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Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog

A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!

Captioned Phones

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Caption Phones


Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my daughter’s name to be called, I glanced at the magazine offerings and a telephone caught my eye. At first I thought it was for patients to use to call for a ride after their appointment, but then I noticed it had a sign on it encouraging waiting room occupants to give it a try. It was a captioned phone. We were at the ENT (ear nose throat) doctor–many people coming to this office experience hearing loss. What a great opportunity to interact with some useful AT while waiting for an appointment!


My daughter’s name was quickly called so I didn’t get a chance to try the phone but it made me want to do a little more investigating. I did see the CaptionCall branded phone had a clear, large readout on the touchscreen. The screen said the phone also has a loud ring, amplification (on the website it says 58db of amplification) and other features like captioning in English or Spanish.


CaptionCall phone


Harris Communications is a well-respected Midwest provider of products for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing so I decided to check their website for reviews and further information. According to the Harris website reviews and product information, captioning is provided via CaptionCall (and other brands of similar devices) for free via the funding from FCC. CaptionCall provides nearly instant captioning of calls through use of the phone which must also be connected to the internet. While reviews are overwhelmingly positive, there are some noted concerns mentioned at least a couple times—the quality of the speakerphone seems to be low and some people also mention the quality of the handset is also poor so that people with significant residual hearing are having a hard time using the handset and/or speakerphone. It also seems that while the captioning is good, upgrades sometimes are noticeable in a down tick in quality of captioning for some time. Also, the accuracy of the captioning for phone numbers and addresses has been lower. Some people also noted that Harris needs to notify CaptionCall when a phone is purchased for white glove support in delivery, set up, and connection and this did not occur. It might be better to purchase a captioned phone directly from the manufacturer to avoid these complications.


According to the CaptionCall website, CaptionCall uses advanced technology and a communications assistant to provide the written captions. The captioning is secure and encrypted. Free delivery and installation is provided by CaptionCall employees across the country.


All of the captioned phones on the Harris website are $75. Some have worse reviews thank CaptionCall (Clarity Ensemble Amplified Captioned Phone with ClearCaptions) and some are at about the same level (CapTel). On the CaptionCall website, if you qualify, the phone itself is actually free. On the CapTel website, there are three phone options depending on need/comfort with a touchscreen and […]

By |January 9th, 2019|Categories: Hearing Loss/Hard of Hearing|0 Comments

What WCAG 2.1 Means for Access


I attended the Accessible Learning Conference at Michigan State University in December of 2018. There were many interesting presentations, but the one that helped me the most was a discussion of the new additions to the web and mobile accessibility standards, known as WCAG 2.1. The standard itself is pretty dense, and I found that this presentation’s focus on those success criteria improvements that have clear value for all of us was very helpful.

The presentation was titled, “What’s New in WCAG 2.1“, and the presenter was Graham L. Pierce, Assistant Director, MSU Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting.  His overview of the portion of the additions that could be worked on now (as opposed to those additions that were very technical), gave me the courage to revisit the standard and to summarize the changes.

There is not an expectation that these new criteria will suddenly be implemented. Rather, the new criteria allow developers and organizations to begin the implementation rolling out success over time.

New Success Criteria:

Orientation (1.3.4)

Here, orientation refers to the familiar “portrait” vs. “landscape”. The criterion says that the user (say, you on your smartphone) should be able to choose the orientation to fit your immediate needs. Exceptions to this include things like a bank check, a piano application, slides for a projector or television, or other situations in which a specific orientation is essential to make use of the content.

Identifying the Purpose of an Input (1.3.5)

The point of this criterion is to make sure the user understands why and what they are inserting into an input field about themselves before they do it.

Reflow (1.4.10)

The reflow criterion makes sure that you can access and use the content on a mobile phone without losing any functions and without scrolling, a pet peeve of mine now.

Non-Text Contrast (1.4.11)

This criterion requires that there be significant color contrast between user function elements, graphical content necessary to understand or use the overall content, and any nearby elements on the screen. Meeting this criterion will make sure people with a variety of visual disorders can make use of the content.

