Was I wrong about Caregiver Robots?

Last July, I closed a blog post on how Family Caregiving is often like a Second Full Time Job with a comment that began with “Caregiver robots are still at least a decade away…” This week GeckoSystems followed Elder Depot on Twitter and let us know that the Carebot™ is a lot further along than I had imagined.

The Future looks Rosie?

Many of us remember Rosie the Robot, the mechanical maid from Hanna-Barbera’s animated sitcom The Jetsons, but how many of us would have guessed that we might just have housekeeping Robots in our lifetimes?

The Carebot™ has a long way to do before it can do the dishes, prepare dinner, or vacuum the floor…but it has passed some major milestones. It can now safely navigate through the chaotic clutter of a real home, hold basic conversions with humans, and keep track of a Senior as they move around the home. These are tremendous breakthroughs that are taking home robotics out of the future and into the now. There’s still a lot of work to be done but the Carebot™ is at the stage where it can provide some valuable Eldercare services…even if it can’t clean up the house just yet.

From the GeckoSystems Website…

Cost Effective Monitoring

Elderly people in nursing homes receive attention from nurses nine minutes per day on average. These places are expensive ($45,000 to $60,000 per year) and not always easy or convenient for family members to physically visit. There is a crisis for cost effective assistance. Concern for their parents is one of the main reasons for adult children to purchase an elder care enabled CareBot™ MSR. It will monitor the care receiver constantly, and it is only a one-time cost that eventually pays for itself.

Virtual Visits

Working parents of all ages seek assistance in caring for their children as a result of working long hours, and having to commute to and from their workplace. The ability to virtually visit their children from work, during travel, or anywhere they have Internet access is now possible. Working mothers and fathers can watch their children routinely in a window on their computer monitors while at work.

Automatic Reminders

The CareBot™ MSR reminds the care receiver to take medication, reminds them that family is coming over soon (or not at all), and it can alert them when there are unexpected visitors, or if intruders are present. It will also keep track of doctor’s visits.

Companionship

The CareBot™ MSR is a new kind of companion that always stays close to the care receiver, enabling family and friends to care for them from afar. It will hold various levels of conversation with the care receiver. The personality, voice, and phrases can be customized.

Automatic Emergency Notification

The CareBot™ MSR notifies designated caregivers when a potentially harmful event has occurred, such as a fall, fire in the home, or the person has simply not been found by the CareBot™ for too long. It responds to calls for help. It can call 911 or, before resorting to 911, work its way through a list of designated emergency contacts.

It’s still going to be awhile before Elder Depot starts stocking CareBots™ but this exciting new Eldercare technology is advancing quickly and should hopefully soon be helping Caregivers/Seniors to live better.

Homecare Agencies: Management and Scheduling Troubles?

In the past, I’ve told you about software like KeePass , the Oprea Browser, and Skype; software that offers some useful benefits for Seniors and their Caregivers. Today, I thought I’d mention a piece of software that I’ve been hearing goods things about that’s geared towards professional Homecare Agencies .

First, two quick disclaimers: 1) Elder Depot wasn’t put up to this, the only reason we’re promoting this software is that we’ve been hearing good things about it and because it strikes us as pretty useful. 2) As a supplier of Eldercare Products, Elder Depot does business with a lot of Homecare Agencies but we’re not a Homecare Agency and we haven’t actually used this software. So, Caveat Emptor.

Running any business can be a complicated headache at times, that’s all the more true for Home Care Agencies that face challenges like strict legal requirements, a need for accurate scheduling, and the difficulty of managing staff at a distance. My wife works at an Adult Day Program that tackles many of these problems by juggling several computer programs, mapping and remapping the weekly schedule on a giant dry-erase board, and making heavy use of cellphones. That kind of solution works… It even works well. But there’s something appealing about what is by most accounts an intuitive, easy-to-use, and integrated software package that does the same and more.

HomeTrak is a piece of software designed specifically to meet the management, scheduling, and legal needs of Home Care Agencies.

http://www.hometrak.com/

Judging from their website, the four words that guide HomeTrek’s design are Schedule, Manage, Serve, & Grow. At it core, the software is designed to get jobs scheduled, that sounds simple but it can be complicated. HomeTrak simplifies the process by providing detail and up-to-date information on clients and caregivers, while keeping track of referrers.

I thought the emphasis on integrated referral management was pretty insightful. The HomeTrak website breaks that down into the following benefits.

  • Keep track of anyone or any business that is sending clients and caregivers to your organization.
  • How many new referrals did you receive yesterday?
  • How many new clients did you receive yesterday?
  • How long is it taking to turn potential clients into active clients?
  • Information from the referral module can be used to make educated marketing decisions.

