Cell Phone Amplification Provided Through: Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) and Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT)

Cell phone amplification allows persons with hearing loss to be able to communicate more clearly with less noise or static distortion. In order to get the most bang for your buck, when looking into obtaining a phone and/or special equipment for this enhancement it helps to have a basic understanding of both hearing aid compatibility (HAC) and hearing assistive technology (HAT). This blog will look at a basic overview of both with a more elaborated explanation on Bluetooth and Telecoils following.

Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC)

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act and other federal laws ensure the availability of wireless telephones that are compatible with hearing aids and cochlear implants.  Wireless telephones that are certified as being hearing aid compatible should minimize unwanted noise and be compatible with the magnetic coils (telecoils or T-coils) in many hearing aids.

Healthy Hearing states that when shopping for a phone, look for what’s known as the M rating for hearing aid compatibility. The M rating ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best compatibility. A higher rating means less distracting noise and feedback coming in, but some unwanted noise is still possible. M3 is perhaps the most common rating. Further, your telecoil may automatically switch on or it may require you to manually switch into the telecoil or “T” mode. Ask your hearing healthcare provider for more details. This is something you’ll want to test out when trying out different phones. If you plan to use the telecoil feature, look for what’s known as the T rating for hearing aid compatibility. The T rating also ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. Many cell phones today are T4.

Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT)

Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) can dramatically improve the lives of people with hearing loss. Assistive listening systems and devices bridge the gap between you and the sound source by eliminating the effects of distance, background noise, and reverberation. They can bypass challenging acoustics—sending sound directly to users’ ears. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is a great place to learn all about HATs and other things related to hearing loss.

Hearing aids with a telecoil can make a dramatic difference in the user’s ability to hear clearly on the telephone, in meetings, a noisy restaurant, at the theater, and while navigating buses, airports, train stations and other challenging environments.

All assistive listening systems are required to be accessible for people with hearing aids, people with hearing aids but no telecoil, and people without hearing aids.

There are three types of assistive listening systems that provide ADA mandated communication access in public places. First are hearing Loops, also known as Induction Loops or Audio Frequency Induction Loop Systems (AFILS), consist of a copper wire placed within a room, theater, or counter which is connected via a special loop “driver” to a public address or sound system. An electromagnetic field is created that connects to a telecoil in hearing aids, cochlear implants, or telecoil receivers. Loops are the most user-friendly of assistive listening options. Next, Infrared Systems (IR) work like TV remote controls. A transmitter sends speech or music from a public address or sound system to an IR receiver using invisible infrared light waves. This technology is line-of-sight and cannot be used outdoors during the daytime due to being affected by light. Thirdly, FM Systems, or Radio Frequency Assistive Listening Systems, transmit wireless, low power FM frequency radio transmission from a sound system to FM receivers. An advantage of this system over an infrared system: FM is not affected by direct sunlight.

Confused? HLAA has created a new service called HAT HELP which is staffed by volunteers. Supervised doctoral level audiology students from the University of Washington and Gallaudet University are now available to answer your technical assistance questions. Simply write to hat_help@hearingloss.org and they will provide an email response.

Bluetooth

Healthy Hearing states that Bluetooth technology is the latest innovation to take off among hearing aid users. Although Bluetooth hearing aids are not yet available, the technology allows two devices such as a cell phone or computer, for example, and a wireless hearing aid with a compatible streamer to talk to each other. The range is limited, somewhere around 20 feet, but the lack of interference and secure connection of this convenient hands-free technology outweighs any negatives. In addition, the use of one streamer can allow the user to switch back and forth among multiple devices, from cell phones to tablets to iPods.

Another page on their website dedicated to this topic further elaborates that Bluetooth is a wireless communication platform that allows for the transfer of data between two or more electronic devices. The technology uses radio waves set to a high frequency to transmit data without interference or security risks. If your hearing aid doesn’t include a feature for direct streaming from your smartphone to your hearing aids, don’t worry. Manufacturers of wireless hearing aids long ago created a clever solution for accessing this prevalent wireless standard. Wireless hearing aids can use compatible assistive listening devices, often called streamers, to provide a communication link between the wireless technology in the hearing aids and any Bluetooth-enabled device.

This type of technology allows users more options and opportunities including personalized listening experience, multiple connections, remote control of your hearing aids, and standard protocol (which means there is uniformity in the way that it works across all devices).

Telecoils

Based on just the above information it is apparent that telecoils (also called t-coils) are important and can enhance the usability of hearing assistive devices but what are they?

Everyday Hearing provides an excellent article concerning this very thing. The following are highlights from this article. A telecoil is a small copper wire coil located within some hearing aids and cochlear implants. It is designed to communicate with telephones and loop systems through an electromagnetic wireless signal. The goal of a telecoil is to enhance and “clean up” the speech signal coming through the audio system, whether it be a telephone or a microphone, such as in an auditorium or place or worship. Because it’s a direct wireless transmission, the telecoil signal volume can be adjusted by the listener.

