Government-funded free cell phone service

Individuals who cannot afford to get a cellphone because of their financial situation may be eligible to receive free mobile phones and free service through part of a free government-funded program.

The eligibility guidelines differ from state to state. However, if you participate in any of the following public assistance programs, you could be automatically be qualified.

  • Federal Public Housing Assistance/Section 8
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Food Stamps
  • Supplemental Security Income* (SSI)
  • Veterans or Survivors Pension Benefit
  • Tribal Qualifying Program based on state of residence

To apply or find out your eligibility in the state you reside, you can go through application process online or you can visit assigned local locations in each state.  Most online application process will direct you to the information by entering your ZIP code online.

Once you are accepted into the plan, you receive the mobile phone services. It is recommended that you verify if you get reliable coverage in your area.  Most mobile service features include:

  • Free monthly allotment of minutes, text, and data (customers that require additional minutes, text, or data can add money to their account by purchasing airtime with a debit/credit card)
  • Free voicemail, Caller ID & Call Waiting
  • Free domestic long distance
  • Nationwide coverage on the Sprint network
  • Exclusive Wireless Rewards program

Here are a few examples of free phone providers in Maryland/District of Columbia:

Access Wireless
Phone: 1-800-464-6010

Assurance Wireless
Phone: 1-888-321-5880

Safelink Wireless
Phone: 1-800-Safelink (723-3546)

Additional free phone service providers in Maryland: https://www.freegovernmentcellphones.net/states/maryland-government-cell-phone-providers

To find out the services available in your state, go to the following link:
https://www.freegovernmentcellphones.net/states

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Aira

Persons with vision loss face challenging situations daily, especially when they need to travel, do certain tasks by following instructions or getting information for themselves. They may find this product and service called Aira to be very helpful.  Aira consists of smart glasses with a camera which is connected to the user’s smartphone. Then a remote, trained vision interpreter assists persons with visual impairments.  A vision interpreter can get instant feedback from the camera and describe whatever is in front of the user or provide detailed information such as instruction manuals for the user. However, Aira is not designed to make decisions. For example, when a blind person reaches at a traffic intersection, Aira can provide the user with the information on if the traffic light is green and no cars are coming, but it is up for the user to make a decision of when to cross the road.

We often find it is difficult to offer additional support on how to use assistive technology devices after providing a technology solution.  This is one technology product combined with service developed for persons with special needs. They offer subscription services with a 3-month intro price starting from $89 for 200 min and higher. More information and pricing can be found at: https://aira.io/plans.

About Aira Visual interpreter: Click here.

Fore more information about Aira: go to https://aira.io/

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Virtual Keyboard

A virtual laser keyboard can connect to your mobile, tablets, or PC and projects an image of a virtual keyboard onto a flat surface such as a desk or a table. Then you can type on the projected keyboard surface area rather than pressing physical keys. The device detects the keyboard movements, determine the pressed keystrokes, and translates it to text.  You can connect to your smartphone, tablets, or laptop by USB cable or Bluetooth wireless technology.  Most devices come with a setting for virtual mouse.

Virtual Keyboard

A virtual keyboard (or mouse) can be useful when you do not have access to keyboard and may work for persons who have bigger fingers, poor vision or the slower typist. Virtual keyboards or virtual mice are an innovative idea that came out about four years ago. However, it still needs to overcome challenges of being used in variety of environments and being accepted by all types of users.

Most users reported that virtual keyboard is not like your common keyboard, and it takes time to get used to it. Virtual keyboard requires solid and non-reflective surfaces for working projection and typing.   It is portable to travel, but it is difficult to use it in a plane or train because most devices need to be placed in an upright position.  It has delay when typing so if you are a fast typist, it may not capture your typing.  If the environment has too bright, it may not return accurate results. You cannot turn off the feedback sound on some devices. Its stability and accuracy need improvement. The mouse feature requires a steady hand.

You can find discounted virtual keyboards around $30 compared to the original prices of $200, which was the average cost a few years ago.  If you decide to buy one, here are some options of virtual keyboards you can find today.

(YouTube: 6 Best Virtual Keyboards by Ezvid Wiki)

Please note this list is from January 2017 so the list may have changed since then.

Lamston Bluetooth virtual keyboard and mini mouse

Virtual keyboard, ShowMe(TM) Laser Projection Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for iPad iPhone Android Smart Phones with Voice Broadcast mini Speaker

AGS Laser Projection Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard & Mouse for Iphone, Ipad, Smartphone and Tablets

 

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Belt with protective air bags

If you have seniors in your family, it is important for you to ensure their safety every day. However, you may not be able to monitor their daily activities all the time.  According to National Council of Aging, it is reported that one-fourth of Americans aged 65+ falls each year and every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall.