HomeTrak offers the following benefits in regards to clients. I thought it was particularly useful that it tracks changes to a client’s records – what an improvement over paper files, where you’d have to do detective work to track down who to ask about a change.

  • Tracks required dates specific to each client.
  • Allows for a permanent schedule and visit plan.
  • Records all the skills required to accommodate a client’s needs.
  • Connects external documents to each client for easy reference.
  • Tracks changes made to a client’s records, including information changed, who changed the information, and when it was changed.
  • Imports and exports demographic information with other contact management and accounting software.
  • Manages referral sources and contacts through the Referral Management System.

Staff Management is pretty straightforward but with enough detail. I like how it integrates skill-sets that it can then compare to Client needs.

  • Stores caregiver photographs.
  • Multiple options available for pay rates.
  • Connects external documents to each caregiver for easy reference.
  • Allows viewing of all clients that the caregiver is currently assigned to visit.
  • Allows viewing of all changes made to a caregiver’s record, including information changed, who changed the information, and when it was changed.
  • Allows creation of user-defined skills, user-defined locations and user-defined compliance data.

Scheduling. That’s what caught my interest when I first heard of HomeTrak. There are so many features here that I thought were so useful. In particular, I like the automation that saves management staff so much legwork and how the software keeps Client family members in the loop.

  • Automatic alerts to open schedules and caregiver overlaps.
  • Suggests caregivers best suited to care for clients based on user defined parameters.
  • Only matches available caregivers that meet the client’s request.
  • Client and caregiver information is visible side-by-side for a better match.
  • Eliminates double scheduling of shifts.
  • Notifies scheduler when a caregiver might go into overtime.
  • Invoicing and payroll are based on a confirmed schedule, thus eliminating errors in client billings and caregiver pay.
  • Single entry of duplicated data eliminates human errors.
  • Information is archived for later retrieval as needed.
  • Saves time and money by e-mailing schedules and other pertinent information directly from the schedule module to caregivers, clients and their families.
  • Provides integrated directions to client homes using an interface to Google Maps, an extraordinary new concept that allows viewing of maps to the client’s home and viewing driving routes between schedules.

As if all of that weren’t enough, HomeTrak also manages finances including Payroll and Billing.

  • Calculates payroll for any time period.
  • Calculates payroll for all caregiver groups or a single group.
  • Make minor adjustments to calculated payroll.
  • Easily creates payroll reports for both active and posted payroll periods.
  • Exports payroll to QuickBooks timecards.
  • Moves payroll information to the sales history system, so you can view profit and loss by type of work performed, clients visited, or payers.
  • Calculates billing for any time period.
  • Calculates billing for all client groups or a single group.
  • Produces an invoice that can include your company logo, and/or a tear-off remittance section.
  • Creates billing reports for both active and posted billing periods.
  • Sends invoices to QuickBooks accounting after created.
  • Capable of billing for holidays by individual client.
  • Allows correction of posted billing.
  • Easily creates invoices between normal runs for estate payment.
  • Capable of billing for mileage, errand mileage and expenses.

Quick and easy-to-generate reports have become an industry standard… But it’s nice to see them here.

  • Easily generate, display and print reports.
  • Choose the report or options that you want.
  • Quickly find the information that you need.
  • Create professional looking caregiver name badges.
  • Simple to generate mailing labels or envelopes for clients, payers or caregivers.

Management by…Telephony? I thought this was amazing and it saves management so many hassles.

  • Eliminate paper time sheets for good!
  • Client is no longer required to sign timesheets thereby avoiding potential conflicts
  • Significantly streamline payroll and invoicing
  • No additional phone lines or hardware required
  • Disciplines caregivers to show up on time and work for the authorized period
  • Provides management with a unique and powerful caregiver management tool

So… Maybe now you understand why I was impressed? I’m not alone, it seems like more and more Home Care agencies are switching over. I can’t say if HomeTrak is as good as it’s features or reputation make it out to be…but I think it’s one of the best examples of modern information technology put to a practical use that I’ve seen in a long time.

Keep in touch over the holidays!

You might remember me recommending Skype as a great free software gift back on Father’s Day. It’s a practical, innovative, and easy-to-use way to keep in touch with family.

Skype is a free computer program that will allow your family to do something that was once considered the stuff of science fiction. Like the Jetsons, you can keep in touch with loved ones through video conference technology that will allow family to see faces while hearing words. It is a powerful tool to help fight against feelings of isolation and abandonment.