Not all hearing devices have telecoils. The smaller the device is, the less likely it will contain a telecoil. This is because the telecoil takes up too much space for them to fit within the smallest devices, such as a completely in the canal (CIC) or micro behind the ear (BTE) hearing device. Most cochlear implants have telecoils built within them. In general, any hearing device equipped with a size 10 battery will not include a telecoil.

The worse your hearing is, the more difficulty you will have hearing on the telephone or in large rooms and public places. For this reason, a telecoil will become very useful for improving speech understanding in these situations.

Cell phone amplification devices currently highlighted for the week include the Bluetooth T-Coil Headset for Cell Phones, Blue Tooth Cell Phone Amplifier for Behind The Ear Hearing Aids, and HearAll Cellphone Amplifier.

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Smartphone Apps, Tools, and Tutorials for the Hearing Impaired

There are many apps, tools, and tutorials to help just about anyone leverage their smartphone for their own greater good. This blog will look at some of those options currently available to assist those living with a hearing impairment.

Apps

The Internet is a wonderful place to learn about the various apps currently available to assist persons living with hearing loss. Each section provides a brief overview of its contents. More info for each section is available from the linked site listed towards the beginning of each paragraph.

Apple products have an entire website dedicated to accessibility for their devices. This page of iaccessibility is dedicated to hard of hearing accessibility apps. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can communicate in a variety of ways with iOS features like FaceTime® video calling and unlimited texting. And assistive technologies such as closed captions and mono audio help you enjoy your content. As of this blog and in addition to the built-n programs mentioned, it provides links to 49 IOS compatible apps for the hearing impaired. These apps range from American Sign Language to Lyft and Uber.

Live Transcribe is an app available for Android smartphones from the Google Play Store. It is an accessibility app designed for the Deaf and hard of hearing and usable by anyone. Using Google’s state-of-the-art automatic speech recognition technology, Live Transcribe performs real-time transcription of speech and sound to text on your screen, so you can more easily participate in conversations going on in the world around you. You can also keep the conversation going by typing your response on the screen.

Sound Amplifier is another app available for Android smartphones from the Google Play Store. It enhances audio from your Android device using headphones to provide a more comfortable and natural listening experience. Use Sound Amplifier on your Android device to filter, augment, and amplify sound in the real world. Sound Amplifier makes audio clearer and easier to hear. It works by increasing quiet sounds while not over-boosting loud sounds. With 2 simple sliders, you can quickly customize sound enhancement and noise reduction to minimize distracting background noise.

The San Diego Hearing Center provide a few more options for both IOS and Android phones in the linked article. Some of these apps allow you to test a baseline of your hearing.

Tools

There are many tools and accessories that can be purchased to turn your smartphone into a magical bag of tricks to assist you in most areas of life.  These are but three of the many choices currently available.

The AlarmDock Smartphone Dock with Bedshaker is a docking station that pairs with a personal smartphone and uses a wireless bedshaker and 100dB alarm to wake a hard sleeper or someone who is hard of hearing. It uses a free iOS or Android app to manage alarms, timers, volume and tone control, flasher activation, and large clock read out. A wireless speaker can play music from the phone in clear, full sound.

The InstaLINK Smartphone Alert Watch is a wearable wristwatch that can be easily paired to your iPhone or Android smartphone to receive vibrating notifications while using the free iPhone and Android App. The strong, quiet, and non-intrusive vibrations will not disturb others while attending lectures, classes, business meetings, or out socializing. Use this wristwatch as a personal alarm clock and as a discreet way to keep you in touch with your smartphone.

The SmartShaker2 Bed Shaker for Smartphone is a Bluetooth pillow vibrating disk that is designed to operate with your smart phone as a vibrating alarm clock. Just download the user-friendly app, for free from the app store, and this SuperShaker2 can become your favorite alarm clock for home and whenever you are traveling. Place this disk under your pillow, beside you, or in your general vicinity while you sleep. When your alarm time has arrived, this disk will vibrate to alert you that it is time to get up.

Tutorials

If after looking at all this information and you’re still scratching your head at what to do and how to do it there are many built in phone features and outside tutorial sites that can be of assistance.

Deaf and hard of hearing videos and podcasts, available from iaccessibility, provides a page of linked devices and subject matter to choose from covering topics such as hearing devices, subtitles and captioning, and TTY software and includes how to videos/podcasts for many IOS compatible devices.

The Best New Accessibility Features in Android 10, from Lifehacker, provides the current accessibility features for Android 10 phones. Many of these features started with Android 9. Each of these features is found from the accessibility option under phone settings.  Please note that not all options are available on all Android phones at this time, but this article does list the current phone model compatibility.

Understanding Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT), from the Hearing Loss Association of America, provides a lot of information and resources about the various types of hearing assistive technology currently available.

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Smartphone Apps, Tools, and Tutorials For The Visually Impaired

There are many apps, tools, and tutorials to help just about anyone leverage their smartphone for their own greater good. This blog will look at some of those options currently available to assist those living with a visual impairment.

