International Day of People with Disabilities 2022

I have only just found out about this, but today is International Day of People with Disabilities 2022. This first began in 1992, so it is something of a surprise that I hadn’t heard of it. The theme this year is, according to it’s website, “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world“. This looks at innovation, technology and good practices to reduce inequality and further inclusion in society for those with disabilities.

I have recently been working on some research which shows that individuals with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy such as myself, do struggle with inclusion and in finding employment, so the idea of exploring how new innovation and technology can help people with disabilities is a very good one.

Assistive technology helps me immensely in my day to day living, so even further development of such solutions can only be positive for creating a more equal society.

Smartphones and accessibility

Using my smartphone on the weekend got me thinking about their accessibility for people with disabilities. It got me thinking how difficult it would be to use my phone without technologies like bluetooth. I have a bluetooth module connected to my wheelchair that allows me to connect the joystick to the phone. This is a great thing for me as it lets me use all of the features as intended which increases my independence. Without options for easier access, disabled people could be unable to benefit from our world of great technology.

With the newest iterations of phones, it seems like accessibility is improving for people who have difficulties in using their arms or hands. The standard accessibility features have increased over time with features such as AssistiveTouch or TalkBack. However, it still feels like more is needed to improve the accessibility of smartphones to everyone, with specific apps made for people with mobility issues. For example, the app I currently use is now unavailable so if I upgrade models I would have to look for an alternative.

I would love to see many more apps created that aim specifically to help people who struggle to use phones in the usual way. But it isn’t just apps that can be prohibitive. The cost of arms, clamps and smartphone holders can be very expensive if you want to attach your phone to a wheelchair in a safe and secure fashion. Some of the accessories can cost hundreds of pounds which will be a limiting factor for people. I currently have a small phone mount that sits on my desk but also a flexible arm from Manfrotto that can attach to my wheelchair for going out.

There are a number of websites that can be useful such as Manfrotto, aacmounts, rammount or merushop, and they sell various mounting options that can help create the best set-up for your device.

Withings ECG watch – my review

I was recommended by my doctor to buy a watch that could record and take an ECG if I needed. I got the Withings ECG and here is my short review of the product.

It cost a little over £100 which feels maybe a bit expensive but it can be used to record a number of different measurements. These include steps, tracking workouts, heart rate, and an echocardiogram. The watch is used alongside an app on your phone and that was fairly easy to set up and is very intuitive. The battery was dead when I tried to use it for the first time despite a supposed 12-month life, but that may have been caused by not using it for a number of months. The battery was easy to change after finding a YouTube tutorial.

The watch itself is very simple with a basic clock face and another dial which illustrates when the ECG is in progress. It is lightweight and very comfortable to wear all day. There is only 1 button to press to start an ECG and you can take readings on the go with or without your phone nearby. It uses Bluetooth and syncs to the app each time you open it. A big issue for me is that to take an ECG requires placing your other hand over it and touching the edge of the watch for 30 seconds. This means that I need help to use it but that would normally be the case for me regardless.

You able to watch the ECG in progress, view the results as a pdf and send them to your doctor from the app once you set up an email, although this part could have been made easier. It tells you whether your sinus rythym is normal and gives your heart rate. It would be useful if you were able to download each ECG when I log in on my computer to make the process easier unless I have missed an obvious option.  The watch and app can store a lot of information which is another plus point. Overall, it is a solid product and does the job as a smart ECG watch.

Assistive Tech & Environmental Controls – Possum

Assistive technology and environmental control systems help disabled people to use appliances within their homes. I have an environmental control system from a company called Possum, which provides various pieces of assistive technology. I was referred to Possum by an occupational therapist with the NHS, and the company came out to install a system. I have a Vivo which is akin to a smart speaker. It performs similar functions to smart speakers but it works via infrared rather than through the internet, and with a micro button (a clicker in my case) which is connected directly to the Vivo or to a wireless receiver box.

The Vivo is very useful as I can use a single button to perform multiple tasks at home fully independently. I can turn on lights, use the radio, answer an intercom, and phone people. It also allows me to call for assistance and help when I need it. Furthermore, it can be programmed based on your needs such as controlling a television or even opening curtains, or your front door should you want to get the tech installed. In addition to the Vivo, I have a hand-held pager as another way to communicate with my parents as I can ring it through the Vivo system.

Possum have been very helpful when it comes to support, and they come and service the product each year and deal with any problems. I have had it for about 2 years and I would really recommend checking it out if you are interested. It definitely gives me more independence and it is very simple to operate and maintain.