A smart wearable device (or a belt) worn around the user’s waist may prevent a hip fracture from a fall. A few examples of this type of  belts are Active Protective and Hip-Hope. A proprietary multi-sensor system detects impending collision with the ground. A belt deploys airbags over the hips, immediately prior to the impact. Both products seem to collect ongoing multi-sensor data sampling while wearing, the sensor motion technology can determine falls prior to the impact and activates the micro-airbag protection, and this garment can reduce the impact force.

For more information, please go to the links below.

Active Protective: http://activeprotective.com/

Active Protective Belt

TEDMED – YouTube

Hip-Hope: http://www.hip-hope.com/

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Opticon Opn hearing aids

Opticon (a Denmark-based manufacturer of hearing aids – https://www.oticon.com/) Opn hearing aids has many features compared to common hearing aids. Opticon Opn hearing aids can help someone identify where sounds are coming from or distinguish different sounds in noisy environments. Therefore, persons who are hard of hearing can hear conversation from multiple people clearly and can join in conversations easily.

Opticon Opn can connect wirelessly to your smartphone, tablet or computer. For example, you can turn your hearing aid into a wireless stereo headphone to watch TV up to 45 ft. away.  It uses the TV adapter which connects to almost any audio device with the cable.

In addition, the Opticon On app can enable your new Opticon Opn hearing aids to interact with other Internet-connected devices and services. This means that you can control internet-connected devices at home such as lights, home security alarms, and smart thermostats by turning your hearing aid on or off. It can also alert you with a human voice when someone is at the door if you have a smart internet enabled doorbell.

The Opticon Opn is very light, small, and discreet so it can blend in with your skin or hair. You can use a rechargeable battery or general battery.  You can create different ways to program such as telling your hearing aid to notify you or another person (i.e. parent or caregiver) when the battery is low.

Feedback from users varies depend on the environments, users’ preferences, and services they received. Most users reported that the sound is great and the features of connecting to their smartphones or tablets are great when it works properly.  Opticon Opn hearing aids can benefit some users where it is used in a perfect environment.

On the other hand, some users stated that they had to send their Opticon Opn hearing aids in for repair or adjusting often. Others reported the hearing aids work great in a modest environment when users are at home while watching TV or taking with family or working in an office environment, but once they are away from home, sound quality goes down in noisy environments. The small size makes it impractical for some (i.e. seniors). In addition, the prices of Opticon Opn hearing aids in the US are very expensive so it may not be easy for consumers to get one using the currently available insurances.  It seems that it is wise to get a free trial option or a loaner from an audiologist before you buy one.

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Square Panda (a multi-sensory learning system)

Square Panda is a multi-sensory learning system that includes interactive learning games with your tablet (IPad or Android) and a set of 45 tactile smart letters to help children learn to read. Twin brothers who were diagnosed with Dyslexia and struggled with learning while they were young developed Square Panda.

The device comes with 14 levels of phonics instruction and a cloud tracking system so that parents and teachers can measure each child’s individual progress, challenges, and preferences for game types. Square Panda offers phonic-based learning (sound to letter relationship) so it is suitable for Pre-k, kindergarten, special education, and children in an ESL program.

Square Panda

Quick Demo of Square Panda Phonics Multi-Sensory Playset
YouTube video posted by Clarence Dunn
Director of Business Development, Square Panda

Margaret Byrd Rawson, a former President of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) said, “Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from that employed in most classrooms. They need to be taught, slowly and thoroughly, the basic elements of their language—the sounds and the letters which represent them—and how to put these together and take them apart. They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for conscious organization and retention of their learning.”

Some children may have difficulties in their vision with tracking or visual processing. Other children may find their auditory processing skills are not strong. However, each child may have a special area of sensory learning strength. The use of more of the child’s senses, especially the use of touch (tactile) and movement (kinetic) may help their leaning.

A learning system like Square Pad, which offers games on iPad (or Android Tablet) combined with the tactile letters’ activities, may help children overcome challenges in phonics and reading.

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Smart cane (Smartcane)

Canes for the blind are one of the necessities and mobility aids for the visually impaired. A blind person can travel with a cane and use the cane to detect obstacles on ground, but a cane cannot detect objects such as tree branches, hanging advertisement signs, parked vehicles (i.e. trucks). Researchers have been recognizing the blind person’s challenges and developing smart cane so that persons with blindness can avoid collisions and protect their safety while traveling independently. For example, a team from Phoenix Medical Systems in Chennai, India, demonstrated their development stories. Here is one of their stories.

SmartCane usage by a college girl (YouTube Assistech IITD) 

During the CES (Consumer Electronics show – January 2017, a French company, Fayet, introduced a smartcane called Dring. The Dring smartcane was the winner of the CES 2017 Innovation Award at this same show. The cane is currently a prototype, but it looks like the smartcane will be available to the public in the next six months.

