books.

As I was just reminded, the auto-correct as typing for spelling errors in Firefox settings is great! I often mistype and well, sometimes just can’t spell words correctly. For that matter all spell check is wonderful.  Voice input too! A combination of meeting needs related to low vision and can’t spell, I use the voice button on my android phone more and more, especially when I can’t find or just don’t want to pull out my reading glasses.

I am grateful for bright light therapy! When I have trouble sleeping, a lifelong issue, I become unfocused and forgetful. I have delayed phase sleep syndrome, (I am a real night person) which is only a disability if you don’t have a night job I suppose. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) I use a light box this time of year to keep my circadian rhythm on track.  I have the Amazon Echo and like to start the day asking “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” so I don’t forget appointments. Thank you Google calendar and Alexa! Thank you for all devices and techniques to help me remember!

I am short, and no, that’s not a disability! It can be an advantage, like if you are on a budget5 different reachers airplane for example – leg room? No problem!  However, there are some situations and environments built for so called “average height” people that don’t work for me. For example, we have a four wheel drive electric vehicle which doesn’t have adjustable seats. So I’ve duck taped a block of wood on the accelerator petal so I can reach it with out sitting on the edge of the bench seat. Grateful for duck tape, yes!  I also have a reacher I use to get things down off tall shelves and to reach for things like socks that fall behind the dryer.

With chronic neck and shoulder pain, I sometimes have trouble reaching by back to wash or apply lotion, so I am grateful for longer handle brushes and lotion applicators.

I know there are more devices I am thankful for, but need to get going! A busy week for everyone I am sure. What AT are you most thankful for? Have a wonderful holiday!


Getting to Know Alexa: Amazon Echo


Amazon EchoI ordered the Amazon Echo months ago, having received an invitation to buy, but didn’t get it till just a few weeks ago. It is now available to anyone and will start shipping July 14th.  I am getting to know “Alexa” the Echo’s voice assistant.

So what is the Amazon Echo? It’s an awesome wireless speaker and also a digital assistant. It has many applications as potential assistive technology too, though it was not designed specifically with that in mind.

The voice recognition is good, and it learns your voice the more you use it. I set up an account for my husband on the Echo, he speaks with a Cerebral Palsy (CP) accent, and he was amazed that Alexa understood him on the first try.  I find myself adding please and thank you to the commands as it seems to directive to just say things like “Alexa!” “Stop!”, though it does give me a sense of power (grin).

People who have cognitive issues, like memory problems,  can ask Alexa the day, the time, the weather, have her read your news flash (you set this up on the web or app interface).  I use the integration with Google Calendar to ask her what my schedule is for the day when I first get up in the morning.  You can also ask questions about cooking, the weather, traffic, sports, shopping and more.  You can set up a common travel route and then ask how the traffic is on that route for example.

The Echo also has a built-in to do list and shopping list. If you also have the app on your smart phone, the shopping list is handy at the store. I chronically leave my hand printed shopping list at home, so this is handy for me!

the WeMo SwitchThere are also several smart home device integrations, the Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue connected devices, though I haven’t tested these yet. I had a Belkin Switch, but dropped it hard and it stopped working. I haven’t replaced it yet.  Here’s an article from CNET about the Echo and connected devices.

I am just beginning to explore the recipes in “If this then that (IFTTT)” for Amazon Echo.  Some use (hack) the to do list and the shopping list to accomplish other things. For example there is a recipe that will send a short SMS via voice to anyone through Echo’s To Do list. When you use this, the recipient will receive a text with the content of all items you add to your To Do List.  So if you want to text “I’m Running Late”, for example, simply say “Alexa – add ‘I am running late’ to my To Do List”.  Of course, once you hack your To Do List this way, you would not use it for a To Do list anymore.

If I wanted to add a quick event to the Google Calendar, there’s a hack to do this via voice command to Alexia using the To Do list.

You can also be very annoying using this recipe which connects the Echo and Gmail and will send a clapping animated image to everyone once you complete an item on your to do list. Of course, you can also create your own recipes on IFTTT.

So is the Amazon Echo “Assistive Technology (AT)”? Of course it depends on the person and how it is used. I’d say it is AT for me!  Right now, I am using it for listening to music, which is relaxing after a morning of computer problems. When the phone rings, I can just say “Alexa!” (The blue light comes on on the top rim of the Echo) “Off please!”.  I think the reminders and voice commands will certainly be AT for many people.

Have you used the Amazon Echo as AT? Are you considering getting one? Please share!