Apps

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is an excellent online source to visit if you or a loved one live with a visual impairment. Info for each app is taken directly from the linked site. See the AFB link at the beginning of this paragraph to learn more about built-in apps and other apps available.

Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. Every day, sighted volunteers lend their eyes to solve tasks big and small to help blind and low-vision people lead more independent lives. The app is available for both IOS and Android based phones.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI is a free app that narrates the world around you, now available in English, Dutch, German, French, Japanese and Spanish. You can complete multiple tasks with one app and switch between channels to tune the description of what’s in front of the camera. This app can help you with short texts, audio clues for focusing barcodes or documents within the screen, recognize friends/faces, identify currency when paying with cash and so much more. Currently, this app is only available for download on Apple based (IOS) devices.

BARD Mobile are free apps available for both IOS and Android phones provided by the National Library of Science for the blind and physically handicapped. The linked FAQ page should provide insight to questions about using the site and/or the mobile devices.  The site provides books, musical scores, magazines, and other materials that can be rented free of charge.

Tools

There are many tools and accessories that can be purchased to turn your smartphone into a magical bag of tricks to assist you in most areas of life.  These are but three of the many choices currently available.

The WayAround Starter Pack is a combination of smartphone app and physical WayTags™ that allows you to tag and label nearly everything in your environment. Download the free app for either iPhone or Android onto your own smartphone. Attach one of the different shaped tags to clothing, food products, files, medicines and more. Create a label for that tag on your phone by either typing or recording your message for that tag into the WayAround app. Add custom description for any item plus more details like washing instructions or purchase and expiration dates. To identify that item in the future, scan your smart phone over the item, and the item information is displayed on the phone. WayAround works with the accessibility settings on your phone. To hear your information spoken aloud, turn on VoiceOver or TalkBack to hear that information out loud.

The Scanmarker Air allows you to scan a single line of text using the ScanMarker “pen” and send that text to either your smartphone or computer, using either Bluetooth or USB connectivity. You can scan either directly into the ScanMarker app or to an external application such as Word. Within the ScanMarker app, scanned text can be read back to you, without the need for a voiceover function. Scanned text can automatically be translated into one of 40+ languages.

The Orbit Tracker Card is a credit card sized tracker that can slide into a wallet slot. The Orbit family of Bluetooth trackers will help you locate valuable items in seconds using a free iOS or Android app. The various shaped trackers physically attach to a wander-prone item. From your smartphone, use the app to page that item when it goes missing within a 100-foot range. The tracking device can also be used to page the smartphone in reverse, even when the phone is in silent mode! From your phone, you can page that item when it goes missing. Stop losing your stuff!

Tutorials

If after looking at all this information and you’re still scratching your head at what to do and how to do it there are many built in phone features and outside tutorial sites that can be of assistance.

Android TalkBack is the Google screen reader included on Android devices. TalkBack gives you spoken feedback so that you can use your device without looking at the screen. The linked help page gives tips to get started using your Android device with TalkBack.

Android Access provides honest reviews about online games and apps that visually impaired people can use easily.

IOS VoiceOver (or via an Apple Support YouTube video) is a gesture-based screen reader—you can use iPhone even if you don’t see the screen. VoiceOver gives audible descriptions of what’s on your screen—from battery level, to who’s calling, to which app your finger is on. You can also adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit your needs.

AppleVis is a community-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple’s range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

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The Importance Of Calendars

If your life feels harried and out of control it may be time to take a closer look at how well you’re utilizing calendars. Sure, you might have your daily to do lists to help you with day to day chores, but a calendar can help you stay on track and help you plan for the long haul. Let’s look at three important ways that calendars can make your life more productive, simplified, and on track.

Accountability

An article from Successful Steps puts accountability as the number reason to regularly use a calendar. They state that “just the act of making an appointment helps set a date and time aside for a specific activity. Not only is setting aside a specific date and time helpful for meetings and doctor appointments, but you can also use this strategy to carve out time to spend with friends or to complete specific tasks on your to-do list. Now we don’t have to leave it up to chance that we’ll finish that lingering task because we already assigned a date and time for it.”

This means that through utilizing a calendar you can make yourself accountable to everything meaningful in your life from the small to the complex. If you’re worried about not having enough space to write in all of these activities the Jumbo Print Wall Calendar may be just the thing you need. There are 2 pages per month and each square is the size of your stand business card of 2.5” x 3.5”.

Health Benefits

Trying to remember everything that needs to be done and when it needs to be done by can be overwhelming if you’re not writing it down. Sometimes just the mere act of writing something down can take a weight off your shoulders. Not to mention you can then see everything at a glance which helps in scheduling future events as well. According to Psychology Today, using a calendar or daily planner can reduce stress and help keep you healthy by planning out things such as exercise, dietary planning and ensuring that you go to regular doctor or dentist appointments.

