We have finally reached a point where cell phones for individuals with disabilities are actually pretty functional and affordable. In my opinion this kind of happened by accident, thanks to smartphones. Features and apps that were originally created to make life easier for everyone as whole are actually the very same features and apps we call “Assertive Technology” or AT for short, that make using a cellphone for certain types of disabilities even possible. I mean just think about it  (adversities aside); Before smart phones, how did we do it?

No  Caller ID

I remember being about 12 years old lying on the floor with my long blond hair sprayed out across the  floor with my legs crossed, propped up on my mom’s bed waiting for hours for our rotary home phone to ring. Every once in awhile I would make sure it was still connected to the wall jack, pick up the heavy  handset and check for a dial tone, and after a long while of waiting (and extreme boredom), would sneak in a couple crank calls. What the heck? With no caller ID back then, how could they possibly  tell it was me anyway? Right?

The Ring

Of course it was right when I got up to go the restroom or fridge for a drink that phone would FINALLY ring. Throughout the entire house you could hear me run down the hallway waving my arms while frantically screaming, “ I GOT IT! I GOT IT! I GOT IT” My sister would purposely rush over and pick up a hand set from the kitchen wall before I reached the one in the room where I had previously laid waiting for hours. The person on the other end could hear my frustrated voice, “I-I-I  said I-I-I GOT IT!” and then quickly change my tone to an innocent sweet voice hoping it was the call I was waiting for from that oh so very cute boy in my class.

“Hellloooo, who is calling please?”

Butterflies filled my stomach, and in the back of my mind I remember thinking, “Yes, yes, yes, he called!” and then I heard the deep voice response, “Wellll hellloooo this is your father speaking. May I speak to your mother please”.

Oh man am I  so great full for today’s technology, smart phones, apps, and how we are now using them as assertive technology to help individuals with disabilities have more active and independent lifestyles. However, kids from this generation,  I’m sure they wonder how we survived without internet, cell phones. And texting. And SMS. And Google Maps. And blogs. And Facebook And Twitter. And Face Time. And Instagram. And Snap Chat. Seriously. How did people do it???

Below are few questions they may have for people like me who grew up passing neatly folded notes in class to communicate with my friends.

1.  Like how did you make plans? That means you actually had to talk talk…

A: Yes, talk or write a note.

2. How did you CANCEL plans? So you’re stuck in traffic and you’re not going to make it to dinner with your friend. How in the WORLD did you let this friend know? You just stood people up?

 A: Yup…a lot explaining to do later and sometimes it was a good tool to get out of date too!

3.  How did you know who was calling you before you picked up the phone? What if it was a bill collector, telemarketer, or that stalker dude from 3rd period?

 A: Yeah you kinda just answer and say, “Sorry, wrong number” or “Can I take message please?” or my mom’s favorite way to get out of a call was, “I’m just the baby sitter. The lady of the house is not here”.

4.  How did you find people to date in the first place??? It’s hard enough to first figure out the best free online dating site and weed out the weirdos to finally get cat fished. Grrr!

A:  STAY AWAY from online dating sites and hello the mall!

5.  How did you stalk your exes? Oh wait, you didn’t? That sounds smart. And also healthy. TOO BAD THE INTERNET HAPPENED.

A:  Ummm yes we did stalk our exes. We nonchalantly followed them around and became friends with the new girlfriend’s friend.

Now on a more serious note. Let’s analyze the following questions that may truly have a significant impact on the productivity of everyday living.

1.  How did you look for jobs? And then apply to jobs? But seriously. This is a legit question. And when you did find jobs, how did you apply? Did you manually write cover letters? And resumes?

 A:  It wasn’t the cave ages! Haven’t you ever heard of the classifieds? And typewriters?

2.  How did your survive waiting for meetings, appointments, trains, or anything without being able to pass time by pretending to look busy on your phone? Like how did you avoid eye contact with people? Did you READ A BOOK? Did you stare at the wall? Did you play with your fingers? Confused.

A:  Yes to all of the above.

3.  How did you do ANYTHING at work before email? Now if the internet doesn’t work, offices basically shut down. So you’re paid to do nothing, OK maybe no internet isn’t that bad after all.

 A:  Now hold on, no one gets paid to just do nothing in America, except the government.

4.  How did you know where you were or where you were going ever? Did you have to carry around a real live map on you at all times? Did you also have a compass?

A:  Yup this is why geography class is so important! We carried a book called a Road Atlas. Usually tucked neatly away under or seat until someone would pull it out to get us even more lost.

5. What did you have to do if you broke down on the side of the road? Walk?

A:  Try and fix it yourself or walk to the nearest gas station. Heels in dirt roads are the WORST!

Assertive Technology

While my story and all of these questions seem really really silly, the truth is overtime we have taken for granted the advances of technology and how much easier smart phones make life and communication.

About 9 years ago my life was transformed completely after suffering a Spinal Cord Injury with the original prognosis of paralysis from the neckline down, loss of speech, and the possibility of being dependent on a breathing machine for the rest of my life. It took 4 months of intense inpatient rehab for me to wean off the the ventilator and regain speech and arm movement. I was never able to regain full hand function. I lack fine motor skills. Which means I don’t have hand grip or finger movement.

In 2007 all I could afford was a basic flip phone which I could not use independently. I missed most calls because I could not open the phone on my own. Eventually, I was able to buy a BlackBerry which was exciting to me since I had not yet figured out how to use a traditional computer keyboard again. That left me with no access to the internet or emails. Touchscreen in 2008 was still new and very expensive, especially the IPhone. Thankfully my first job after my injury came with the perk of the very first IPhone Siri and it opened so many doors for me. My very own hand help personal assistant that only talked back to say very nice things, get me where I wanted to go, get me the information I needed (quickly), and it was all done by voice command. Siri even typed for me!

I now use an Android Galaxy Note 3. It’s more than just my phone and personal assistant. My physical limitations coupled with my visual impairments make my Galaxy Note 3 much more accessible than an IPhone or my laptop.Therefore all of my work, homework, writing, blogging, picture taking, editing, banking, scheduling appointments, reminders, graphic design, social media, music, even movie watching is done on my Galaxy Note 3.

Moving Forward

For people with serious health conditions a lot of these very simple features can mean life or death, and can definitely directly impact their ability to live a healthy active independent lifestyles.

Individuals with visual impairments now have access to smartphones with large fonts and text to talk.

Individuals with  hearing impairments can take advantage of amplifiers and VRI (video relay interpreters).

Individuals with physical limitations can take advantage of voice command and adaptive devices.

Seniors and individuals with special needs can strongly rely on memory application as well as adaptive devices that suit their specific needs.
In an effort to further enhance assertive technology for the nearly 48 million Americans living with a disability in America today, in May of 2015 Google launched an initiative to support emerging technologies that help people with disabilities live more independently. The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities program will award up to $20 million in grants to nonprofits that work on assertive technologies. The grants will be funneled through Google’s charitable arm,

Technology will continue to advance and so will the demographic market of individuals with disabilities. It will be interesting to sit with this generation in 20 years and reflect on these same questions. HOW DID YOU DO IT? NO SERIOUSLY HOW DID YOU DO IT?

Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author and an ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College, and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits. You can follow her @Ms_Hotwheels on Twitter and Instagram, or reach her on Facebook or through