Skype works by transmitting voice and video signals over the Internet. Skype to Skype calls are provided as a free service. Skype is also capable of making calls to normal phone lines though this service has a small fee.

All that Skype requires is a Computer of average capacity, an external microphone, and a broadband Internet connection. A webcamera is needed for video chatting but it’s not required as Skype can be used just for audio. Check it out at…

http://www.skype.com/

Skype is a great tool but it’s not right for every person or every situation. We want to help families keep in touch over the holidays and that’s why for the rest of December 2010 Elder Depot is offering 5% off our full stock of Senior Friendly Telephones. Just enter the coupon code: 5offPhones

Bath Safety Product Guide

Many injuries for seniors occur in the bathroom, which is not surprising, given the mix of water with slippery surfaces. We have put together a list of helpful tips and products that will make the bathroom safer and help prevent falls and injuries before they happen.

The items below can all be used in your current bathroom and do not require any bathroom remodeling. These innovative product choices will allow you to design the bathroom that best fits your safety needs.



Raised Toilet Seats

Raised toilet seats help with allowing you to stand up and sit down more easily and comfortably. This is especially important if you have difficulty with mobility, such as arthritis in your knees or other leg impairments. These Elevated Toilet Seats install on your existing toilet bowl and add anywhere from 2” to 6” in height, making sitting and standing much easier. Since the standard height of a toilet is usually only about 15” high (with some ADA models now available at 17”), this extra height can be very helpful.

Choosing the Size

There are a couple of considerations before purchasing a raised toilet seat. You will first want to make sure of which size toilet you have. This is the #1 consideration, because if the toilet seat doesn’t fit, you can’t use it! Standard toilets in the United States are typically found in 2 sizes, Standard (Round) or Elongated (Oval). To determine your toilet size, measure from the center of the seat bolt holes in the back of the toilet to the outside front of the bowl. The measurement of a Standard size toilet is generally around 16-1/2” Long. An Elongated (oval) Toilet is approximately 18-1/2” Long.

Choosing the Height

Raised Toilet Seats are available in several height options from 2” to 6”. The height of the toilet seat riser will depend up on the height of the individual. An average height person should be good with a riser between 3”-4” on average. For a taller person, a 6” height might be more appropriate and for a shorter person a 2” height might be all that is needed. We are not aware of any toilet seats great than 6” in height mainly due to safety reasons; however, if you find that you do need 8”-9” of additional toilet seat height, you can combine a raised toilet seat with a toilet base riser to obtain the needed height.

Choosing Installation Features

Most raised toilet seats are constructed of a durable plastic material and are offered in a variety of different options for installation. Do you need to remove the raised toilet seat more quickly and easily on a regular basis in a shared bathroom or will the seat be used for travel? If either of these is true, you will most likely benefit from a raised toilet seat that does not require any tools for installation. There are several types that simply slide into the rim of the toilet seat bowl and do not provide any locking options. This is fine for those that are slightly more mobile and stable. There are also several models available that install in the same manner, but also include a frontal turn knob to lock the seat in place on the rim to help prevent movement of the toilet riser.

If you will not need to remove the toilet seat on a daily or regular basis, then it is recommended to purchase a raised toilet seat that installs with tools and bolts in the back of the toilet. These types of raised toilet seats will be the most secure and are recommended for those that require additional stability. They will almost always include the extra long bolts that install on your toilet in the exact same way as a regular toilet seat and lid. Most standard U.S. toilets include bolt holes that are 5-1/2” apart and most bolt down model raised toilet seats do adjust for a proper fit.

One of the biggest concerns with raised toilet seats that provide a more permanent bolted installation is “How easy are they to clean?” and “What if my husband will be using the same toilet?” There is actually a great solution that solves both of these issues! The 3” Hinged Elevated Toilet Seat would be your best choice! This unique design includes bolt-down installation providing a sturdy seating surface, almost 4” in height when installed with your existing toilet seat and lid, and it is “Hinged” so that it can raise up and lower, just like a regular toilet seat. This is great for households with men, so they do not soil the seat and makes cleaning the toilet much easier.

Considering Toilet Arms or Handles

You can elect to have a toilet seat with arms included (typically most are removable) or you can purchase a separate Toilet Safety Frame to provide a handle grip to help with sitting and standing. The Toilet Safety Frame or other toilet handles can be used alone or along with most model raised toilet seats. Whether or not handles are needed is a matter of individual safety concern. If you would benefit from being able to hold onto the handles when raising yourself or lowering yourself onto the toilet, then this should be a feature to look for in a raised toilet seat or you can add the Toilet Safety Frame to your bathroom safety checklist.