Handwriting your schedule out can further tap into health benefits which helps explain why paper calendars and planners are making a comeback in today’s technological word. An article on Rewire explains “there’s something about connecting your brain with your body through the physical action of thinking while writing that makes us focus more on our thoughts. Plus, with a paper planner, there’s no chance of getting interrupted by the parade of other notifications coming through at the top of the screen.” This Large Print Day Calendar  has its own tab with an introductory area showing the previous, current and future months with space for notes and appointments. On the following 2 pages is that month’s calendar with large numbers and ample space (2″ boxes) to write notes, reminders, appointments or shopping lists.

Record Keeping

Keeping an updated calendar can also be beneficial for locating information in the present for something that took place in the past. When determining when certain things need to be scheduled such as hair appointments, oil changes, or pet grooming it helps to know when it was last done. Depending on how detailed a calendar you keep it can also help you keep track of when you last saw friends or family or when exactly you saw a certain movie or play.

In fact, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired compares a written calendar to a Rolodex of life’s memories, “all of the memories on that Rolodex are linked to other memories, and in relation to the sequence in which they happened… A calendar provides a static communication system that can be referred back to (or forward to) over and over.”

Another affordable calendar option is this Large Print Wall Calendar. It can be hung on the wall or used on a desk and is designed for you to see the entire month on one page with a large box for each date.

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Last Minute Gifts For All

We’ve all heard the sayings, “big things come in small packages” and “good things come to those who wait,” but how do these things measure up with last minute holiday shopping? Often the things that have the most value or quality are small; the size of something does not always properly indicate its value. This week’s blog will look at three highlighted sales items as individual categories time, travel, and record/note keeping.

Time

Amid the hustle and bustle of the season, it is essential to remember that the most important part of the holidays is spending quality time with those you love. The people (and animals) you care about the most are the ones you should try to spend the most time with especially during the holidays. Mental Floss shares 11 examples of ways families and loved ones can stay better connected. Some of these ideas include video chatting, playing board games together (in person or online), volunteering together, and cooking a shared meal together.

There is also the literal gift of time that you can give a loved with this Low Vision Watch. This gold tone black face low vision watch is a stylish and durable timepiece. With battery operated precision quartz accuracy and large numbers (1-12), the face measures 1 1/4 inches wide. Choose from an expansion band or black leather band.

Travel

You don’t have to have a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to make lifetime memories. Looking for things to do and places to see that can be enjoyed by family members of all ages and abilities can seem a bit daunting but it doesn’t have to be. This article from Stanford University has a few suggestions including taking a cruise or renting a house. A cruise ship offers so many activities for all ages on and off the ship. The many options give you choices not only for what to do, but even how many hours you actually want to spend together. Another option is annually renting a house through websites such as vrbo or airbnb. The best thing about these sites is you can virtually check out the area and only look at those places that meet your needs (handicap accessible, pet-friendly, etc.).

If you’re more of a homebody spending time near and around your house or a loved one’s house is always an acceptable option as well. The article further states that “ as adults, we often try to think of something “new and different” for each year; however, children often prefer to revisit the same tradition and build enduring rituals that may be as simple as a game night or a favorite dessert. This notion is also valid with the “stay-cation” model.”

Don’t forget to pack your Travel Talking Clock no matter which option you choose. In addition to all the standard features, it offers a lively musical alarm or a cuckoo alarm, a snooze button, and an hourly chime that operates between 7 AM to 9 PM. A stand pops out when you slide the setting buttons cover off so you can rest it on your dresser.

Record/Note Keeping

Don’t forget to record events in your life as they are happening. It’s great to be in the moment with friends and family but taking a few photos or jotting down your thoughts just after can both be wonderful ways to preserve the memories you just made. If you’re not sure where to start or just enjoy hearing life stories of others the non-profit Story Corps is a great place to visit. Life stories can range from Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers to a 12-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. You can even have stories emailed to you each week to help remind you to record your own.

After you check out the stories of others it may be less daunting to start the tradition with your own family. This 2014 New York Times article discusses one of the newer technologies available to keep a digital family history. Though the yearly subscription fee has gone up since the article was written the main takeaways is that Story Worth caters to both the technologically savvy and the technologically fearful alike.

As with anything else, note keeping doesn’t have to be done on a large scale. This 20 second recording memo can help you remember the day to day things such as phone numbers, names, or lists of things to do.

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Gifts That Show You Care

Showing someone you care doesn’t have to be rocket science. Sometimes just a sincere thank you, hug, or kind word is all that it really takes. Here are a few more ideas on how to express your appreciation for those closest to you.

Touch, Sound, and Relaxation

According to an article at Psychology Today, touch is the first sense we acquire and the secret weapon in many a successful relationship. Physical touch is a fantastic way to show that you care, if done so lovingly and with good intent. You can do this through a hug, holding hands, or massage.  A gift card to the spa or local masseuse is one option if you’re unable to do so physically yourself or residing far away. Another option is this  heated neck massager by Moshi which brings the spa to wherever you want it to be.  It has many of the same benefits of going to a spa but from the comforts of home (or even on the go). The device adopts low frequency electric stimulation therapy, magnetic therapy, infrared therapy, music therapy and vibration massage by way of a high frequency energy field that penetrates into the body’s deep tissue. The neck massager is like a one stop shop for all your relaxation needs.