Text Spacing (1.4.12)

These standards make reading text easier for everyone and are similar to what you might see in a word processor program’s default style.

Content on Hover or Focus (1.4.13)

If your pointer, however that is defined on your device, triggers some additional content, you can get rid of it or use the new content without losing it by moving over it. (Another pet peeve).

Character Key Shortcuts (2.1.4)

If a keyboard shortcut only uses a letter, punctuation, number, or symbol, there is a way to turn it off or remap so that the user can make complete use of the keyboard for navigation and use of content. Important for people with visual impairments and some mobility impairments among others.

Pointer Gestures (2.5.1)

With the spread of gesture-based control of mobile platforms, multiple step or path gestures must be reducible to one step. Important for persons with mobility impairments among others.

Pointer Cancellation (2.5.2 )

If you can trigger […]

By |January 2nd, 2019|Categories: Assistive Technology|0 Comments

All I Want for Christmas is these Two AT

My colleagues and I are coming up with holiday wishlists of AT (assisitive technology). Since one of my favorite hobbies is cooking, of course, I want some things to help me out in the kitchen.  I have chronic upper back pain that usually flares up if I have to do a lot of chopping or when I am doing dishes. Our dishwasher is a big help in this arena and my husband has graciously agreed to be our household dish cleaner for the rest of the items.

That leaves chopping as my back’s nemesis.

Chef'N Veggie chopper with a clear bowl with blade assembly and a top with a pull cord to cause the chopping motion of the blades.I came across the Chef’N Veggie Chopper in a buzzfeed of 36 Clever Gifts for Food Lovers You’ll Want for Yourself. In the article it is $47 which is ridiculous, but a little searching on Amazon landed the same item for $17-$18 (prices fluctuate rapidly for the same product on Amazon on an almost hourly basis). Watching the video of the way the product works and reading reviews, this is now top on my wish list. If I do receive it as a gift this holiday season, I will definitely use it to chop nuts and onions—both of which I hate doing by hand, but am rarely willing to go to the work of getting out the food processor for. This simple device could fulfill a need with little clean up afterwards.

My other AT wish is for higher countertops/sink in my house. Since that isn’t in the budget, I did some research on options to relieve my posture-related back pain. I have read that standard countertops are all too low if you are over 5’5”. I’m 5’8”, which seems close, but I guess because of my body type, they are really low for me. One option is to build a raised cutting board so that I can maintain better posture when I am chopping things. I would love a custom, cutting board built to my specifications.

dozens of custom made cutting boards of different shapes, sizes, woods, and heightsWhile I wait for my close friends and family to acquire custom carpentry skills, I came up with another solution from some more online searching—stacked, thick wooden cutting boards. I looked at where my hands end up when I bend my elbows at 90 degrees and it is a good 5-6 inches higher than my counters. I am going to wish for one, 2 inch or taller, sturdy cutting board to stack on a lovely, thick wooden cutting board I already received as a gift from my aunt to see if 3-4 inches relieves some of the postural back pain caused by my too-low counters. I found some nice options on Amazon and Etsy.

What AT items are you wishing for this holiday season?

By |December 18th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

My Wish for 2019: Protected Net Neutrality

By MATP Staff Jen Mullins

During a recent trip to Washington D.C., organizers from Community Catalyst arranged for me to meet with staff from Senator Debbie Stabenow‘s office and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell‘s office.  In preparation for these meetings, I was encouraged to talk about the need for continued protections for medicaid and medicare and also asked to speak about any other issues I was passionate about; issues that impacted my own, everyday life.  One issue that I brought up in both meetings was the need for the protection of net neutrality.  Wired describes net neutrality as, “the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) like Comcast and Verizon should treat all content flowing through their cables and cell towers equally. That means they shouldn’t be able to slide some data into ‘fast lanes’ while blocking or otherwise discriminating against other material. In other words, these companies shouldn’t be able to block you from accessing a service like Skype, or slow down Netflix or Hulu, in order to encourage you to keep your cable package or buy a different video-streaming service.”  Access to something so important that a majority of us use everyday, the internet, should be equal for everyone.

Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, is quoted having said, “Net neutrality is a civil right.”  She shares, “With the Disability Visibility Project, I’ve been able to build community & amplify our media to the public with Twitter chats, a podcast, and blog posts. As a co-partner in #CripTheVote, an online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people, I’ve seen first-hand the power of hashtags that create a space for action and conversation. Without net neutrality, I wouldn’t have the same reach, platform, or voice.  A majority of my work takes place online. It’s also where I go to find support, solidarity, and friendship across time and space. Some disabled people like me encounter barriers while being out or are isolated socially and geographically. There are disabled people who cannot leave their beds who are badass activists with incredible social media presence because of the Internet. It is a literal lifeline for many including myself.”

When I spoke with the staff from Sen Stabenow’s office and staff from Rep Dingell’s office, I shared that during this past July, while firefighters were working tirelessly to put out the devastating wild fires in California, they lost their ability to communicate with one another wirelessly because they had used too much data“Verizon virtually cut off the internet connection to a vital command and control vehicle used to receive calls for help and to coordinate firefighters and equipment. One firefighter said the service became basically unusable, cutting off firefighters from vital emergency communications.  Why? Because the fire department had maxed out […]

By |December 18th, 2018|Categories: Net Neutrality|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

All I want for Christmas is My Two AT (2018)

By MATP Staff Laura Hall

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again!  I’m getting excited about the upcoming holiday season, and I’m sure you are too.  Keeping with tradition, I am sending you my wishlist for my top AT items I am hoping for this year.  Standing frame with knee pads, handles with knobs for sling, and hydraulic hand pumpNow, I know in the past, some of my requests have been a little silly.  The twirling spaghetti fork was perhaps one of the silliest.  However,  you have also brought me some extremely helpful assistive technology off of last year’s wish list that given me much more independence.  For example, the Get U Up transferring lift now allows my personal care providers to get me out of bed without lifting or straining their backs.

My requests this year feel even more urgent as I have fallen in my bathroom many times.  As you know, we purchased my home three years ago, and while it has some accessibility features, such as ramps and a roll-in shower, the bathroom has always been problematic.  We have looked into remodeling, but because of the concrete interior walls my home has, and because of the sheer magnitude of the project, the price tag for such a remodel is far above what we are able to pay.   Until I win the lottery or my financial fortune changes, I’d like to make a few requests for some more moderate pieces of assistive technology that may help prevent more falls and enable me to become more independent in the bathroom.

One of the biggest problems with the bathroom is the lack of space for handrails and grab bars.  There is simply not enough wall space by the toilet where the bar needs to be located.  I believe a solution to this problem could be a flip-up grab bar that could be mounted to the wall behind the toilet and lifted up out of the way when I’m not using it.  Another option may be to use the space that is vertically available vs. taking up space horizontally.  There are floor-to-ceiling poles with grab bar extensions that can be placed in a customized area.  Many of the pole bars that I’ve been researching are tension mounted, wand don’t require bolting into the ceiling or the floor.  Most people may prefer this,but I want to make sure it is very sturdy, so would prefer something like the SuperPole, which is securely fastened to the floor and ceiling.  The SuperPole also has a “SuperBar” grab bar extension that rotates and locks every 45 degrees so I could orient it in the way that works best for me.

I am so grateful that I have a roll-in shower, as it is expensive to have one installed.  However, as a stand-alone fiberglass stall, it is not […]

By |December 10th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|1 Comment

Man posing for a photo with an iPad.

The is a website designed to facilitate transactions between residents of Michigan exchanging, donating, or selling used assistive technology (AT). Any used/open box device that assists a person with a disability to live more independently or safely (assistive technology) may be submitted.  Sellers create listings for a wide variety of used AT; wheelchair accessible vehicles, wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, and electronic tablets are just a few examples.

Paul purchased a used iPad off of the site to use for classes this fall semester at Oakland County Community College. He shared that because of his disability, he has difficulty typing and writing by hand, but knew there were apps he could download onto the iPad and use to take notes for classes. Paul also shared that he couldn’t afford to buy a new iPad and was thankful to buy a more affordable used one off of the ATX.

