I admit being a hearing and visually impaired sexagenarian. I share this personal narrative because more and more I am asked about tech to overcome impairment. Devices that can help people through their daily lives.
Impaired means weakened or damaged. It is not a stigma – it just means you can’t access a sense as well as you used to. More often there are simple tech things you can do to make life easier.
Tech to overcome impairment can take many forms.
Sight can benefit from large friendly ‘lettering’ seen on some alarm clocks, phone handsets and accessibility enabled tablets and PCs.
Visual cues such as a flashing light indicating an incoming phone call or captions on TV
Audible cues such as an 80+dB ring on a doorbell, alarm clock or phone, or an even louder siren on a security
Reinforcing music or TV where you need it by adding extra speakers or using headphones
Sensories like haptic feedback, the vibration of a smartphone, or a great bass sub-woofer
The backbone to much of this is a good, fast Wi-Fi home network to enable a smart home of connected devices. These devices talk to each other and help make your life easier.
Hearing impaired – the best solution is an audiologist and hearing tests
My wife calls me ‘deaf adder’ but in her case, I prefer to think of it as selective hearing. I also wear reading glasses – I would wear contact lenses if they could correct long-sightedness.
If you are hearing impaired, what did you say, repeat that, huh, then its time to go to an Audiologist. Most will bulk bill Medicare for the test and can recommend the best type of hearing aid for your needs.
Business people may shun the ‘stigma’, but there is a range of discrete but expensive (several thousand dollars) in-ear-canal aids that are undetectable – show no weakness!
Pensioners may not be so fashion conscious and can get behind-the-ear aids at far lower prices.
Then there is a range of smart Bluetooth hearing aids that can work with your TV, music or smartphone to help you enjoy the experience better.
I am long sighted – I can pass an eyesight test and read traffic signs but nothing close-up. I use a larger 6-inch Garmin 61-LMT-S GPS that allows me to see speed and road information more clearly.
In choosing a smartwatch, I found that the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro has a range of ‘huge’ numeral watch faces that allow me to see the time. Of course, I monitor walking, heart rate, sleep and more but frankly, the large letters were the main reason to buy. Sorry, round and square face smartwatches don’t have the real estate.
Most smartphones and PCs screens allow you to set ‘scale’, so its no crime to go to 150% (or more) to make type readable. Occasionally I use a magnifying glass to read the fine print or take a photo and blow it up (excellent alternative).
Visual, dyslexic and colour impaired – solution is text to speech
Orcam has an amazing text-to-speech converter that clips to your glasses. It will read the text and speak things like the newspaper, food packets, street signs, dollar bill value, colours and more.
It is not cheap at around $7,000 but its incredibly useful for lining in a text-oriented world.
Hearing impaired – phones with big buttons, audio and visual cues
Vtech has a range of Careline landline phones and accessories that are great for hearing impaired with big buttons, visual ringers, photo dialling, amplified sound, loud ringers, handsfree, and very loud doorbells. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children endorse all these products.
You plug a Sennheiser headphone amplifier into a TV, stereo etc., and it transmits to a pocket-sized receiver and plays over a set of stereo headphones or amplified speakers. It has special voice clarity circuitry to bring out speech over music. And it has Sennheiser’s leading sound quality.
Smart home assisted living
While it is early days, there are fridges that will read out their contents and can order replenishment online (Samsung Family Hub 2.0).
The big door screen can be used as a food management, family connection or entertainment hub. It can look inside and display the picture on a smartphone. It can match ingredient to recipes and track food expiration dates. Handy at the supermarket when shopping.
It even has S Voice assistance. Use voice to ask questions and it can read recipes and more to you.
Hearing and visually impaired – OK Google
Voice assistance is set to take over from text input (typing). OK Google leads the pack with its amazing search capabilities and connections to thousands of other smart devices.
Soon it will be your personal assistant and ring hairdressers, restaurants and more to make appointments. It is the beginning of ‘Skynet’ where vast AI lakes can help up do almost everything.
I am most impressed with its learning ability. A few months ago, it used to say, “I am sorry I don’t understand that, but I am always learning.” Now it answers most questions accurately.
There are thousands of devices including robot vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, security cameras, thermostats, door and garage door openers, sensors, lights, home appliances etc.
You can now get smart Bluetooth toothbrushes, toilets, scales, blood pressure monitors, movement sensors (for falls) and even medicine dispensers. Telehealth is making it possible to visit the doctor without leaving your home.
You can create a smart home that responds to you when you are home, asleep, out and about etc. It is all possible via IFTTT (If This, Then That) that allows you to nest commands. For example
Driving into the home driveway, your smartphone crosses the digital fence and opens your garage door and front door.
Depending on weather it may turn on air-conditioning or open mechanised windows
Depending on the time it may turn on lights
It puts on your favourite curated music list or radio station
It starts the coffee maker and homes the robotic vacuum cleaner
And so much more all from sensing your smartphone crossing or leaving the digital fence
GadgetGuy’s take – tech to overcome impairment aids quality of life
Impairment of some sort, like death and taxes, is inevitable with an aging population. This tome is somewhat personal. I want to work for many more years, but some of my senses just don’t cut it any more.
Without consciously realising it tech has enabled me to shine again. And for the most part its easy to use and not all that expensive to implement. Audible/visual reinforcement and voice assistance have changed my life.
If any reader has other examples of tech to overcome impairment, please use the comments below.
Audio tech to overcome impairment. Visual tech to overcome impairment.