Grab Bars

Grab bars are considered the staple of the bathroom when providing for bathroom safety. It would typically be a good idea to have a horizontal grab bar in the bathtub or shower in a position suited for the user and a second grab bar vertically installed next to the bathtub or shower exit for gripping assistance while stepping over the bathtub wall. Grab bars can also be installed next to the toilet or anywhere a secure hand grip is needed.

Types of Grab Bars

The standard wall mounted grab bar will install permanently onto the wall surface. They are generally constructed of a stainless steel to help prevent rusting and include a non-slip gripping surface for the user. There are also composite plastic grab bars that will never rust. A newer item that was recently introduced in the last few years is the Suction Tub Grab Bar, which installs with suction cups and does not require any tools for permanent installation. These suction grab bars may be good for travel or someone who requires very mild balance assist. However, if more than a mild balance assist is needed, I would recommend installing permanent grab bars for more reliable safety.

Choosing a Grab Bar

Grab bars are available in many different lengths, sizes, and colors. The standard grab bar lengths are 12”, 16”, 24” or 36”. There are variations to this, but these are the most typical sizes found in the market. The ADA (American with Disabilities Act) does provide for federal guidelines for grab bars being installed in public areas or new property construction; however, if you own your home, you can purchase whichever grab bar fits your needs and décor the best.

Standard ADA approved wall-mounted grab bars will include a diameter of between 1-1/4″ to 1-1/2″ and will provide 1-1/2” of spacing from the wall. There are many other specialty grab bars that individuals find useful, but they may not adhere to these exact guidelines.

Over the years, many manufacturers have come out with new colors and designs to better match your bathroom décor. There are stainless steel, brushed nickel, bronze, and many more. Some of the nicer models may even have special gripping surfaces to make using the bar safer and easier. One such model can be viewed here.

Installing a Grab Bar

Grab bars can be placed anywhere assistance is needed. There is no specific set guideline regarding the location of the bar. I would recommend that you have the person who will be using the grab bars enter and exit the tub and see where they grab onto the wall to assist themselves. This may be a good indication that a grab bar would be helpful in that area. The bars can be installed horizontally or vertically, depending on which ever will suite your needs the best.

Grab bars can be installed on almost any bathroom wall surface, provided there is a stud to secure the bar or a wall mounting anchor is used. There are special made drills that will allow you to drill through the tile without cracking it to install the grab bars. If you are worried about permanent installation, simply choose a nice design to match your bathroom décor and everyone can appreciate having a nice-looking bar to hold on to or to put your washcloth or towel.

If you are unsure of how to install your newly acquired wall mounted grab bars, it may be best to contact your plumber or local handyman to provide the installation, as drilling and tools will be required. If you are handy around the house, there are several online articles and you tube videos that explain how to install the grab bars yourself. It is very important that the grab bars are installed securely to a wall stud or installed with a wall mount kit to prevent the grab bar from coming loose and causing a fall. Many grab bars have user weight capacity limits; however, no grab bar should be considered secure unless it is installed into a wall stud or used with a mounting kit.

To view the listing of grab bars, please visit us here.



Tub Rails

Tub rails are a great device to assist with getting in and out of the bathtub or for help with getting up from a bath chair. A tub rail can be installed on any area of the bathtub wall where assistance will be needed and that will not interfere with the individual getting into and out of the tub. A tub rail is a great option for individuals who would benefit from a secure hand grip to help pull themselves up from a seated position or who need assistance when entering or exiting the bathtub.

Tub Rails VS. Grab Bars

The difference between a standard grab bar and tub rail is that the grab bar installs permanently on the walls of the bathroom, whereas the tub rail installs directly onto the side of the tub and can be installed and removed without any damage to the tub. Grab bars are typically installed vertically or horizontally on the wall and can provide a higher gripping surface if needed. Tub rails will typically have a lower gripping surface, which may work well for those using bath chairs. When a tub rail is used together with a wall grab bar, the user can then have a hand grip on both sides while entering or exiting the tub.

Choosing a Tub Rail

Tub rails are available in many different designs and sizes to fit individual needs. The first thing to consider is the construction of your bathtub. Most tub rails are designed for ceramic or other hard surface bathtubs and will not work with fiberglass tubs as the wall is not strong enough to safely support the rail installation and user weight. There is a newer model tub rail that will work with fiberglass tubs. You can find the details about this item here. It is also important to note that tub rails should not be used with Claw Foot Tubs or with tubs that include sliding doors, as the metal rods will prevent proper installation. For users with these types of bathtubs, you can consider using wall mounted grab bars or Floor Support Rails that install on the floor of the bathroom.

