Assistive devices for low-vision and hearing-impaired people

23 Jan 2014

I was visiting someone recently who has severe vision and hearing problems. The number and types of assistive devices that he has is amazing. Most of them came from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Memory takes the place of vision with some of these devices: each has its own controls and layout to remember. It’s quite amazing to watch someone use them all. Click the images to see them larger.

Prescription-label readerThe ScripTalk Station reads prescription labels aloud. It gets information from an RFID chip in the label, so the medication has to come from a pharmacy that uses these labels (like the VA).

An occupational therapist provided some interesting tips: put a rubber band at the top of a bottle for morning doses, and at the bottom for evening. Turn the bottle over after taking the meds, then reset it the next day.

High-volume phoneAs it says on the handset, this is a LOUD telephone. I had to turn it way down to use it. The buttons are large enough for many low-vision people (and I blurred out the names on the top of the phone).

People with severe vision problems can contact the phone company to get an exemption from directory assistance charges. AT&T offers services through its Accessibility & Disability Services and The National Center for Customers with Disabilities.

TV listening deviceWilliams Sound makes SoundPlus TV listening devices like this. The base connects to the television, and sends the sound via infrared signals to the receiver, which the listener wears.

Sound on the television can be at a regular level for people without hearing problems, and the wearer can adjust the volume on the receiver.

Magnifier and text reader Two reading devices: On the left, is a magnifier. You can see the corner of a yellow page under the screen. This is good for simple documents.

On the right is the Extreme Reader by Second Vision. It does text-to-speech conversion and reads documents out loud. You can see a newspaper in the device, and the simple control panel with four big buttons. It’s obviously slower than reading on your own, but it’s an amazing thing to have when you can’t.

Talking blood pressure cuffThis HealthSmart blood pressure cuff speaks instructions, measures blood pressure and then speaks the results. It provides a general diagnosis (“According to World Health Organization recommendations…”)

I saw a similar device for measuring blood glucose levels.

Very large-type calendar Not everything is electronic. Large-print calendars like this are very helpful. One source for them is LS&S, “the catalog of products for the visually impaired and hard of hearing”. Other simple accommodations include small velcro strips on washing machines and dishwashers to help get oriented on the control panels.

Color and light meterThis one is my favorite: Press the red button to hear what color an item is, which can help vision-impaired people pick coordinating clothing (or carpets, for that matter).

Press the yellow button to get an audible signal that indicates the light level of the room. You don’t want to invite friends over for coffee if they can’t see the cake!


Climbing up the bus

14 Aug 2013

As I approached the bike store, I saw some people working on a trolley bus, the kind that draws power from overhead wires. Then, while I was locking it to a pole, the mechanic walked over and climbed up to the top of the bus. I’d never noticed that trolley buses have built-in ladders.

This is probably easier than designing a place to stow a ladder inside the bus, and it doesn’t require any extra clearance the way a ladder would. That probably makes it safer. I don’t recall seeing any warning signs for the climber, though.

MBTA bus ladder with steps shown opened and closed

Steps closed (left) and open for mechanics to climb to the roof (right).

It took me by surprise to see the mechanic climb up the side of the bus, or I’d have take a photo of him climbing!

Low-tech safety: text on a hospital chair

21 Jun 2013

This is a chair in the pre-op ward of a local hospital. There’s a tray on the side, and it’s stowed away now. It has a nice low-tech safety feature: text.

Hospital chair with low-tech safety feature

The label on the tray says, “NOT FULLY ENGAGED”.

Closeup of hospital chair's tray

To use the tray, you’d lift it up and slide it in. When the label is hidden, the tray is safely installed. If it’s not “engaged” fully (not inserted all the way), the label shows.

I don’t know how well it works in practice, and I can only assume that there was a problem with trays collapsing. It seems like a good simple solution, though.