For any of us who enjoy cooking and baking, we know that time is a key ingredient of many recipes. How long we need to bake cupcakes for, boil water & noodles for, fry an egg, etc. can mean the difference between delicious and disgusting! The built-in timers on a lot of ovens/appliances are not great to use: text is tiny/hard to read, buttons are cumbersome or inaccurate, the alarm is too quiet or way too loud, etc.
Last year, I started using Siri to tell me when my scones had been in the oven for long enough (usually 16 minutes for my oven). Early on I learned an important lesson: Siri is not always a great listener. When I said, “Siri set an alarm for 16 minutes”, Siri heard “Siri set an alarm for 60 minutes.” There is a huge difference between 16 minutes and 60! Luckily, my sense of smell helped me realize the error and I was able to get the scones out before they burned! I told this story to a friend of mine and he suggested telling Siri “one six” instead of “sixteen”. I tried his idea out and I haven’t had a problem since (fingers crossed).
There are a lot of alternatives to the standard, built-in timers (including voice assistants like Siri and Alexa) and I’ve included a few in this post. If you think you might be interested in trying some of these out, contact your local Disability Network and ask for an AT (Assistive Technology) demonstration. You’ll get to use various kinds of timers and see if they are a good fit/learn about other options.
Amazon’s second generation Dash Wand is out. What potential does it have to support personal independence for members of our community?
The Wand is an example of the use of a technology platform (Amazon’s Echo/Alexa) to reduce the friction in accessing products of all kinds. While the technology is not specifically aimed at people with disabilities, it is usable by people with disabilities. It requires that each PWD examine how to adjust the platform’s capabilities to any specific need for personal accommodation.
In this sense, it is the same challenge that we always have in interacting with this world not designed for our use. But as technology tries to make everything easier to use, some possibilities are also opened up for our community.
I have been using the Wand with my Amazon Echo for some weeks now, and I will try to review some of those possibilities. Frankly, though, only actual use by members of our community will illuminate the real range of those possibilities.
You can activate Alexa, ask questions, make phone calls, listen to your favorite music, run your Fire TV, change your home’s environmental conditions, and so on by voice. Since you can be anywhere in your house when you do any of these things, some mobility and fine motor characteristics become immaterial in controlling a remarkable part of daily life.
The sheer number of skills available for the Echo (15,000 right now) means that you can probably find some to use if you can actually locate them in that disordered app universe of potential. I haven’t been able to find overviews of disability-friendly skills, but there are some in there, especially for making community access easier. This is much the same situation in the use of ride-share systems, where you can reduce the pain points of using public transportation with judicious choices.
There is a portable version of Echo, called the Tap, that can use any wi-fi system and has Bluetooth connectivity. It originally required pushing a button to access, but now has a hands-free method. Take it on trips, use it at work, etc.
The Echo dot is a relatively inexpensive small version that can be placed in any room in your house, linked to your wi-fi, and can be used for all the typical Echo uses, plus things like a local intercom for talking to others in the house.
The Wand’s biggest potential use is in purchasing products that you will use over and over. You will need to be a Prime member to make the best use, and that is $99 a year, a significant cost. The primary reason for choosing this is the two-day free shipping benefit and the ability to choose items as you notice your need for them with periodic shipping of the accumulated items.
The Wand itself allows you to use speech directly to order items that you wish to purchase. Speech ordering seems to work best with those items you order regularly. The other thing that the Wand can do is scan a barcode and place the item in your shopping cart on Amazon. You don’t have to have Amazon open at the time. In either case, the items will not be purchased until you go on Amazon and tell them to process the order. So, you can order items as you think of them and then regularly process the purchase.
I have not yet tried to scan a barcode in a store using my phone’s wifi hotspot yet, though I intend to try that. It would be easier to pick from alternatives in a market and then order that item repeatedly once I got it through Prime.
Not every item you might want will be delivered in two days, only those available through Amazon Prime. This reality has gotten me to change my preferred items to those covered by Prime.