You will also need to check the thickness of your bathtub wall before buying a tub rail. Most tub rails will fit standard size tub walls, typically adjustable from approximately 3”-7”. Almost all tub rails install without tools (hand tightening) and include pads so that they will not mar or scratch the tub surface during installation and tightening.

Considerations for a Tub Rail

There are many tub rail designs to choose from, which will depend mainly on the individual needs of the user. Most rails run horizontally with the tub wall; however, vertical installation tub rails are also available. Some users prefer the tub rail to run perpendicular to the tub wall as they don’t want the tub rail interfering with getting in and out of the tub. The most important thing to remember when choosing a tub rail is the location of the rail. It should be installed in a place that will aid the user with getting in and out of the tub, but not cause any obstacles or interference.

Many users who are using a bath chair find a tub rail installed on the bathtub wall and a wall mounted grab bar on the other side useful for helping to pull themselves up to a standing position. Although some bath chairs may include arms, these are typically meant for balance assist and can assist users with pushing themselves upward to a standing position. However, it is sometimes easier for users to have an option to pull themselves up.

Tub rails are available in various lengths, heights, adjustable height, and there are those with multi level gripping surfaces to provide for a hand grip at different levels. You can check out the full selection of tub rail options here .



Slip Safety

It’s very important to make sure that the bathroom tub or shower area includes a good non-slip surface to prevent slipping when wet. This could be through the use of a bath mat or installing self-stick tread strips to ensure there is always a good foot grip to prevent falls.

Bath Mats

Bath mats are available in many sizes, colors, and forms. The most standard form of bathtub or shower mat includes suction cups along the bottom that adhere to the tub surface. Shower mats with rubber suction on the bottom seem to stay in place a little better with ceramic tubs than fiberglass surfaces. Bath mats should be installed on clean and dry surfaces, free of any residue.

Self Adhesive Treads

If you find that your bath mat tends to slip when the tub floor gets wet, you might want to try using the alternative self-stick adhesive backed bathtub treads as an alternative. When installing the self-stick treads, you want to make sure that the tub surface is completely clean and rinsed thoroughly from any cleaner residue. The surface should also be completely dry before installing the tread strips. These treads are available in strips, fish & shells, stars, and many other decorative designs. You want to make sure that enough of the tread strips are installed to prevent any areas that may cause a fall.



Bath Chairs

Bath chairs are great for individuals who cannot stand for long periods of time or who are unsteady on their feet. The chair is placed inside the bathtub or shower and you can sit safely and comfortably while taking your shower.

Bath Chairs & Handheld Shower Sprays

Bath chairs go hand and hand with Handheld Shower Sprayers. You can replace your existing shower head with a long hose handheld shower spray so you can keep the shower spray next to you or clipped on your bath chair for easy access. If the bathroom is being used by others that do not require the bath chair, the shower spray will simply mount back on top of the shower bracket for a standard shower.

Considerations for your Bath Chair

The most important thing you should do before selecting your bath chair is to measure the inside of your bathtub or shower. The majority of returns on bath chairs are a result of the chair not fitting inside of the bathtub. You want to make sure that the bath chair will fit securely in the tub on a flat surface, and don’t forget to account for the curvature of the tub wall! In most cases the seat width is not an indication of the width at the base of the legs. If the leg span (width x depth of the legs) is too large, the chair will be unstable and unsafe. This is especially important in older construction or in bathtubs that are smaller than the standard bathtub width.

Choosing a Bath Chair

There are many different varieties of bath chairs. Many people prefer the all composite plastic bath chairs as they are easy to clean and will never rust; however, bath chairs that are made of aluminum and plastic will also have little issues with rust. The seat size is also important. You want a bath chair that will provide enough room for the user, but not too big and bulky so that it gets in the way. Most standard bath chair seat dimensions are approximately 16”-20” wide x 14” deep, but can vary depending on the models. Weight capacity is another important factor. There are bath chairs that include a 250 lb. weight capacity and those that support up to 500 lbs.

Bath chairs are available with either a backrest or without a backrest, depending on your needs. Backrests can make your bathing experience more comfortable; however, some people prefer the open back to have better access to cleaning their back area and to have more freedom to lean backwards. The open back would not be recommended for those who have greater mobility issues and require the backrest for greater support and safety.

Bath chair handles are another option that is based on user needs. The handles of most bath chairs provide some leverage for helping to sit, stand and maneuver on the bath chair if needed. Handles are generally removable so you can remove them at any time. The handles of the bath chairs are really meant to be used as a balance assist for help with sitting and standing. If you have grab bars or a tub rail installed, it may be easier for some individuals to pull their full weight up from a seated position rather than try to push up their weight. Of course, the bath chair handles, grab bars, and tub rail can all be used together if this will provide the safest option for the user.

