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An Affordable Way to Summon for Help in an Emergency Using Voice Commands

By: Joel Hosner, MDTAP Advisory Council Consumer Representative

There is nothing like the peace of mind in knowing that if help is needed in an emergency, it’s just a phone call away. For some people with disabilities, it can be challenging to make that phone call quickly. An affordable service, called Noonlight, allows a user to summon help in an emergency through a simple voice command to an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device! Noonlight dispatchers immediately follow up on alerts with a phone call and a text message. If the person is in danger or cannot be reached, Noonlight notifies a 911 operator to send help to the user’s location. Amazon Alexa and Google Home compatibility is available through Noonlight Premium, which is only $4.99 per month.

red box with white 911 and picture of phone

Call 911 using your voice device


Noonlight is perfect for people with unique medical needs because users can provide details about their condition to Noonlight in advance of an emergency. That information could then be provided to a 911 operator when it is needed, eliminating the need for the user to communicate their medical history or location during a crisis.

Black screen with purple button in center saying "Hold until safe"

Screen shot of Noonlight app

Noonlight also has a free iPhone and Android app, available to anyone, which is a virtual panic button that can summon emergency help to the location of the device. Even if the user cannot, or does not speak, help will still be on the way.


You can find out more about Noonlight by going to their website: noonlight.com. The Noonlight app can be downloaded on Apple’s App Store or Google Play.


Using Technology, People Who are Deaf Can Make Phone Calls Without an Intermediary!

By: Joel Hosner, MDTAP Advisory Council Consumer Representative

animated image of hand holding phone with connecting line to land line phone


The Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) provides free access to telecommunications to the deaf community by simply dialing 711. The TRS is operated by human intermediaries that transcribe text that can be read by a person with a hearing impairment via a text telephone (TTY). Pedius provides a similar service using no human intermediary and works on a standard computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android phone, or tablet with no special equipment!

When a user makes a phone call to someone with typical hearing through Pedius, their text message is read out loud through the phone to the other party. When the person responds using their voice, their response is transcribed into text so a user with a hearing impairment can read the message. If the user prefers, they can read incoming messages through text, and respond directly with their voice.

animated image of hand holding a cell phone with Pedius logo on it.

Pedius App

The Pedius app provides 20 free minutes of calling per month, and users can get unlimited calling for $30.00 per year. Alternatively, minutes can be purchased in increments of 100 for $5.00. To learn more, go to Pedius.org. To download the free app, go Apple’s App Store or Google Play and search for Pedius.

Get Access to 680,000+ Accessible Digital Books & Resources at a Low, or No Cost!

Bookshare logo semicircle of blue and orange pages flipping on a book

Bookshare A Benetech Initiative

By: Joel Hosner, MDTAP Advisory Council Consumer Representative

For many people with reading, visual, and physical disabilities, reading from printed books can be challenging. Fortunately, there are other ways to access textbooks, children’s books, and even the books on the current bestseller list. Bookshare is a nonprofit, online library, serving only people with reading barriers. When books are provided in a digital format, texts can be enlarged, read aloud through text-to-speech, or translated into Braille. Bookshare books can be accessed on many different devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, Chromebooks, smartphones, and refreshable Braille displays.   

Students can get a Bookshare account for free, while other individuals with disabilities can get unlimited access to Bookshare for only $50 per year. Teachers can assign accessible versions of books that they are using in class to qualifying students through a Bookshare account created for their school.

To sign up for Bookshare, go to Bookshare.org, and click on “Get Started.” From there, individual and school accounts can be set up. If you have any questions about Bookshare, go to Bookshare.org, and click on “Help Center,” or you may email Joel Hosner, an MDTAP Advisory Council Consumer Representative, at jhosner1@jhu.edu.

Woman holds newspaper looking at younger man hold an ereader with headphones

Enjoy reading in many different ways

This IDEA isn’t the IDEA you’re used to!  But let’s keep the great IDEAs coming!!  

In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), which is designed to make federal websites more accessible, user friendly, and secure.  This new law places stronger importance on the existing accessibility standards of Rehabilitation Act Section 508.  It requires federal agencies to modernize their websites and digital services.  There are eight specific criteria including accessibility for people with disabilities.

Within 180 days of the law’s passage, all new and redesigned federal websites must comply with the new criteria, and agencies must submit plans to Congress for how they will accelerate the use of electronic signatures.  IDEA also requires federal chief information officers (CIOs) to coordinate with other executives and ensure that departments plan adequate funding and resources to execute these requirements, including accessibility features. 

Signed into law by the President on December 20, 2018, the provisions include several significant requirements to make federal websites more user friendly, usable, and robust for all users, including a requirement that digital formats of all paper-based forms be available within two years.

Accessibility key on keyboard

These requirements fall in line with the principles of Universal Design.  Under the requirements of IDEA, federal websites must:

  • provide a customized digital experience to individual users
  • maintain a consistent appearance
  • be fully functional and usable on common mobile devices
  • use an industry-standard secure connection
  • contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use

For more information, visit the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology at IDEA.  

The snow has us thinking about ways to stay warm and safe this winter.  These are just a few things to consider for yourself and home as you battle the cold.  

Smart-Touch Gloves:  These are gloves that have conductive threads woven into the fingertips to allow you to wear gloves while still using touchscreen technology.  These gloves have become more common place and can be found at many stores.  

Hands in black gloves holding smart phone.

Smart Touch Gloves

Talking/Programmable Thermostat:  Programmable thermostats allow you to preset controls to keep your home warm and toasty.  For those who are blind or have low-vision, there are talking thermostats (some are programmable as well) that speak the settings, current temperature and warnings like “change your filter”.  

Thermostat with talking bubbles saying "The temperature is 72 degrees" and "Change your filter"

SmartWay thermostat

Ice grips/All-terrain tires:  For those with mobility issues, snow and ice makes getting around more challenging.  Ice grips for the bottom of a cane/crutch or walker make traction much easier to find.  Wheelchair all terrain tires also make getting thru packed snow and snow piles possible.   

Two bottoms of canes with metal ice grips attached.

Cane Ice Grips

For assistance with finding these items or to borrow any of the items in our lending library, contact one of our Assistive Technology Specialists, 1-800-832-4827.  


“Hey Alexa, unlock the door.”  

The Smart Lock or Smart Lock Pro by August is an option for individuals with dexterity issues and or hand tremors that make locking and unlocking a door with a traditional key an ordeal.  (Or even for those of us who try to carry in every grocery bag in one trip…)Large silver lock

These devices by August allows you to easily install this smart lock system to the inside of your door – so the existing outside lock and the internal mechanism remain intact, so you can still use the good old fashioned keys, if you like.  On the inside of the door a smart locking system will now allow the user to lock and unlock the door with the smart phone app or using Voice Control via Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or even Google Home.  The smart lock allows the homeowner to lock and unlock the door remotely.  One of the most practical features is the secure auto-unlock and auto-lock feature that works if you elect that option – based on your proximity to the door it will unlock or lock based on your specific preference.   

To learn more about the smart lock and how it can help, click here.

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