There is also a system for delivering items you would use a lot and regularly. I have avoided using this because I don’t quite get how it works yet. It is called Prime Pantry, and if you order 5 items that qualify as part of a Prime Pantry Box, you get free shipping. I think the idea is to have regular orders delivered to your home that would ordinarily be the sort of thing you would get every week from a supermarket.
There are also other tools for ordering items through Amazon, such as Dash Buttons for products you know you will be using regularly. The buttons are on your home page making it easy to reorder. You can also subscribe to items when your use is very predictable, such as supplements (60 pills, two a day, order every 30 days). They will warn you when they are going to process the subscription and it is easy to change your subscriptions and Dash Buttons. If you choose enough qualifying subscriptions, you get a 15% discount.
These services are very different from the way I have purchased such items throughout my 70 years, but I have become used to the new choices, and I am beginning to understand their usefulness.
These services (at least to the extent that you don’t have to pay for shipping) would allow regular purchases without having to travel to get them. With the barriers to using public transportation and the cost of owning and running a vehicle, such an approach to repeated purchases could be very attractive. Also, with many mobility impairments, preparation for travel and managing grocery bags while using a wheelchair (for example) are wasted time that could be used for other activities.
Thus, such systems can be viewed as steps in expanding convenience and reducing the amount of time that the real ongoing lack of accessibility in American society imposes on our community.
Over the next couple of years, more systems like Echo and apps like Alexa will become more mature. For example, Google Home is rapidly developing as a hands-free voice activated system focused on much the same universe as Amazon’s. There will be more.
It is important that our community understands the abilities of such systems, and share our experiences. It is also important that our community begins to expand those skills used by such systems so that they more readily match our needs, through the development of these skills and apps by members of our community.
In the meantime, decide what you want such a system to do before deciding which one you will use. While all such systems will become more capable over time, the one you choose needs to support your life now even if you expect it will mean more to you in the future. Cost is obviously an important factor in picking a system as well. Costs will likely drop overall. But once you choose a system, you’ll be stuck with it for a while.
To summarize: The two big areas of use of such systems are your personal living situation and those community services which you now use or would use if it was easier to do so. Investigate and research.
And don’t forget to google “voice activated home systems reviews” every once in awhile to see what’s new.
If you come into my kitchen and look on the counter tops, open the dishwasher, and peek in the drawers & cabinets, you’ll find a common theme: most of my utensils & kitchen tools are the OXO brand. From the pizza cutter to the salad spinner, whisk to mixing bowl, and ice cream scoop to prep knives, cherry pitter to angled measuring cup, it’s mostly OXO. Why? OXO tools are easier for me to grip and hold than other brands out there; they make up a large number of the Assistive Technology that I use in the kitchen (stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I’ll go into other AT I use in the kitchen).
I have Eczema and for me that means I usually have very dry skin; particularly on my hands. Because of my Eczema, I have very little grip on slippery things like typical metal spatulas, can openers, and pizza cutters. Oxo tools usually have grippy, weighted handles that fit in my hand and don’t slip out of my grip. Even on the salad spinner, the button to push to “spin” the salad is larger than on other spinners and is coated in that grippy, OXO coating and the bottom of the bowl is weighted and grippy so it won’t tip over.
OXO intentionally has built their products to be used by as many people as possible. “OXO was founded on the philosophy of Universal Design, which means the design of products usable by as many people as possible. More than 25 years ago, Sam Farber noticed his wife Betsey was having trouble comfortably holding her peeler due to arthritis. This got Sam thinking: why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can’t there be wonderfully comfortable, easy-to-use tools? Sam saw an opportunity to create more thoughtful cooking tools that would benefit all users and promised Betsey that he would create a better peeler.”“In 1990, after extensive research, hundreds of models and dozens of design iterations, the first 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen tools, including the now iconic peeler, were introduced to the US market. These ergonomically-designed, transgenerational tools set a new standard for the industry and raised the bar of consumer expectation and performance.” (from the OXO site).
Do you use OXO tools? What’s your favorite?
