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Wireless RERC Teams with AT&T to Offer Workshops on Mobile Device Accessibility Features

Mobile devices now come with a range of built-in accessibility features to help people with disabilities use their smartphones or tablets. But now there are so many that people may not know which ones will work for their needs, or the features are too complex to set up by themselves.

Thanks to two $50,000 grants from the AT&T Corporate Accessibility Technology Office (CATO), the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) -- a partnership between researchers in Shepherd Center’s Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute and Georgia Tech -- is offering Wireless Independence Now workshops that show people with disabilities how to set up and use the accessibility features on their phones and tablets.

“There is a huge awareness gap for consumers trying to set up a device for their needs,” says Ben Lippincott, project director, Industry and Consumer Education/Outreach/Support, Wireless RERC at Shepherd Center. “The devices themselves have become so powerful, and the variety and number of user-configurable settings can be daunting to a user with a disability.”

Some of these features allow users to simply wave a hand over the screen to unlock it, use voice commands to send texts, email or surf the Internet, or enable a switch controller for those with no upper-extremity movement.

“The cell phone is a very liberating device,” says John Morris, project director for User-Centered Research at the Wireless RERC. “It can allow people with disabilities to enjoy greater social participation and give them access to technology that can be critical to employment.”

The 90-minute workshops – free to attendees regardless of their service provider – give an overview of the accessibility and assistive technology features found on the latest versions of Apple’s IOS 8 and Google’s Android 5.0. The last 30 minutes consists of hands-on training where attendees can ask questions about their own phones, or try out the latest versions of new phones.

Lippincott and a team from CATO have created five different presentations that highlight accessibility features to different disability needs, such as those with mobility/dexterity, hearing, vision or cognitive impairments.

In 2014, the group held 17 workshops in six cities and reached more than 450 people. In 2015, with the second grant, the team hopes to visit 10 cities and reach more than 2,000 people. Cities scheduled so far include San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Austin.

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Written by Sara Baxter

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.