Bath chairs are available in many different styles and colors to fit your specific needs. Some include rubber non-skid tips and others include actual suction cup feet. Some include padded seats, folding options for portability, as well as wheels for mobility. The options can be overwhelming, but when you decide on a style that fits your specific needs the best, make sure that you double check all of the chair dimensions to make sure that the unit will provide the best option for your needs and bathroom space. You can view a full list of available bath chair here .

Bath Chair Accessories

There are many accessories available for bath chairs to make the bathing experience more comfortable and convenient. There are under chair bags to store shampoos, conditioners and other toiletries. If the bath chair does not already include a shower spray holder built into the chair, there are shower spray clips that can be used universally with most shower chairs. Some models, such as the designer bath chair includes a full line of accessories available, such as bathing baskets that attach to the side of the chair.



Transfer Benches

Transfer benches are a perfect choice for those with very limited mobility. This is essentially a very wide bath chair that includes a permanent extension that sits on the outside of the bathtub so you can easily transfer from a wheelchair or simply sit down on the outside of the tub and maneuver yourself over the bathtub wall while sitting on the bench.

Considerations for your Transfer Bench

It is important to measure your bathtub width before selecting a transfer bench to ensure that the bench will be adequate for your space. The length of the bench is important because you don’t want the bench to be too short or too long for the space that you have. Almost all transfer benches are reversible, so they can be used universally for right side or left side entry tubs. Typically this is done by simply reversing the backrest and armrest of the bench.

Choosing a Transfer Bench

Transfer Benches do include solid surface benches, benches with built in commodes, and sliding transfer benches that actually controllably slide you into the tub and lock into place. Depending on your needs and space, there are many transfer bench styles and models to choose from.

There are several optional features, depending on the model transfer bench chosen. Some options include suction cup tips inside of the tub, curtain tucks to tuck the shower curtain into the bench a couple of inches, and many other others. You can view the full line of transfer benches here

Preventing Water Spillage with Transfer Benches

One of the most complained about things with the use of a transfer bench is that the shower curtain will not close around the bench to prevent water from getting outside of the tub. We have had people tell us that they simply cut slits in their existing shower curtain so that the unit would fit around the transfer bench. If you get an inexpensive shower curtain, this home-made solution might help.

What is the Best Internet Browser for Seniors?

You might remember that in Step 7 of my 10 Steps to Better Protect Elderly Loved Ones Online I explained some of the dangers posed by using Internet Explorer 6. If that post left you wondering which Internet Browser would be the ‘best’ for your elderly loved ones then today is your lucky day because you’re finally going to find out.

The answer is that the best Internet Browser for Seniors is the Opera Browser. That may surprise many of you who have never heard of Opera before.

What makes Opera so great for Seniors?

  • Opera can be easily used without a Mouse: This is important because it is friendly for users with physical limitations like severe arthritis, it lessens repetitive strain, and it provides easier navigation for the visually impaired. Other Internet Browsers ‘can’ be used without a Mouse but not with the ease or to the same degree as Opera.
  • Opera can easily re-size webpages via Page Zooming: This feature allows everything on a webpage, including movies, to be easily and dynamically resized (20% to 1,000%) in order to assist users with impaired vision.
  • Opera can be controlled without a Keyboard or Mouse: The Voice Control feature, developed in cooperation with IBM, allows the Opera Browser to be controlled entirely by Voice Commands. This grants users with limited or no ability to use tactile controls access to the Internet.
  • Opera can read the Internet aloud: This is important because it allows users with vision impairment easier access to the Internet.
  • Opera comes with built-in Security Features: Out of the box Opera features strong secure website encryption and protection from common phishing and malware techniques.
  • Opera is highly customizable: This is important because it means that Opera can be configured to meet the needs of the user. For example, a user with vision impairment could configure Opera to use larger buttons and text.

On top of those features Opera is one of the fastest and most compatible Internet Browsers on the market. In fact, the Opera Browser was named the Best Major Desktop Browser by About.com’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Awards. Given all of that, you might wonder why, as of July 2010, only a little more than 2% of Internet users use Opera? I don’t have an answer to that question.

The Opera Browser is free for personal use and is available on virtually every major system including Windows, Macintosh, and Linux as well as the Nintendo Wii and many mobile phones. Give it a try, you should be surprised.

http://www.opera.com/

VPG’s MV-1 vs BraunAbility…which is the better choice?

