Phone Home

In the movie “E.T., The Extra Terrestrial,” E.T. magically phones home from Earth to his home planet in a far-away galaxy, trying to return home after his ship, during a routine horticultural mission to California’s Redwood Forest, was discovered by human authorities and forced to make an emergency departure, leaving the helpless alien stranded.  The prop communication device was put together, Hollywood-style, with ordinary household items (an empty coffee can, a fork, a vinyl record turntable, a circular saw blade, a Mattel Speak-N-Spell, an umbrella, and lots of wire and tinfoil) and powered by the natural forces of the earth.  In reality, the technology that must be involved to allow such communication is phenomenal.  Well, if E.T. can dial a telephone and talk with someone with all of his “unusual challenges,” then why not someone with an ordinary disability? This article will introduce you to a variety options in assistive communications technology which you can explore. After all, what teenager does not yearn to talk on a telephone by themselves and what adult doesn’t need to make important calls for scheduling a doctor’s appointment, talking with customer service representatives, or arranging a fun night out?

Finding Your Freedom

What follows is a list of current assistive technology devices that can be used with or in place of the conventional telephone to help consumers with disabilities get the most out of their twenty-first century telecommunications experience.

Cordless Telephone Holder: For many individuals with physical disabilities, a simple telephone holder for the receiver is all that is needed.  This is normally made from a formed piece of plastic attached to the handset.  The user will pick up the telephone and the holder, stabilizing the phone around the hand so no grasping is needed.

Dialing with a Mouthstick or Headstick: One of the simplest ways of dialing a telephone if you are unable to use your fingers is some type pointing device.  These can be specially designed for your personal physical needs.  Placing the telephone onto a telephone stand at an angle will make it easier to access.

Cordless Telephone with Headset: RadioShack has a variety of headset telephones with built-in keypads, the wires of which will not get tangled in the wheels of your wheelchair.  The headsets are one-piece rather than a remote phone which has a plug in for a headset. 

Voice Activated Telephone: E.T.’s famous words, “phone home” actually could be a command with a voice-activated telephone.  These telephones allow you to create a command to correspond with a phone number.  Just whistle or hit a switch to start the process.  There is voice-activated answering as well which allows the consumer to simply say “hello” and the telephone answers for you.

Switch Scanning Telephone: A scanning telephone will scan through preprogrammed numbers until you press a switch of your choice.

 Adapted Cellphones: Many cellular phone providers offer a feature for voice dialing and automatic answering.  Simply press a button and say the name of the person you wish to call.  For others, pressing a button would be hard.  Check out cellport which actually makes your cell phone completely hands-free.  The product was originally made for hands-free access when driving.

Computer Based Telephone: A telephone is accessible through software on your computer.  Then, what ever computer access you use will make the telephone dial and answer.  Microsoft PhoneTools offers dialing and answering a telephone but also will provide you with a fax.

Options for Speech Challenges

Speech to Speech: If you rely on your voice for communication but sometimes are not understood, Speech to Speech may be answer.  It is similar to the relay system.  Basically, there is a Communication Assistant who will learn your speech patterns and repeat to the listener sentences when the listener does not comprehend what was said.

Infrared Telephone: An infrared telephone will allow you to program your communication device to dial and pick up the telephone without assistance.

A Speakerphone Combined with a Communication Device: Many people will use their communication device with a speakerphone to talk with other individuals.

Clarity Phone: This special telephone will amplify the outgoing voice as well use digitized technology to attempt to create a more natural sounding voice.  On the same note, there is the speech enhancer for everyday conversation.

Options for Cognitive Challenges

Memory Telephone: A memory telephone is set up with speed dial.  This will allow the user to press one button or a couple to dial a telephone number.  The user only needs to learn the procedure rather than memorizing a telephone number.  Many modern telephones will have a display which will have the name actually written out.  This is easier for many rather than recalling which speed dial number goes with which person.

Picture Telephone: A picture telephone works well for someone who is unable to read or memorize a sequence.  This telephone has pictures of individuals.  Press the picture and telephone will dial the individual.

Color Coded Telephone Dialing: Sometimes all you need to do with a speed dial telephone is paint different colors on the different speed dial buttons.

Options for Hearing Challenges

Amplifier Telephone: Harris Communications provides numerous telephones for individual with hearing or deafness challenges.  An amplified telephone allows the user to turn up a dial to increase the volume.

Computer Based Text Telephone: Instant Messaging is an excellent way to communicate through written words with anyone who has a computer hooked up to the Internet.  Don’t forget e-mail is another method of private conversation.

Hearing Aid Compatible Telephone: There are special telephones specially designed to work with a hearing aid.

Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD or TTY): This model of telephone is commonly utilized in the Deaf community.  It allows the user to type in the information wanted instead of speaking.

Video Display Telephone: Seeing is believing.  A videophone allows the communicator and the listener to see each other.  Sign language can then be used.

  Relay System: Anywhere in the United States if you dial 711.  A Communication Assistant will translate from a TTY to a hearing person or vice versa.

Options for Vision Challenges

Large Button Telephone: Large buttons will make numbers easier to view.  Dynamic Living has a variety of models to choose from.

Telephone with Braille Markings: Instead of large buttons, you may find Braille markings easier to use.

Voice Output Telephone: A voice output telephone will speak to you as choose different features.  Everything from the speed dial to single numbers can be given to you through speech.

Dialing Aid: Some devices such as a Voice Parrot have dialing capabilities.  You in the device towards the telephone and it will dial the different numbers in the phone book.

Adapted Cell Phones: A cell phone is impossible or cumbersome for many visually impaired users.  There now is an option to increase the functionality beyond dialing in the other features of a cell phone. Cell Phone Accessibility has a powerful voice synthesizer, which allows simple access to all the uses of the mobile phone. Cell Phone Accessibility is designed to work in all new generation mobile phones, regardless of the operating systems they run on. Cell Phone Accessibility does not need any additional external adaptive device to work.

This is just a sampling of the many possibilities.  So investigation is your next step.

Funding is always a challenge in itself.  But here in Minnesota, there are funding options.  One organization to contact once you have an idea of a product you like is the Equipment Distribution Program.  They provide individuals with disabilities telephone access and certain products at no cost.  Check out http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/ecs/ted/ to find out more about eligibility and product available.

The Mars Rover landed on the red planet in January.  Just think… one day you might just be like ET communicating with other individuals on the other planets independently.