To view items currently available on the ATX, visit the website and click on “items” near the top of the screen.  To purchase an item or get more information about it, create an account and contact the seller for that item.  To list an item on the ATX, create an account.  For questions about the site, use the contact information listed on the site to get in touch with us.

By |November 20th, 2018|Categories: Assistive Technology|0 Comments

AT for My 8 Month Old

Theo holding Anneliese in their window seat

My daughter, Anneliese, is turning 8 months old next week. Her brother, Theo, turns one year and 11 months old today. Having two kids under two is exciting, enlivening, and life-changingly wonderful, and busy. Having both of our kids in our 40s after a long battle with infertility and losses, and having worked and lived as a member of the disability community for more than a decade, my partner, Joe, and I were pretty prepared for the possibility that our kids would have disabilities.

As a believer and practicer of disability pride, that is an interesting thing to consider. I have my share of internalized ableism–negative beliefs about disabilities turned inward on myself. I have experienced depths of depression that had me thinking that other people with disabilities deserved to have children but maybe I didn’t, because the fight to get to them was so hard and my body wasn’t cooperating. I’ve also known that I would be able to teach our children about disability pride and help them grow it, and at the same time, wanted them not to have to face additional barriers people with disabilities experience.

Anneliese's first day with her helmet

Right now, it is not clear if my son has any disabilities, most likely not, other than some sensory processing things he has with bright lights and certain sounds. My daughter is also doing well, but qualifies as more than 20% behind and is having an evaluation from Early On this week. She also has a helmet for brachycephaly that is on 23 hours a day. The back of her head is very flat–more than six standard deviations from the mean of baby head roundness.

I struggle to explain to friends that I am both anxious for and about Anneliese, and at the same time ready and willing to help her explore life as a person with a disability, if she is a person with a disability for her whole life.
The computer-generated mold used to make Anneliese's custom helmet

Right now, I do consider her a baby with a disability. Because she is a baby, she doesn’t face the same stigma of adults with apparent disabilities, but she does get some curious looks with her helmet and some pity/looks of concern. For now, they don’t concern her and really don’t concern me either. Some children in her Kindermusik class are a little fascinated with her helmet strewn with images of butterflies and some of their parents are worried about their fascination, but we handle it easily.

We have visits to the orthotic and prosthetic lab at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rpaids every couple weeks to check on her progress and progress is being made. I expect we will also have follow up and monitoring after the Early On evaluation.

I also have mental health disabilities including anxiety, depression, and PTSD related to medical […]

By |November 14th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Barriers to the Ballot Box


By Laura Hall, MATP Staff Member

When I arrived at my polling place this morning, like many voters, I was excited to take part in this important election.  I felt prepared because I had ensured I was registered to vote, found my polling place, researched the candidates and issues and filled out a sample personalized ballot (that I took with me to the polls) on the Vote411 website.  As I handed my ID and paperwork to the poll worker, I saw a look of dismay fall over her face when I told her I would like to use the electronic voting machine that is required to be at every polling place.  “We were having trouble with it this morning”, she replied.  It seemed like there was a short in the connectors”.  However, she noted that someone had come to take a look at it, and they reported that everything was fine, so lets “give it a shot”.  Unfortunately, everything was not fine.  As I prepared to vote there was a scurry of activity as people tried to identify who knew how to initialize the ballot in the Dominion machine (note: in other areas of the state the Hart InterCivic and the Election Systems and Software machines are used).  It seemed like no one really knew what they were doing, but they opened their giant election binder and began looking at the directions.  I asked whether, as poll workers, they were trained on the machines. Apparently, they were, but very briefly according to the poll worker.  However, I was excited when they were able to get the machine working with relatively no problems.


