Griffin MouthStick Stylus: Touchscreen Technology For All

MouthStickStylus

The near ubiquity of touchscreen technology is amazing but consider the plight of people who have motor impairments or other disabilities that restrict the use of their hands. Well the folks at Griffin know the importance of keeping technology accessible to as many people as possible and have introduced the Griffin MouthStick Stylus.

It’s designed to allow anyone to use touchscreen monitors, tablets, trackpads and even old-fashioned keyboards. Developed with input from medical professionals, the MouthStick comprises a stainless-steel mouthpiece with removable cushioned sleeves, a rubber-covered 12-inch shaft (I won’t tell you again, stop it!) that can be bent to any angle and a conductive rubber tip. The conductive tip allows it to work with the capacitive touchscreens used in most mobile phones and tablets. It’s a well-balanced design allowing it to be held comfortably in the mouth without strain.

This isn’t a new idea of course, similar devices to allow people with limited mobility to use computers have existed for a while. Mostly though they’re in the form of a simple, rigid pointer. What makes the MouthStick different is the flexible aluminium shaft which can be adjusted to allow the operation of a variety of devices whilst maintaining a comfortable distance to read the screen. Combine this with the conductive tip and it can be used on anything from a standard keyboard to the latest smartphone. Replacement tips and mouthpiece sleeves are available from the Griffin website.

Touchscreen devices have become an essential part of our lives and this clever gadget is designed to make them accessible to everyone regardless of disability. Though I can’t help thinking it might have a wider audience of people who find that two hands just aren’t sufficient for all their multi-tasking needs.

The MouthStick Stylus will be available in April from Griffin priced at £19.99.

Doro 715: Making phones easy with its retro slider design

Finding the right phone for an elderly or vulnerable relative is tricky. They have to be easy to use, have large keys, and not require a weekend reading a manual as thick as War and Peace before you can make a call.

If they also come with some useful emergency features this is a bonus, and it’s why the Doro PhoneEasy 715 is such a treat.

Doro-715

I’ve tested a few handsets aimed at the elderly, and they are mostly pretty big, in order to fit in the larger keys, and often quite plasticky in feel – not good if you know that arthritic hands are more likely to drop the handset.

Out of the box, Doro’s latest release feels pleasantly solid – it is neat in size, thanks to the fact that it has a slider feature, with the keypad hidden underneath the screen, which smoothly slides up to reveal the keys. The screen itself is plain and simple, with the words appearing in a clear, easy-to-read font. The back has a textured finish, which ensures it is easier to hold than some of the fancier smartphones (Apple, I’m looking at you) on the market.

Surprisingly for this kind of phone, it has a 2-megapixel camera, which takes reasonable images, offering the option to send by Bluetooth or use as wallpaper or in your phonebook – handy if the user finds it hard to remember names. Take a snap, choose to share it via Bluetooth, and it asks if you want to activate Bluetooth – just what you need, rather than having to have the know-how to recognise which menu to delve in to switch on Bluetooth.

Doro-715-cradle

The keyboard has shortcuts keys for the camera and texts, and all the keys light up so they’re easy to see in low light. Other features include a torch, organiser, calculator and radio (which can only be listened to if you plug in some earphones).

The standout feature though, for anyone who is looking for a phone for someone who is vulnerable, is the emergency alarm. Should they be in difficulty, they can press the large square button on the back of the handset and it can either set off a loud alarm, call a chosen contact, or both.

There’s also a neat ICE (in case of emergency) section, which can be filled out with full name, address, medical notes, allergies, doctor’s details and emergency contacts should the user be taken into hospital in an emergency or be too confused to give proper details themselves.

Doro has even included a couple of games should you want them – good old Teris is one of them.

Charging is done via a charging dock – again far simpler than trying to fiddle around with charger ports if your hands aren’t as agile as they used to be.

This is a neat, well-made phone with some real thought in the special features for elderly or vulnerable users. The price on our press release was £130, which seemed high for what is essentially a basic phone, but a quick peek on Amazon shows you can now buy it for a shade under £90 – not a bad price to pay for peace of mind.

Best Accessibility Gadgets for the Visually Impaired

In 2011 there were approximately 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK, as stated by the charity Action For Blind People. Given the prolific number of people in Britain who are living with sight loss and the technological advances that are occurring by a seemingly daily rate, there are an increasing number of gadgets and tools designed to make life easier for the visually impaired arriving on the market.

We take a look at three of the latest “accessibility” gadgets.

Powertel

Amplicomms PowerTel 710

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have announced the world’s first talking handset. The Aplicomm PowerTel 710 literally talks back to users to help guide the blind and visually through answering the phone and making phone calls.