Another option for relaxation at home is the Sound Oasis Sleep Therapy Pillow. This hypoallergenic polyester fiberfill pillow allows users to enjoy their favorite music or sounds in optimal relaxation and comfort. With two high fidelity, ultra-thin stereo speakers positioned deep within the pillow, users can surround their head with sound for enhanced therapy or privacy.

Food

A different article from Psychology Today states that making and offering food can seduce, sustain, nourish, support, and comfort. This expression of caring can be done for someone, together with someone, or through the purchase of a gift card, can be given to someone to enjoy at their leisure.  Utilizing the right tools can make all the difference regardless of which method you opt for in this category. If you’re cooking for someone or with someone having the right kitchen gadgets make the experience all the more fulfilling. Sometimes just having something appealing to the eyes, such as this floral 4 piece knife set, is enough to whet the senses and calm the soul. Other times it takes something more practical such as a basic pot set or measuring spoon set to get the job done safely and correctly.

Alternately, giving someone a gift card to their favorite restaurant is another great way to show that you care. If cooking at home or going out to eat are neither a good option, all is not lost. Food can be ordered and brought to you through the abundance of food delivery services currently available including DOORDASH, GRUBHUB, and Postmates.

Game Night

An article from PyschCentral looks at all the positives that a regular game night can have on relationships. These items include connecting people with each other, learning important life skills, teaching good sportsmanship, fostering good communication, and most importantly for this blog it also creates a positive emotional “bank” of good memories and positive feelings. All of these things help show others that you care for and about them.

The best thing about game night is that there are so many wonderful options to choose from including Rummikub, dominoes, bingo, or any basic card game. Be sure to have sufficient lighting no matter the game you choose and if someone needs more light than those around them there is always the option of this rechargeable LED light which can last up to 10 hours without needing to be plugged in when used on the low setting and up to 4 hours when used at the brightest setting.

No matter the avenue you choose, showing the people you love that you care is never the wrong move to make.

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You Rang? How Technology Has Made Keeping In Touch Easier For The Visually And Hearing Impaired

It’s no secret that technology is advancing at a rapid pace and that communication isn’t quite like it once was in years past.  For persons experiencing vision or hearing loss these changes can be both beneficial and life changing for the better. This blog will look at special telephone functions specifically geared to those that may need just a little bit of assistance in keeping in touch with friends and family.

Big Button and/or Braille Buttons

“Big Button” telephones usually have large black numbers on a white background, or large white numbers on a black background. These high contrast color combinations coupled with the larger buttons and numbers make it easier for those with vision loss to see what they are dialing. In addition, some large button phones include braille. Adding braille to large button phones makes them ergonomically friendly for anyone with significant vision loss. Independent Living Aids offers several phones for purchase with these functions.

This Big Button Phone with Answering Machine includes large black numbers on white buttons. It also has a built-in speakerphone, an extra-large backlit visual display for caller ID, independent adjustable volume control, and a 25-minute record time. This corded phone can be either desk or wall mounted.

There are also several options available for telephones with braille raised buttons. This Brailled Big Button Corded Phone is light beige with gray buttons and includes large numbers with braille underneath. It also has flashing visual ring identification, ringer control, programmable memory, and is hearing aid compatible. It also can be either desk or wall mounted.

If you already have a big button phone but would like to add braille to enhance it’s usability these .75 Braille Touch to See Letters/Numbers Stick-Ons could be just what you need. This sheet of 176 peel-off letters and numbers are raised and easy to feel. Each sticker is .75” (or ¾ inches) high.

Amplified Telephones

Amplified telephones can increase the volume by 50+ decibels.  These types of phones have bright visual ring flashers and an adjustable volume ringer. This feature can be beneficial for anyone with hearing issues or for those who routinely find themselves in rooms away from their phone. Many of these phones can also be used as a landline and/or amplification for Bluetooth enabled cell phones.

The Clarity Bluetooth Enabled Amplified Cordless Phone offers the convenience of the large button phone but also includes amplification up to 40 decibels. This phone can be used as a landline and/or connected to a Bluetooth enabled phone. In addition, if you no longer have a landline this phone can be use as a receiver for your cell phone, so you never miss a call again from not hearing it ring. This phone can be paired to 2 different Bluetooth enabled devices. It comes with a digital answering machine and can be expanded up to 5 handsets.

If you prefer a corded phone there are two options available in this category through ILA. The Clarity JV35W Amplified Phone w/Jumbo White Buttons & Braille and the Clarity JV35 Amplified Phone w/Jumbo Black Buttons & Braille. Both phones feature jumbo size letters with braille, voice announcement of each number as it is dialed, adjustable ring up to 95 decibels, extra bright ring flasher, hearing aid compatible, and amplification up to 37 decibels (which is 70 times louder than normal).

