Thursday, September 30, 2010

Telephone Access For People With Speech Disabilities

by Bob Segalman, Ph.D.
 Do you have a speech disability and live in the USA (including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico)? If so, you can now use a free telephone service 24 hours a day. “Speech to Speech” (STS) provides communication assistants for people with difficulty being understood by the public by telephone. The Federal Communications Commission regulates Speech to Speech, which is a form of relay service. STS is also available in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

STS is provided through the TTY relay in each state. Unlike TTY, STS users communicate by voice through a communication assistant (CA), as many people with speech disabilities have difficulty typing. Many STS users have Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or stroke. Other users stutter or have had a laryngectomy.

 People with speech disabilities can dial toll free to reach a patient, trained CA who is familiar with many speech patterns and has excellent language recognition skills. This CA makes telephone calls for them and repeats their words exactly in a 3-way calling environment. STS is the only way for many people to telephone others not accustomed to their speech.

Speech to Speech helps speech synthesizer users, users of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices by putting their device next to a speakerphone. AAC users may ask the STS communication assistance to set up the call, negotiate the menu, introduce the call explaining AAC and then go into the background. This enables AAC users to communicate independently once the other party is on the line.

I have cerebral palsy and developed the concept of STS. Now it makes telephone use much easier for me. To try out STS, report problems or request information call 1-888-877-5302 and then ask for me at 916-448-5517. Visit the STS website: where you will find the Speech-to-Speech 800 access numbers.

FCC regulations state that individuals can also access STS by dialing 711 and asking for Speech to Speech, but compliance is an issue. If the CA can not place an STS call, please e-mail me ( you used STS? If so, what have been your experiences? What can you do to advocate for the increased use of STS by people with speech disabilities and AAC users?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Multi-purpose Assistive Technology Device - Does Apple iPhone Make The Grade?

Written by Luke Hsieh of Community Access Center, Riverside

June 4th is a very important date to me. No, it's not because on that day in 1989 the Chinese government ordered a general crackdown on Tiananmen Square students, but it was on June 4, 2010 when I obtained my iPhone 3GS. This device has fundamentally changed my life.

The first device I retired was my much beloved iPod Touch (which I gave to my sister). The second device I retired was my 7-year-old Fuji Digital camera, which I probably chucked under the bed somewhere. The third was my Citizen Eco Drive watch, which I gave to my dad.

It is becoming fairly apparent that the Apple iPhone was designed to be an all-purpose PDA. Those who claim Apple’s iPhone 4G is inferior to HTC Droid because it comes with a 5 Megapixel camera as opposed an 8 Megapixel camera have completely missed the point.

The attraction of the Apple iPhone lies with the tens of thousands of third party applications for us technophiles to enjoy. Those third party applications are generally safe, cheap, and useful. Take my iPhone for example. I have turned it into an AAC device with Proloquo2go from Assistware, a GPS Navigation tool with Copilot, a hearing aid with Sound Amp from Ginger Lab, an 8 x Electronic magnifier, a barcode decoder, a portable scanner, dictionary, and a website reader. My customized iPhone feels like an extension of my brain. 

The problem with customizing an iPhone as an assistive device is that the iPhone performs every task at about 60% efficiency compared to a single purpose tool. For example, iPhone Electronic Magnifier won't be able to do real time color inversion because the video memory won't allow it to perform the task. The barcode reader won't locate 40% of the decodes inputted. The hearing aid drains battery power like nothing on earth, and the GPS could not find my house number. The iPhone comes with a built-in voice-over function for people with low vision or who are blind. However, operating an iPhone in the Voice Over Mode is so frustrating.  It is difficult to use without practice.

Having pointed out the limitations, I am devoted to my iPhone and would never regret the purchase.  However, as an Assistive Technology device, it is a light at the end of the tunnel, not the end of the tunnel itself. I look forward to the day when the iPhone XG can do all the assistive functions at 100% efficiency and cost about $200.

How have you customized your iPhone as an assistive technology device? What are some recommendations you have for Apple to improve the iPhone’s efficiency?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Surf, Sun and AT

Written by LaCandice McCray, CFILC's Outreach and Training Advocate

Often times we think about using assistive technology in the home, at work, or at school. What about using assistive technology for fun? A conference I recently attended in Irvine reminded me that recreation is also an important part of daily living.

August 26-27 was the Amputee Coalition of America’s national conference. For the past 3 years, this conference has been held in Atlanta. 2010 was the first time this conference took place in California. I attended workshops about orthotics and prosthetics, learned about the concerns of the amputee community, and networked with vendors and organizations from all over the country. I also tried different types of AT used for recreation like an adaptive skateboard. Similarly, there were several organizations attending the conference in the field of adaptive sports. Information about swimming, tennis, hiking, and extreme sports was largely available for attendees.

One example of an adaptive sports organization in California is the Association of Amputee Surfers. AMP Surf (for short) organizes surfing clinics for amputees, veterans, and people with disabilities around Southern California. Their mission is to encourage adaptive surfing and other outdoor activities through PIER: Promote, Inspire, Educate, and Rehabilitate. In addition to participating in surfing clinics, there are opportunities to volunteer with AMP Surf or sponsor a clinic. For more information about the Association of Amputee Surfers, visit:

Organizations like AMP Surf remind us that we all need a little sun once in awhile. Not only can recreation be fun with assistive technology, but its use can promote pride in disability and participation in mainstream activities. What are some recreational activities you have participated in with AT? Have you encountered any barriers along the way?