Gadgets lend a helping hand: New tech for the older generation

Technology is a great tool when it comes to overcoming disabilities. Here’s a few of the latest ideas aimed at giving a bit of a helping hand…


For the deaf and hard of hearing, concerns about their personal safety widen as they go out of their own environment and into public places, such as the supermarket. How would they know if there was an emergency – such as a fire alarm – if they can’t hear alarms or loudspeaker announcements?

That’s why FireCo, which makes and installs wireless fire safety products, came up with its Deaf Message Service (DMS) fire notification system. The SMS system has been develop by ProcessFlows.

Using DMS, deaf people who are out and about in a public place where DMS has been installed, can sign up to receive ‘fire alarm sounding’ notification on their mobile phone. So, if they visit the supermarket or leisure centre, they send a text with their location code – the DMS server adds them to that location and, should a fire alarm sound, they will receive text notification.

Find out more at and

Technology can be a great benefit to the deaf and hard of hearing, but sometimes it needs a little help. That’s where the Tek from Siemens Hearing Instruments comes in. It uses Bluetooth® technology to wirelessly communicate sound between a hearing instrument and MP3 players, mobile phones, TVs, home stereo systems and other audio sources. For instance, when a mobile phone rings, the user speaks into the Tek device and then listens through the hearing instruments, rather than using their handset.

Siemens has launched a new smaller version of the device, ‘miniTek’, which weighs in at just 55g, is about the size of a matchbox and will be available in early 2011.

For more go here.

Mobile phones are a boon for the elderly or disabled, offering a constant lifeline to the outside world. But as phones get ever smarter, they are also becoming more complicated.

Enter the Emporia ELEGANCE, a phone that has been designed to be incredibly easy to use. It offers easy access to talk, text, an alarm clock, reminders, keyboard lock and there’s a torch built into the phone.

The Emporia Elegance phone is a black and silver device of curved loveliness that serves a serious purpose.

emporia_ELEGANCE lo res

To help me try it out, I enlisted the help of possibly Latest Gadgets’ oldest reviewer (but please don’t tell her that!).

We have been searching for a decent mobile for my mum, who has had her bus pass for a good 20 years, for a long time. Something simple, which doesn’t require me to go and explain it 10 times over, was what we were after. In the past, she’s had to make do with my cast-offs, but as phones have got smaller and smaller, they have got harder for her to use.

The Emporia Elegance has BIG keys. Yes, big keys – with big numbers on, so that she can actually read them (and in fact great for anyone who’s starting to have to peer at the small print – you know who you are).

“Ooh, I can actually see the numbers,” she said. Amazing how easy it is to please some people! But would it be simple to use? Dialling is easy, and Emporia has decided to pop keys on the side of the phone, rather than having a complicated menu system – an absolute godsend. In the past, my poor mum has had to wait two days for one of us to pop round and find her messages so that she can read them – lucky there wasn’t anything urgent. The screen itself is not that big, but the text can be set to huge – the only thing is that you can’t see much of anything because of the size of the screen.

Oh and wonder of wonders, the keyboard lock is a button on the side – I’d given up trying to explain how to lock the keyboard on the past mobile, in case my mum couldn’t unlock it when she needed to – hence several long messages where I listened to her getting on the bus, having a conversation with the man at the newsagents, or rifling in her bag for her purse (this will be familiar to anyone with an elderly parents!).

And one other thing – there’s also a button on the side that lights up a bright torch – fantastic for seeing the keyhole at night, or looking for your keys in your bag.

My only gripe would be that the side buttons are actually a little small and fiddly, and being on the side, they can be easy to press by accident. But overall, for anyone who has sight issues, limited mobility in their fingers – or in fact, just can’t be bothered fiddling about with complicated menus when all they want to do is make and receive calls, the Elegance is a godsend. But it does come at a price – 100 pounds to be precise.

Monitoring the home when we’re not there will be of interest to many of us, whether we want to make sure our house is secure, check that the kids have got home from school okay, and so on. But for anyone who cares for a disabled or elderly relative, it takes on another level of importance.

That’s when a system such as Halo, which allows users to remotely control and monitor their homes from wherever they are, can be invaluable. Halo has an added extra – the web-enabled Telecare service operates continuously, and is able to inform carers of any abnormal events, such as medical and panic alerts, by SMS, Twitter or email.

It can also be set up to register movement around the home – so, for instance if the system is in an elderly relative’s home, and it detects no movement between 8 and 9am when they would normally be up and about, it will alert you, so that you can take the appropriate action.

Halo uses a cloud-based platform that can be accessed over the web or a smartphone, and allows carers to enable services from their own homes, call centres or via mobile phone.

Video content can also be expanded into social networking applications so that carers can keep in touch with their friends and family on a regular basis.