Voice Activation

Some phones, depending on the model, are equipped to handle and understand various voice commands. These functions can include announcing each number as dialed, reading aloud caller ID, and in the case of smart phones can include opening and executing various apps including audio books, music, and GPS functioning maps.

The BlindShell Talking Cell Phone was designed with voice activation in mind. All features, keys, and commands on the phone are spoken. The phone can alternatively be controlled by voice commands. Voice can also be used for dictating text messages, emails, and notes. Standard phone functions include calling and one touch speed dials, SMS texts, email, contact management, notes, and calendar! Other specialized functions include a camera, calculator, timer, alarm, color identifier, QR code object tagging, FM radio, audio player, book reader, Bluetooth connectivity, and a specially located one touch SOS button.

If you prefer a corded option this Voice Activated Phone is a sure bet. It has voice prompts in 3 different languages including English, Spanish and French. It has the capability to store up to 45 different numbers. Simply pick up the phone; speak a name to dial and let the phone dial automatically. You can also dial by speaking the number to dial or by pushing in the number on the phone directly. This phone also features extra-large buttons with Braille on each number key.

Lastly, if you want to add voice activation to a landline phone you already have there’s the Vocally 3 Freedom Voice Dialer. This voice activated dialer is quite easy to use. Simply attach it to your favorite telephone and record the name of the person or place you would like to program and dial that number on the attached phone one time. The next time you pick up that phone this unit will prompt you, “Who would you like me to call?” State the name you recorded, and the unit will confirm with you and then dial the number. This unit will allow you to record up to 19 digits for each name you record. Stores up to 60 names with phone numbers. Works with regular corded telephones and cordless phones providing you are not too far from the cordless base causing distortion on the line. This unit will not work with cell phones.

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Diabetes and Eye Health

Diabetes is the number 1 cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations, and adult blindness. In addition to blindness, diabetes can cause other devastating eye issues. Approximately 30.3 million Americans have diabetes and 1 in 4 of them are not aware that they even have it. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. The numbers are staggering but what are the different types of diabetes, what is diabetic retinopathy, and what are other common forms of eye issues that can occur from having diabetes?

Types of Diabetes

Information in this section was taken from the Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WebMD. In addition to the three types of diabetes, the sub-category of “prediabetes” will also be looked at in this section.

Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. Different factors, including genetics and some viruses, may contribute to type 1 diabetes. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it can develop in adults.  (see this WebMD article for advice on type 1 in children by age).

Type 2 Diabetes: With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults (but more and more in children, teens, and young adults). You may not notice any symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood sugar tested if you’re at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active. Risk factors include being overweight, aged 45 or older, having a close family member with it, being physically active less than 3 days a week, and being of certain races (including African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans).

Gestational Diabetes: Diabetes when you’re expecting affects about 4% of all U.S. pregnancies. It’s caused by hormones the placenta makes or by too little insulin. High blood sugar from the mother causes high blood sugar in the baby. That can lead to growth and development problems if left untreated. Risks include having had it with a previous pregnancy, having given birth to a baby over 9 pounds, are overweight, aged 25 or older, having a family history of diabetes, having polycystic ovary syndrome, or being one of the races outlined under type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes: In the United States, 84.1 million adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes. What’s more, 90% of them don’t know they have it. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is if you have prediabetes, a lifestyle change program can help you take healthy steps to reverse it. Risk factors are the same as those listed under type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye).  If you have diabetes, it’s important for you to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms at first — but finding it early can help you take steps to protect your vision.

In later stages of the disease, blood vessels in the retina start to bleed into the vitreous (gel-like fluid in the center of the eye). If this happens, you may see dark, floating spots or streaks that look like cobwebs. Sometimes, the spots clear up on their own — but it’s important to get treatment right away. Without treatment, the bleeding can happen again, get worse, or cause scarring.

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to other serious eye conditions:

Diabetic macular edema (DME): Over time, about half of people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME. DME happens when blood vessels in the retina leak fluid, causing swelling in the macula (a part of the retina). If you have DME, your vision will become blurry because of the extra fluid in your macula.

Neovascular glaucoma: Diabetic retinopathy can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow out of the retina and block fluid from draining out of the eye. This causes a type of glaucoma.

Retinal detachment: Diabetic retinopathy can cause scars to form in the back of your eye. When the scars pull your retina away from the back of your eye, it’s called tractional retinal detachment.

To see illustrated videos on diabetic retinopathy see the article What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Other Common Eye Conditions

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. But diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions:

Cataracts: Having diabetes makes you 2 to 5 times more likely to develop cataracts. It also makes you more likely to get them at a younger age. All About Vision defines cataracts as the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. It is the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40 and is also the principal cause of blindness in the world. When symptoms begin to appear, you may be able to improve your vision for a while using new glasses, strong bifocals, magnification, appropriate lighting or other visual aids. Think about surgery when your cataracts have progressed enough to seriously impair your vision and affect your daily life.