OXO kitchen tools may be available for free demonstration and/or short term loan through your local Disability Network. Search by county to find your local Disability Network and ask them about an Assistive Technology (AT) OXO kitchen tools demonstration.
“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.
So 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!
As a new mom, I’m pretty familiar with poop–all kinds of poop. And I’m pretty aware of my son’s pooping (or not), when he has a poopsplosion, what he’s eating that is causing what reaction… From the very beginning in the hospital, the medical professionals tell parents about tracking health and bowel movements. I even have the book Everybody Poops on my Amazon wishlist. I want my son to view pooping as something healthy that everyone does–albeit sometimes in different ways. I don’t want him to have anxiety or shame about pooping which can lead to lifelong digestive problems. Yeah there’s a lot of poop thoughts up in here.
In our office, we tend to talk about poop a lot too and bowel programs… and they came up again at a meeting yesterday. I mentioned how I frequently talk about toilet aids when meeting with professionals and teaching about low tech AT for community living. Often, I’m met with nervous laughter. That bugs me.
Rant warning here. Look, we as a society have made poop a taboo topic, but in doing so, we’ve made it so people with disabilities who need AT to assist with toileting, are so ashamed that they don’t ask for or get information about this need. Parents of young adults with disabilities continue wiping their sons/daughters for years when they could be using AT to wipe themselves. What happens when you go off to college or move out on your own and you’ve never learned to wipe yourself? There’s already plenty to learn about budgets, laundry, meal prep. For goodness sakes, people with disabilities should learn about AT for the bathroom when their peers are learning to wipe themselves. Pooping is an important, daily (for many) activity. People need to do it to stay healthy and out of the hospital. Professionals and people with disabilities need to drop the shame game and talk about going to the bathroom–and what devices and supports are needed to go to the bathroom as safely and as easily as possible. People who want to be able to wipe themselves need to be able to get information on devices that can help. People who can’t wipe themselves and need assistance doing so, need information on personal assistance care, safe toileting options, and AT for the bathroom–a note from friends in the know, bidets can be amazing!
Stop with the poop shaming!
Let’s learn a lesson from each other and from what I’m trying to teach my son. Pooping matters. Everybody poops. There are great AT items that can help with pooping and with wiping.
And for the AT info piece–this was previously published in our blog and its worth repeating here:
Many people invent things out of a necessity they have themselves. This was the case for Deborah Tacoma. After an accident where she broke her back, Deborah found she could not twist and reach to wipe and take care of her personal hygiene needs in the bathroom. She did some research and found various items but didn’t find one that fit her body size, arm length and reduced finger strength—so she invented one, the FreedomWand ®. It is available on Amazon.com for $10 less than the FreedomWand website.
In promoting her product, Deborah has talked to many people with many types of disabilities that have trouble wiping and taking care of all their bathroom needs but are ashamed to talk about it with their doctors or others that might have helped them find AT—people are ashamed and suffer for that shame risking skin breakdown, pain, and infections.
The FreedomWand® is an easy-to-use multipurpose, portable toilet tissue aid that can also be used to hold a razor, loofah, or ointment applicator. It has extendable reach of up to 25 inches or as few as 9 and can be taken apart and stored in the carrying bag that comes with it. The bag and wand can fit in a backpack or large purse. Instead of a push-button release which can be difficult for some people, it has a slide button.
MDRC staff members have been working on a multi-year collaborative grant from the Office of Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice. Through that work, all of our staff has been learning about responding to, preventing, and connecting to the services and supports available, for people experiencing domestic violence/sexual assault.
People with disabilities experience sexual assault and domestic violence at a far higher rate than the general population and these violations can also lead to disability. As a community, we as people with disabilities need to be aware and active in both preventing domestic violence and sexual assault and in responding to it.
How does this all relate to assistive technology (AT)?
Perpetrators may withhold people with disabilities’ access to needed assistive technology as a means of control.
Perpetrators may monitor conversations of people with disabilities, especially people who are Deaf and use communication devices. This is another means of control.