The Dominion voting machine offers several accessible features: touchscreen, audio playback with headphones, audio-tactile interfaces (a controller with arrows to tab through options with a large button to make your selection), sip and puff, and paddles (large red and blue buttons to navigate through your ballot and make selections).  You can also enlarge the text and change the contrast of the text on these machines.  I chose to use the touchscreen option with the audio input to help me insure I made the choices I intended.   I was able to navigate my ballot with relative ease and was happy that it didn’t take too long.  I selected to print the ballot, and then my heart sank.  My ballot only partially printed, and the screen on the voting machine instructed me to contact an election official.  The poll worker came over, looked at the screen with a heavy sigh, checked the printer for a paper jam, couldn’t find one, and shrugged their shoulders, out of ideas.  What was the next person who requested the machine going to do?  They offered to help me fill out a paper ballot, but I would need two poll workers affiliated with different political parties to be present.  I am able […]

By |November 13th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Seeing the Beauty in Trying Something New


This story comes to us from Jenell Williams of Disability Network Oakland & Macomb:

J. Thomas is very active in her community. She loves spending time with her family and friends. Most of all she loves her early mornings. In the morning she has her special routine where she fixes her breakfast and sits down to read or play a game on her phone. She realized that as she aged, certain things in her life would change. However, she didn’t expect her sight to be one of those things.

One day her friend asked her to come down to support her in attending an Assistive Technology (AT) Outreach presentation at their building. Her intent was to support her friend but she ended up gaining so much more. She was presented with the opportunity to make some changes. Although she uses her prescription glasses, she knew those 156-powermag-handheld-magnifier_sudokuwouldn’t be enough in order to maintain an independent life style. Making a change is exactly what she did! She tried out a 3.5x Power Magnifier and instantly noticed the difference it made. Having had the opportunity to explore something different not only helped her to maintain her independence but begin to see the beauty in trying something new.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”- Confucius.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about AT and devices that might be available to help, please visit our Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) website.

By |October 18th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |1 Comment

Back to School Assistive Technology

by Laura Hall, MATP staff

This morning, I awoke to the sound of the school bus in my neighborhood.  I knew my commute to work would begin to take longer as students now inhabit the city within the city that is Michigan State University.  It’s back to school time, and we wanted to start the year off right with some examples of assistive technology that can support a successful student.

Thinking back to my own education, I could have used assistive technology that may not have been available at the time were in the areas of note-taking, organization, and time management.  I know I’m dating myself, but back before laptops, iPads, and iPhones were allowed in the classroom, I used to have to ask for accommodations to get the teacher’s lecture notes or PowerPoints ahead of time, request a scribe, or borrow notes from a classmate.  Today, technology is available to help with notetaking that doesn’t rely on support from another person.  For example, with the Livescribe pen, you’re able to record audio while you take notes.  Using Livescribe’s special paper, you can then review the audio in sync with your notes merely by tapping the pen to the page.  audionote app logoIf drawing pictures or writing down key concepts is a better way for you to learn, you still have the audio that corresponds with what you put down on paper.  Your notes can also be downloaded and saved along with the synched audio to share at a later time.  Similarly, AudioNote, an app for Apple and Android, allows you to type notes on a screen and record audio that is time stamped with the notes.

Organization can take many forms, including calendars, to do lists, reminders, and more.  Many people are now using the calendars built into their phones or email program, such as iCal or Google Calendar.  There are other apps, some that are aimed at students, like iStudiez Lite (Free) and Pro Watchminder with the time and ($2.99) manages your class schedule, teacher contacts, and upcoming assignments/tests. It’s a school-specific calendar app and to-do list rolled into one.  Sometimes, shared to-do lists, like Wunderlist or ToDoist are helpful when working in a group or just to have another person help keep you on track.  Built into many of these apps are notifications that can alert you to an upcoming event or task on your phone or desktop as well.  The Amazon Echo and Alexa devices can also verbalize your tasks for the day either by asking her to create a to-do list or linking your iCal or Google Calendar.   However, some people might need more than a simple alert.  On the lower-tech end, the Watchminder can vibrate on the wrist with a message on the screen that is pre-programmed such as “Pay Attention” or customized to your need.  Higher tech wearables, like the […]

By |September 4th, 2018|Categories: school|0 Comments

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