Open-angle glaucoma: Having diabetes nearly doubles your risk of developing a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation defines open-angle glaucoma as an eye disease that gradually steals vision. There are typically no early warning signs or painful symptoms of open-angle glaucoma. It develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. The initial loss of vision is of side or peripheral vision, and the visual acuity or sharpness of vision is maintained until late in the disease. By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced. Without proper treatment, glaucoma can lead to blindness. The good news is that with regular eye exams, early detection, and treatment, you can preserve your vision.

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Honoring Veterans

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than 2.7 million veterans currently receive disability benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus, a ringing in the ears.  In addition, more than 158,000 veterans are blind or visually impaired, according to the Blinded Veterans Association. If you or a loved one is a veteran that falls into one of these categories, you may not realize the resources that are available to help.  This blog will look at a few of these resources, discuss the use of service dogs, and share a new commissary benefit that will start on January 1, 2020.

Resources

There are a wide variety of resources beyond the US Department of Veterans Affairs  available to help veterans throughout the nation. These are just a few of the organizations centered on veterans. To learn more about your local state, county or parish specific assistance you can look them up at VA Locations.

Blinded Veterans Association: BVA is a nonprofit Veterans Service Organization of more than 11,000 members and chartered by the United States Congress. They are designed to be the exclusive voice for blinded veterans before the legislative and executive branches of government. BVA provides a voice for blinded veterans, disseminates information, provides scholarships, offers support, and holds a national convention each year.

Disabled American Veterans:  DAV is a nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, helping more than 1 million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year. Annually, the organization provides more than 600,000 rides to veterans attending medical appointments and assists veterans with well over 200,000 benefit claims. In 2018, DAV helped veterans receive more than $20 billion in earned benefits. DAV’s services are offered at no cost to all generations of veterans, their families and survivors. DAV is also a leader in connecting veterans with meaningful employment, hosting job fairs and providing resources to ensure they can participate in the American Dream their sacrifices have made possible. With nearly 1,300 chapters and more than 1 million members across the country, DAV empowers our nation’s heroes and their families by helping to provide the resources they need and ensuring our nation keeps the promises made to them.

Veterans Criss Line: The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. The caring, qualified responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances.

Wounded Warrior Project:  Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) serves military service members, who incurred service-connected wounds, injuries, or illnesses on or after September 11, 2001, and their families.

Service Dogs

Service dogs can be an important recovery and sustainability tool for veterans coping with anxiety and/or PTSD. The VA defines service dogs as “guide or service dogs prescribed for a disabled veteran under 38 CFR 17.148 for the purpose of the veteran being diagnosed as having a visual, hearing, or substantial mobility impairment.” To view the requirements and rules to obtain a service dog  through the VA, including veterinary benefits, see Service and Guide Dogs.  VA approved service dogs come from licensed partners of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF).

Another option for obtaining a service dog is through Southeastern Guide Dogs which is accredited through both ADI and IGDF.  Their landing page states “they serve those that cannot see and those that have seen too much. When people lose vision, it’s easy to lose hope. When veterans lose hope, it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to let the darkness define life instead of living life to its fullest. That’s why we develop extraordinary partnerships between our dogs and the people who need them, and offer our dogs and services at no cost, throughout the United States. We operate the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization in the world. We create elite working dogs and provide life-changing services for people with vision loss, veterans with disabilities, and children with significant challenges such as vision loss or the loss of a parent in the military.”

Commissary Benefits Beginning January 1, 2020

The following information is taken from Military.com.  The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are gearing up for what will be the largest expansion of patrons to the military commissary system and exchanges in 65 years, making sure that shoppers will be able to get on base and find the shelves fully stocked.

Starting Jan. 1, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and all service-connected disabled veterans, regardless of rating, as well as caregivers enrolled in the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, will be able to shop at Defense Commissary Agency stores and military exchanges.

They also will have access to revenue-generating Morale, Recreation and Welfare amenities, such as golf courses, recreation areas, theaters, bowling alleys, campgrounds and lodging facilities that are operated by MWR.

Since most new patrons lack the credentials needed to get on military bases, installations will accept the Veteran Health Identification card, or VHID, from disabled and other eligible veterans. For caregivers, the VA plans to issue a memo to eligible shoppers in the coming months, which will be used in conjunction with any picture identification that meets REAL ID Act security requirements, such as a compliant state driver’s license or passport. Please note that all IDs must be unexpired to be accepted.

As a side note, many veterans are not aware that they can already be shopping online through the military exchange.  If you or a loved one are an honorably discharged veteran you can learn more at Veterans Online Shopping Benefit.

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LED Lighting

Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, are both energy efficient and long lasting. They are available in many options, including Christmas tree lights, and seem to be taking the world by storm. What makes these lights different than older versions? What do terms such as lux, lumen, and kelvin mean? Let’s look at the magical world of the LED.