Review originally written for the New Mobility Blog and posted here with permission.

I’ve been hearing about the new wheelchair accessible vehicle by the Vehicle Production Group called the MV-1 for about a year now, and actually, when we were in Chicago last week, I saw the semi parked on Navy Pier. Apparently VPG decided to go on a cross-country promotional tour in order to get to Washington, DC in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  I had not heard any specifics about this vehicle until I did some hunting around online and it will certainly fill a particular need for the disabled and mobility impaired, but it’s not for everyone.

I’ve mentioned before that I am currently the proud owner of a Braun Entervan and have been absolutely in love with it since I got it over 5 years ago (I had 2 previous accessible minivans of different conversions before, but this one is my favorite). It fits my needs perfectly. The downside is that it’s a very expensive vehicle (and I have a “low end” conversion).

With all the press about the new MV-1, it seems like an appropriate time to write about wheelchair accessible vehicles, what to look for, and how to decide which route to go.

There are other accessible/adaptive vehicle manufacturers besides Braun and generally in the same price range (a new vehicle will begin at $50,000; used wheelchair vans can be purchased via Ebay or wheelchair van dealers for less and sometimes can be quite good deals). Braun (and other) vehicles can be driven by disabled drivers with adapted seating, steering, and gas and brake options (which add to the cost). However, some of those costs can be defrayed by state and federal grants which are designed to help disabled people go to work (to learn more about this, contact the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in your state). Also, these accessible minivans come from a variety of existing vehicle manufacturers, in particular, Chrysler, GM, and Toyota.

From the looks of things on their website, it seems that the MV-1 will start at about $40,000 for a new vehicle and is designed for the disabled or elderly passenger (*not* primary driver). The accessible vehicle utilized universal design concepts, which means that the design is meant to be used equally as easily for able-bodied and mobility impaired passengers. It is their own vehicle design, not a custom design of an existing car model. One of the positive aspects of the MV-1 is that it also can be multi-purpose, most specifically as part of a taxi or other municipal fleet of cars which can be used by able-bodied and mobility impaired folks alike.

So now we revisit the topic of this post…if the person driving the vehicle is disabled, then going with a Braun is probably the best solution due to the ability to customize the minivan for the person directly.  If, on the other hand, you are looking for a vehicle to transport a disabled, wheelchair using person and/or an older family member who no longer drives, the MV-1 is worth looking into with the caveat that it is a brand-new vehicle to the market and not everyone feels comfortable with purchasing the first year model of a new car.

Twitter for the Blind

On the world wide web aesthetics still trump accessibility and usability most of the time but slowly, one project at a time, things are changing. One such project is Qwitter; a specialized Twitter client that integrates with a computer’s screen reader and allows a visually impaired user complete access to Twitter.

http://qwitter-client.net/

Qwitter is an open source program that is free to use, though it requires one of the following screen readers to function properly; Jaws, Window Eyes, or NVDA.

Update (July 19th, 2010): Q left the following helpful comment, “Just stopping by to note that Qwitter also works with sapi speech (installed on every Windows xp+ machine) for out-of-the-box accessibility. Version 4.1 (to be released) will also support Dolphin screen reader speech output, as well as expanding access to Google Voice and other popular services.”

vBookz and iScroll compared.

After my post exploring Accessibility for Smartphones? in regards to iScroll, I was contacted by vBookz and made aware that iScroll has some tough competition in that market.

At first glance, there are three major differences between the two Apps.

  1. iScroll features human voices, vBookz is read by computer. The computerized readers used by vBookz are decent for what they are but they don’t capture the ‘feeling’ of a live voice.
  2. iScroll packages each book as an individual App with prices ranging from .99¢ to over $9.99. vBookz comes as a single App with a price tag of about $5 and has access to a library of over 30,000 public domain ebooks.
  3. iScroll has diversity in its library of hundreds of speeches, lectures, radio programs, articles, and ebooks. On the other hand, vBookz has a vast library of public domain ebooks.

In short, iScroll wins out in regards to quality of sound and diversity while vBookz has much better pricing and a larger if ‘narrower’ library. vBookz has one other noteworthy advantage, its primary App can come in one of 13 different languages.

As a closing note for the curious, the public domain library vBookz uses was compiled by Project Gutenberg.

More Gift Ideas for Father’s Day 2010

Last week I shared some Free Software Gift Ideas for Father’s Day, today I’m going share some great gift ideas that are well worth the cost.