Dring Smart Cane for the Elderly (YouTube by MobileGeeks.de)

 Dring (smart cane), features include:

*Automatic detection and alert of abnormal situations

*GSM and GPS network: this feature allows users without pairing to an additional device (i.e. GPS on the smartphone)

*Long battery life – weeks of use

In addition to the features above, the connected walking cane can directly connect itself to a GSM network and send alerts. Then caregivers can automatically receive a phone call or a text message and respond back to the user with an acknowledgement of the alert. The smart cane looks like it can detect most unusual situations.  I hope that this smart cane will be available in the near future at an affordable price for the blind.

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iBeacon (Beacon) Technology

The term iBeacon and Beacon are often used interchangeably. iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard, which allows Mobile Apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world and react accordingly. (The information is taken from www.ibeacon.com)

iBeacon is broadcasting a signal to a cellphone.

Near Field Communication (NFC) operates within 20 cm; however, Beacon technology has a far greater range of 50 m. Beacons, which is a low-cost piece of hardware, can be attached to a wall or countertop. Then the Beacon hardware devices broadcast their identities to nearby electronic devices such as a smartphone or tablet. According to Wikipedia, Beacons is a device which has a 1-way transmitter for sending a signal to smartphone or receiving device. Bluetooth beacons uses Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system.  What is iBeacon: Animated Guide

Beacon technology allows publishers, retailers, and branding companies to market their products and connect with consumers, but Beacon technology can be used for helping persons with disabilities. For example, Beacon technology works just like the Global Positioning System (GPS) and can be used as an indoor positioning system to determine someone’s approximate location. A specific app may need to be installed on your smartphone to interact with Beacon devices for a specific location (i.e. ClickAndgo). As the Beacon hardware is implemented more widely in cities, schools, and public transportation systems, it will help all travelers learn their surroundings without needing to ask a stranger for directions and assist persons with disabilities to travel independently.

ClickAndGo iBeacons Wayfinding 

In addition, Beacon technology can be used to monitor the conditions and the safety of persons with disabilities or the elderly. Here are a few examples.

Beacon Technology Demo (by CLO Kansas)

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The Tap

Tap™ is an eyes-free one-handed wearable device allowing you to send data into Bluetooth devices by taping your fingers on ANY surface. Tap works by associating taps with letters as well as allowing users to perform standard VoiceOver gestures on any surface.  This means that you can send text without looking at the screen of your phone or play games by tapping.

YouTube; This is Tap

The following instructions on how to put on the device are taken from their Website.

  • Put on your Tap on your hand. You can tap with your right or left hand. Make sure that the strap is at the top of your finger, near your knuckles.
  • Turn your Tap ON by tapping your thumb on a flat surface three times. Pair the Tap with your phone, tablet or computer.
  • Start Tapping
  • You can now open any application you want to type in (messenger, email, etc..). Each time you tap your fingers, you will type a character on your device. You can tap letters, punctuation, numbers and special characters.How to put on the Tap deviceHow to wear the Tap device

    Note: The best way to get familiar with tapping is to open the TapGenius app and play the game to get up to speed as fast as possible.

It is also noted that you can learn the Tap Alphabet™ in about one hour. The product will be available on the market Q2 2017 from their website. http://www.tapwithus.com.

 

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BLITAB – a Tactile tablet

BLITAB is the world’s first tactile tablet for blind and visually impaired people (http://blitab.com).  The Austrian innovation team demonstrated the BLITAB at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas on January 5 – 8, 2017.  In addition, the BLITAB was one of the 12 finalists at TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield. 

BLITAB produces small physical bubbles in an area above its touchscreen which provides refresh double lines of refreshable Braille display. In another word, the device creates tactile Braille and graphics in real-time by using small physical bubbles instead of a screen display. The tablet can convert any text file online or upload read large text files (i.e. books) with USB sticks or memory cards. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

BLITAB - Tactile tablet

Even now, most braille readers and braille note taker devices are expensive ($3000 and up). In addition, maintaining the devices’ hardware and software may be challenging. Some note taker devices can pair with tablets, phones or computers. However, users often have difficulties interfacing between their devices and their PCs over the years. This is because their devices may become incompatible with the frequent updates of the operating systems on the PCs. As a result, users may give up operating their old braille readers and note taker devices.

BLITAB tablet with built-in refreshable braille display can operate by itself without paring to a computer and is less expensive than other braille readers or braille note taker devices. They are scheduled to be priced around $500 and are to become available on the market in 6 months.  The company is now offering pre-order online (http://blitab.com/#contact). Soon we may be able to see BLITAB tablets in school or work to help the blind and people who suffer from impaired vision.

BLITAB First Tactile Tablet for Blind People (YouTube)

Additional information: A Tablet for the Blind at CES 2017 (YouTube)

 

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