What are LED bulbs?

Information in this section is taken from Energy.gov and Interior Deluxe. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are a type of solid-state lighting (SSL) — semiconductors that convert electricity into light. Although once known mainly for indicator and traffic lights, LEDs are one of today’s most energy-efficient and rapidly developing technologies. ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs use only 20%–25% of the energy and last 15 to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace. LEDs use 25%–30% of the energy and last 8 to 25 times longer than halogen incandescents.

Basically, LEDs are just tiny light bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit. But unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, they don’t have a filament that will burn out, and they don’t get hot. It is expected that LEDs will completely replace incandescent and halogen bulbs sometime in the future.  Their light output is measured in lumens instead of watts. Because of their durability and performance these bulbs work well in both indoor and outdoor environments. To fully understand LEDs, and to better figure out which lights best fit your needs, it’s also important to understand watts, lumens, lux, and kelvin.

Watts, Lumens, and Lux

Interior Deluxe, using information from the US Department of Energy, has an easy to use calculator to compare watts to lumen. It also provides definitions for what watts and lumen mean.

Watts measure the amount of electrical power used to light a bulb. This means that the more watts a bulb shows the more power it will consume to produce light. So, a 200-watt bulb will use more power than a 100-watt bulb, giving just a little bit better and brighter light. These bulbs use only 10% of the electrical power to produce light while wasting the remaining 90% in producing heat. So essentially bulbs that give a watt reading are just letting the consumer know how much electrical power it will consume. The brightness of light or the output is up to the consumer to determine once they plug that bulb in the socket.

In contrast to watts, lumen is a measurement of light that is more appropriate for consumers. Lumens measure the output of light. In other words, lumens tell us how bright the light produced by a bulb will be. A few examples include a 40-watt incandescent bulb equals around 450 lumens, a 60-watt incandescent bulb equals around 800 lumens, and a 100-watt incandescent bulb equals around 1600 lumens.

Hunker provides an easy to understand explanation of the relationship of lux and lumen. Lux is a measure of how many lumens are present in a given area. To illustrate the difference between lumens and lux: While the sun always produces the same number of lumens, on cloudy days there are fewer lux outdoors. At night, only the lumens provided by the moon and stars reach the ground, leading to extremely low lux under a night sky. To achieve a desired lux level in a given space it may be necessary to use many light bulbs, each producing a given number of lumens.

Kelvin

Apart from brightness, you also must consider the color of the bulbs. This is typically denoted by a Kelvin rating (usually 2,700 to 6,500) and accompanied by a descriptive name, such as soft white or daylight. The following ranges are taken from a CNET article on warm light bulbs versus cool light bulbs.

Soft white (2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin) is warm and yellow, the typical color range you get from incandescent bulbs. This light gives a warm and cozy feeling and is often best for living rooms, dens and bedrooms.

Warm white (3,000 to 4,000 Kelvin) is a more yellowish-white. These bulbs are best suited for kitchens and bathrooms.  This OttLite Cobra Color Changing LED Lamp is a color changing LED desk lamp offering 3 levels of lighting, from warm light to cool light to natural daylight (3,000K, 4,000K and 5,000K.) Just select the color that is best for your needs.

Bright white (4,000 to 5,000 Kelvin) is between white and blue tones. With a less cozy and more energetic feel, bulbs with this color range are best for workspaces (such as a home office or garage) and kitchens with chrome fixtures. The OttLite Cobra Color Changing LED Lamp mentioned under “warm white,” transitions between warm white and bright white lights.

Daylight (5,000 to 6,500 Kelvin) has a more bluish tone. This light color will maximize contrast for colors, making it ideal for working, reading or applying makeup. An example of a task light falling into this category is the Uno LED Flex Desk Lamp. It has 28 high performance LED bulbs, 4 different brightness levels, and a flexible arm allowing for optimal positioning. Another option to consider is the Z-Line Lamp by Enfren BLACK. This modern-looking desk lamp offers brilliant white LED lighting with glare-control filters that help reduce eye strain. It reproduces natural light and prevents flickering.

While lights with a bluer hue make it easier to see contrast and small detail it’s also important to consider the health pros and cons. The main source of blue light is the sun and it’s the light that helps the body manufacture adequate amounts of vitamin D. Moderation is the key though as too much blue light can potentially increase your risk of macular degeneration as you age, as well as, cause eye strain. Blue light absorption rates are especially important after cataract surgery. Conversely, blue light can also increase alertness, help with memory and cognitive function, and can even elevate your mood.  If you’re worried about too much blue light exposure through your electronic devices using things such as computer glasses (they come in both prescription and non-prescription) or screen protectors (such as these Reticare screen protectors) can help.  To learn more about blue light, including scientific definitions, see All About Vision.

With that in mind, when choosing light bulbs for a room, think of what you normally do in that space and buy bulbs for that purpose.

To find more products and ideas to make your life easier check out our full site at https://www.independentliving.com/.