Apple iPad

iPadWhat is it?
The iPad is a ‘tablet’ computer engineered for Internet surfing, e-book reading, video streaming, and light computing. It features an intuitive touch screen control system.
Why buy?
The iPad offers great benefits for persons who are visually impaired or face motor skills challenges. The touch screen is far more accessible than the standard computer keyboard and mouse set-up. In addition, the iPad includes options for VoiceOver screen reading, Zoom, and White on Black features. Even for those with solid vision and motor skills, the easy to use iPad takes computing several steps towards the familiar and simple experience of reading.
How much?
$499 from Apple

ClearSounds 2001M Infrared TV Listening System

What is it?

ClearSounds 2001M

The 2001M is a TV Listening System that allows the user to hear the Television through headphones at a higher sound level without changing the actual Television Volume.
Why buy?
The 2001M allows the hearing impaired and their loved ones to watch Television together without the one side being unable to hear or the other being blasted from the room. It also features individual volume settings for each ear.
How much?
$69.88 from Elder Depot , compare to MSRP $79.95

Large Print Reader’s Digest Subscription

What is it?
First published in 1922, Reader’s Digest has become the best-selling monthly magazine well known for its positivity, diverse array of articles, and humor pages.
Why buy?
Reader’s Digest has been a familiar publication for over 87 years and provides simulating but optimistic reading. The Large Print edition makes its pages more accessible to the visually impaired but it is also available in braille, digital, and audio.
How much?
$27.96 for One Year from Reader’s Digest

Nintendo Wii

What is it?
The Wii is a ‘next-generation’ video game console that features an innovative motion sensor control system resulting in highly interactive gaming.
Why buy?
The Wii is renowned for breaking down the generational divide and opening up gaming for people of all ages. The standard Wii includes Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling, and Boxing. It’s fun, nostalgic, and healthy — recent studies have shown that the stimulation provided by the Wii can be of both mental and physical benefit to Seniors. In fact, the Wii has enough of a health benefit that it has been endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA).
How much?
$199 from Nintendo, additional controllers will raise the cost by roughly $55 a piece.

ezOne GSM Mobile Phone

What is it?
The ezOne is an easy-to-use Cell Phone stripped clean of confusing clutter and boasting useful streamlined features.
ezOne GSM Mobile PhoneWhy Buy?
Let the features speak for themselves.

  • Easy to Read KeypadFinally, a Cellular Phone with a Keypad that can be used without a magnifying glass. The ezOne has big and bright keypad buttons; in fact they are so big and so bright that the phone can be used easily in complete darkness. There is no competition, the ezOne has the largest buttons on the market.
  • Large Text Screen – Tired of squinting at a tiny cluttered screen? The ezOne features a Large 28-point Font and a simple interface without all the confusing bells and whistles.
  • Just the Right Size – The ezOne is 2″ Wide by 4″ Long by 1/2″ Tall. It fits easily in a pocket.
  • No More Wrong Numbers – Even if the keys can’t be seen clearly, the ezOne can read numbers as they are dialed!
  • S.O.S. Call Button – In an emergency no one wants to be fumbling with their phone. Simply press and hold the large S.O.S. button for 5 seconds. This will sound an alert and consecutively call 4 numbers until someone picks up. It will even send “Emergency, please answer my call!” as a text message to preselected numbers.
  • Phone Book – The digital phone book has memory to store up to 200 names and numbers. Calling is as just a matter of scrolling to a name and hitting a button.
  • Flashlight – The ezOne has a built in LED flashlight that gives off a bright beam of light for up to 20 feet. Because it is a low energy LED it can run off the phone battery for hours. Activated by a simple slide switch on the side of the phone, this handy feature will illuminate locks, dark paths, and corners without a hassle.
  • How much?

    $99.95 from Elder Depot

    Accessibility for Smartphones?

    Smartphone owners! If your eyes strain to make out all that tiny text or you sometimes mishear words in audio clips a new company thinks that they have a solution for you.

    iScroll has introduced a new app file format that combines ebooks and audio books with impressive results. While they engineered their product with broader audiences in mind, the format holds some great benefit for people with visual or hearing impairment.

    Not interested in having a computer read to you? Never fear, each piece of iScroll media uses the recorded voice of a human being. Audiobooks, lectures, speeches, podcasts, radio shows, and much more are available. The format’s patented technology offers never before possible word for word synchronization of audio and text.

    According to iScroll, studies have shown that listening while reading the text can increase retention by 38% and comprehension by 76%. Here at Elder Depot we’re more excited about the prospects of enabling the disabled or impaired access to good reading again.

    iScroll is currently available only on the iPhone but it is scheduled to be realized for the Blackberry and Android by the end of 2010. If you give iScroll a try, let us know how it turns out. Check it out at www.iScroll.com