Each time a user presses a button on the PowerTel 710, the phone calls the number back to you. As well as voice prompts and keys that announce their function so that users always know what they are doing, the handset is made up of big keys to make the physicality of dialling numbers easier for those with sight problems.

This cordless home telephone also has an earpiece over 40 decibels and a ringer that is more than 90 decibels loud, as well as two user profiles, meaning that one family member can have the PowerTel 710 much louder than the rest of the family. Being “truly accessible to the blind”, Simon McLean, technology product manager at the RNIB spoke of being “bowled over” by Amplicomm’s “first of its kind” new cordless home phone.

The PowerTel 710 retails at £99.99 and is available to buy from www.rnib.org.uk/shop

EyeMusic

The EyeMusic

The EyeMusic is a device that was developed this summer by a team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In converting images into music, the EyeMusic helps the blind and visually impaired locate items with greater ease.

The innovatory device employs pleasant musical tones and scales to help blind people “see” the music. It works by scanning an image and representing pixels at high vertical locations as low-pitched notes according to a musical scale that will sound pleasant in many possible combinations.

After a short training session, the researchers assert the EyeMusic can guide movements and improve the performance of daily tasks carried out by people living with no or little sight.

Geordie

The Georgie app

This new app for Android devices allows people with visual difficulties to carry out daily tasks that are normally difficult for them. Users can navigate the app by moving their fingers over various options that are then read aloud. By hovering a finger above an option, a certain task is activated accompanied with a loud beep.

As well as making calls and sending messages, the Georgie app also provides location-based technologies, which alerts users to various location-based activities, such as when the next bus is arriving, when steps are approaching, or which way they are facing.

With approximately 39 million blind people around the world and 285 million people who are visually impaired, it is refreshing to see that there is a drive to create accessibility gadgets for those living with problems with their sight.

Doro PhoneEasy 610 and 615 flip-phones review

Disclaimer: Jack Ratcliffe may have written this article, but the opinions are his parents. Mainly.

Doro mobile phones aren’t like ordinary mobile phones. They’re more like Fisher Price phones – they boast simple lines, simple materials and simple colours, making the phones almost child-like in appearance. This is odd, because Doro mobiles are aimed at the other end of the spectrum: the older user.

Doro-Flip

A company started by one of many older mobile phone users, Doro has been producing simple mobile phones for simple folk for a while in Europe. Now they’ve finally hit the UK with the Doro PhoneEasy 610 and 615 fliphones.

On the outside, the phones seem perfect: they’re easy to hold thanks to their soft touch coating, while the screen uses big fonts (they can go really big) and the keys are huge, widely spaced and concave keys

There are also a bunch of short-cut keys for speed-dial, and on the 610 there’s even a button dedicated to the SMS app. The 615 uses this button to access the camera function, which comes with a flash. The picture quality isn’t terribly good, but what did you expect? (It could be the screen resolution that makes the images look bad, however, as the camera is 3.2MP).

In terms of accessibility, the speakers are loud and clear, which means hard-of-hearing users are catered for. Its hearing aid compatible (rated at M3/T4) and a maximum ringer volume of a huge 85dB at one meter – the noise-level of city traffic.

And the screen can output really, really large fonts – so you might even be able to escape putting on glasses to read a message.

There’s no doubt that the Doro phones are great devices for making calls, simply and without hassle. The lack of features is actually a key feature, as there’s no confusion with what you’re trying to do. Even the most technically-illiterate should get to grips with the basics of the operating system pretty simply.

There’s a major drawback to their simplicity, however: text messaging. Or as Doro calls it, SMS.

SMS Problems

  • ¬ Mum: “SMS, does that mean an ordinary message? Does that mean to send a message?” What does MMS mean?” 

Uh-oh. Doro may be simple on the outside, but the interface has a host of SMS problems. For a start, most people call a written message a “text message” in the UK – labeling it SMS confused my dear mother.

Then there’s MMS – which was never really used by UK users, and especially not by older ones. “Picture Messaging” would have been a more useful label.

  • ¬ Mum: “How do I change it from there to there? How do I go across?” 

Because the Doro phone replaced the D-pad of a typical mobile phone a simple up-down navigation button, it means that users have to realise that down also means “move left along the message” and up means “move right”. Eep.

  • ¬ Mum: “It’s not on predictive. How do you get it on with predictive?” 

This was an awkward moment – there seems to be no easy way to switch to predictive text within the text messaging app. You have to go all the way out to the Settings menu to make the change. Not really a deal breaker, but an annoyance nonetheless.

