Equipment Corner October 2006

by Alyssa Quintero on Sun, 2006-10-01 16:39

Telephone access for people with hand and arm weakness

For people with ALS with severe hand and arm weakness, using a conventional telephone can be an exercise in frustration. But, there are equipment alternatives that can assist you.

Although many assistive features are standard on today’s phones, such as memory speed dialing, one-touch dialing, speakerphones and voice-activated systems, various additional adaptations and accessories are also available.

Telephone access made easier

David Nolting
David Nolting

David Nolting of Cedar Falls, Iowa, received a limb-onset ALS diagnosis in August 2004. Nolting, 53, who uses a wheelchair most of the time, has extremely limited use of his hands and arms.

When Nolting started having problems holding the telephone’s handset, he received an Ameriphone RC-200 Remote Controlled Speakerphone ($399) by Clarity from the local MDA loan closet.

The RC-200’s features include: a wireless, mouse-style remote that activates phone functions from up to 40 feet away; voice-activated answering; scanning and dialing of 20 preprogrammed numbers; adjustable scanning speed; hands-free conversations up to 15 feet away; and the possibility of mounting to a desktop, wheelchair or wall.

With his right hand, Nolting uses his index finger to right and left click the remote. The system also can be used with pillow and air switches for those who can’t use a mouse.

“Right now, I am using just the clicker switch, but the other switches will come in handy as I lose control of my arms,” Nolting said.

While the system doesn’t offer voice-activated dialing, Nolting uses the remote to scan the telephone’s stored numbers. Once you’re on the selected number, click the remote to dial. The phone automatically hangs up after one minute of silence or if it detects a dial tone.

Zygo dialer
ZYGO Industries’ Vocally, a voice-activated dialer

Nolting also advises phone users to enter 911 into the system in case of an emergency but cautioned, “This telephone works great in one area of the house. It only has a range of approximately 15 feet, so it wouldn’t be useful if you fell down in a different room. “If a person is confined to a chair or bed, it’s wonderful because you can dial up to 20 preprogrammed numbers or answer the phone at any time without your hands.”

On the high-tech side

As with many high-tech devices, the more a hands-free telephone system can do, the more it costs.

SAJE Technology offers the Communicator Complete package ($1,500), featuring a wireless headset, voice-activated telephone system. The headset can be worn, mounted or modified for use in speakerphone mode, and you can enter an unlimited number of contacts.

You can use voice commands to answer and place calls from within 500 feet of the base station. You also can connect adaptive switches to the system, and an optional speakerphone is available.

Also, SAJE’s Communicator Basic package ($425) includes all of the features of the Communicator Complete except that it relies on your existing computer.

ZYGO Industries offers a voice-activated dialer, Vocally ($220-$295), that can be used with any standard touch-tone telephone. The dialer stores up to 60 names and numbers.

David Nolting explains that the system could be used with the RC-200 speakerphone to provide a complete hands-free experience with both voice-activated dialing and answering.

Able-Phone offers the 7000 VC model ($579) that’s controlled via voice commands you program. All phone features are voice controlled, and the system includes a built-in, voice-activated dialer. The dialer phonebook stores up to 60 names and numbers.

For cell phone users, Broadened Horizons offers the Vocalize! Bluetooth Voice-Controlled Cell Phone System (starts at $349). The system easily mounts and integrates on a wheelchair, and communicates with the cell phone using Bluetooth technology.

With voice commands, users can answer calls, dial numbers saved in their phonebooks and end calls. You simply use a preprogrammed “magic” word. The system, which includes a lapel microphone, is compatible with cell phones that support the Bluetooth hands-free profile.


Here are some low-tech telephone access tips:

  • Speakerphones with large buttons and cordless telephones with hands-free headsets: For example, Independent Living Aids offers a jumbo button speakerphone with a headset ($19.95), featuring 10-memory speed dialing and a two-way speakerphone with volume control.
  • Large-button keypad adapters: Life@Home offers an adapter ($24.95) that fits right over the existing keypad.
  • Phone holders that fasten to the receiver: For example, Active Forever’s Universal Phone Holder ($11.95) is a flexible metal clip that bends and can be adjusted to fit any hand size. EnableMart offers a plastic phone holder clip ($23.50).
  • Receiver extenders: Sammons Preston at ($87.95) and Therafin at ($130.06) offer variations of the Fone Holder, a flexible 24-inch gooseneck that attaches to most surfaces with an adjustable clamp.
Alyssa Quintero
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