People with disabilities who experience domestic violence or sexual assault may need access to AT devices emergently as they move to shelters or other spaces for safety. Devices may be left behind and AT/additional personal attendants may be needed to deal with the fact that many times perpetrators are family members or caregivers who people with disabilities relied on for support. Loan closets of devices and the ATxchange website are potential resources for use of devices while sorting out living situations, accessing services and supports, and making safety plans.
Many shelters are not accessible and need to develop ways to help people with disabilities access AT when they flee a situation.
Sexual Assault and domestic violence program staff may not be aware, or capable of, assisting people with disabilities who have intellectual, processing, or communication disabilities due to their own lack of knowledge and skills. Access to assistive technology can help.
Apps for PTSD can be useful to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. For example, I am a sexual abuse survivor and use Gratitude! for mindfulness and PTSD Coach.
There are apps and devices for safety like Circle of 6 which lets you send out messages to your friends like “come get me” and gives your GPS location. Circle of 6 also can connect you to resources.
Survivors who are Deaf and hard of hearing need to know their rights and the systems of help available. Some communication and relay systems keep transcripts of conversations automatically unless the user specifically requests that they don’t. Perpetrators have also impersonated Deaf survivors through electronic communication methods so shelters and survivors may want to develop codes phrases.
In my last blog post, Google Calendar for Students!, I mentioned that one of my first professional roles after I graduated from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was supporting young adults who had disabilities and were transitioning out of high school to whatever came next for them. I shared about the necessity of creating and using a schedule and talked about how Google Calendar was a great tool for students with various support needs. Today I’m writing about my experiences using Google Drive to support students with various needs; specifically those related to organization, cognition, communication/social interactions, memory, and planning. “Google Drive is a free service from Google that gives you access to free web based applications for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Because files can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection, Drive eliminates the need to email or save a file to a USB drive. And because Drive allows you to share files, working with others becomes much easier.” From All about Google Drive.
Students use Google Drive to
Collaborate on group projects
Students can begin a presentation (Google’s version of PowerPoint is very similar), share it with their classmates, and give them access to edit and add to it. The creator of the presentation/document does not need to be online for their classmates to access it; it’s stored in the cloud and can be accessed anytime via wifi/mobile data.
For someone who may have support needs related to communication/social interactions, group work may be really challenging. In a group setting, he or she may have a difficult time understanding why or how their part of the assignment may have been changed by a group member. Using the “See Revision History” feature, students are empowered to understand when something has been changed and by whom. Then, using the built in chat feature, students can follow up with their group members about changes.
Access work all in one place
Anything created in Drive is stored in the Drive account (connected to the student’s Gmail account). Work won’t be lost if a computer dies or a new/different device is used. Drive auto saves everything that was created using Drive via connection with the internet.
For students who have support needs that center around organization, this feature is especially useful. They don’t need to keep track of multiple emails being sent back and forth with the most recent revision because it’s already auto saved in Drive.
Also, for students who need supports geared around memory, if she or he forgets what they named a document, they can search in Drive using a keyword to find their work (for example, “Lincoln” could be used to find their report on American presidents).
Share work with their teacher during the process
For students who have needs centered around general cognition, knowing if they are completing an assignment in the way the teacher envisioned might be a challenge. Keeping the teacher in the loop from the beginning of the project can be very helpful. Depending on the teacher, students can get helpful feedback/guidance from their teacher before they officially “turn it in” by inviting them to the project created on Google Drive. Teachers can then comment/make changes/etc. in real time to support their students.
Get support remotely
Sometimes the supports a student needs can’t always in-person. When a student invites their Personal Assistant, parent, etc. to their document/presentation/etc., that designated support person can view, double check it, etc. remotely from their own computer or mobile device. This feature can be changed/people can be uninvited whenever needed (for when there is a staffing change for example). Access to “view only” can also be given when limiting access is needed/chosen.
Do you use Google Drive? How has it been helpful to you? Share in a comment 🙂