  • ¬ Mum: “This won’t change into a two when you hold it.”

The typical “hold down a key to turn it into the number” trick doesn’t work on the Doro, which is annoying for older mobile users who have grown accustomed to traditional ways of doing things. My parents play a game of “find how to do a zero”, which they still haven’t conquered, one month on.

While the Doro’s may be simple, they’re by no means fool-proof. Accessibility-wise, they’re great for the hard of hearing, mobility impaired and those with fading eye-sight. They’ll also be perfect for first time mobile users.

If you’re already a mobile user, but getting older and want to swap to an easier model, you may be a bit frustrated by the handsets – especially if you’re a big texter.

Binatone’s new ‘Speakeasy’ mobiles – Great phones for the grandparents in our lives

Despite the huge success of iPhones, mostly due to the multitude of multi-media capabilities they provide, there are some who dislike the ‘fiddliness’ of modern mobiles, such as iPhones, and have a disinclination towards all the ‘unnecessary’ features many modern mobiles possess.  In-light of this surprisingly rampant abhorrence to the seemingly endless technical capabilities of modern multi-faceted mobiles, Binatone, a leading consumer electronics company, has expanded its range of Big Button Mobile Phones – a refreshingly simple, stylish alternative mobile.

Binatone

Following on from the huge success of the Big Button range which was launched in 2010, Binatone has introduced the Speakeasy 300 GSM phone, which costs £59.99 and its ‘top of the range’ Speakeasy 600, priced at £79.99.

As the name suggests, the mobiles are designed to make calling and texting easier than ever. Large, sturdy keys means accidentally pressing the wrong number when you make a call is virtually impossible, whilst large, easy to read displays make reading texts a whole lot simpler. And for those a little hard of hearing, an amplified sound and speakerphone creates a clearer sound and improves call quality. Accidental calling may burden us no more, as the Speakeasy 600 has a built-in slider screen, resourcefully concealing the keyboard, ensuring misfortunes like ‘accidentally calling the ex’ are avoided – Yes we’ve all been there!

Although for those yearning simplified phone usage whilst maintaining some sophisticated features, the Speakeasy 600 is Bluetooth enabled, meaning users can safely use their phone handsfree when driving a Bluetooth enabled car. Binatone’s ‘top of the range’ model also features an in-built camera, meaning there’s never an excuse for not capturing those precious moments on camera.

The LG verdict? Whilst the Speakeasy 600 may be mildly in-keeping with the present decade, the Speakeasy 300 GMS may make a good present for our grandparents, notorious for their inability to send text messages and even answer their phones!

Doro: Accessible mobile phones for the elderly

Latest Gadgets had a little bit of a sit down chat over olives with Doro MD Chris Millington about their new range of accessible mobile phones. There are few things more sexy in the tech world than the Dieter Rams-a-riffic iPhone 4, with it’s shiny mix of metal and glass. Conversely, there are few things less sexy than a range of feature phones for the elderly. So we went into the room with low expectations and quite frankly, were blown away by the level of care and detail Doro put into their phones.

Doro-Mobile

Doro is a Swedish company and produce a range of telecoms hardware, with a “simplicity first” aesthetic at their core. Chris showed me detail after detail in all their product range that emphasised this. They spacing between keys is wide enough to make pressing the wrong key extremely difficult. The texture and weighting of the phone makes it hard for it to accidentally tilt out of your hand. The power plug is triangular so it’s clear which side is up. The screen can be set to blue and white, yellow and black and other incredibly high contrast settings, vital for anyone with failing eyesight. The battery lasts for days. And countless other features all of which make the phones simple and accessible. The range includes features such as an easy to use (literally one button) Camera, 3G technology and a GPS enabled phone utilised to send a location when the assistance call button is pressed.

Other improvements across the range include extra loud, clearer and more amplified sounds. Doro has also included direct SMS access keys meaning text messaging is quicker and more simplified.  The phones all have three quick-dial keys for easy calling and integrated hearing loops (HAC M3/T4).

As someone with a lot of family members in their late seventies and eighties, the availability of easy to use, relatively inexpensive handsets than I can feel comfortable handing over and not getting countless “How do I do xxx?” type enquires for months to come is amazing.

Doro PhoneEasy 615

* Doro’s first 3G mobile

* 3.2 megapixel camera with flash

* Assistance button for greater personal security

Colours: black, Silver and red

SRP: £170  Available: July 2011

Doro PhoneEasy 610

* Direct access SMS function key

* Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC M3/T4)

* Assistance button for greater personal security

Colours: black, white, red and metallic silver

SRP: £130  Available: June 2011