Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal: The Cell Phone… Once a Luxury, Now a Necessity

2018-02-04
By: Stacy Ellingen
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What would the world be like today without cell phones or mobile devices?  It’s nearly impossible to fathom.  We, as a society, have become dependent on these devices for nearly everything we do.  We use cell phones for everything from getting travel directions to ordering dinner to be delivered.  The capabilities of mobile devices are endless.  Some people feel that we are “too connected,” but for most people, their cell phone is like another body part.  For many people, including those with disabilities, mobile devices have become a real lifeline.

When cell phones became popular in the late 90s, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d own one—let alone depend on one.  Due to my limited fine motor and speech abilities, having a cell phone didn’t seem beneficial to me.   I remember my mom was the first in our family to get one.  She had to get it for work and she merely used it to make and receive phone calls.  It was so big it barely fit in her purse.  Funny to think that that was only about 20 years ago.  How times have changed! 

It wasn’t until midway through my second year of college that I got my first cell phone.  My parents got it for me for Christmas and thought it would be good for me to have in case of an emergency.  I could call one of them or my sister, and, even though I’m nonverbal, they knew my speech and schedule well enough to figure out what I needed.  My first phone with a stick phone (back then, most phones were flip, but since it had to be my tray, I couldn’t use those).  It also had to have protruded buttons because I couldn’t press ones that were sunk in.  Finding a phone like that wasn’t easy.  My first phone was velcroed on to the mount for my communication device.  As I explained in a previous entry, unless I was going to class, because it was so bulky I normally didn’t have my device on my chair; therefore, I really didn’t use my phone very much when I first got it.  Eventually, I figured out that I could call my friends and they could pretty much figure out what I needed because again they knew me so well.  Actually, I remember I had a lot of night classes, and if they got out early, I’d call a friend and she knew I needed her to call the transportation service to come pick me up early.  It worked pretty well.

It wasn’t until a year or so after getting my first phone that I realized that I could text.  I was playing on my phone waiting for my Art History class to start and I found the text message option.  I texted my sister asking when her knee surgery was.  Back then, I didn’t even know there was word prediction on my phone, so I typed the message out using the number keys.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but sending that message changed my life.  Because of my limited fine motor ability (I do everything on the computer on an enlarged keyboard with a keyguard using the last two fingers of my left hand), nobody ever thought I’d be able to text.

While I’m sure I did to some extent, I don’t remember texting nearly as much in college as I do today.  For me, it was definitely an access issue, but I also don’t remember texting being as popular it is today.  After graduating, when I moved back in with my parents, my dad figured out a way to mount my phone to my wheelchair.  Thankfully, he’s a pretty handy guy and used a footplate from an old wheelchair to create a phone mount that fits right by my joystick.  Needless to say, having my phone on my chair has changed my life! 

After my first phone, I went through two or three more button cell phones.  By then, touchscreen phones had become popular, but again because of my fine motor limitations and spasticity, nobody, including myself, thought I’d be able to use a touchscreen phone.  After realizing button cell phones were going to quickly become nonexistent, I began looking at my options.  After playing with other people’s phones, I surprisingly realized that I could maneuver touchscreen phones pretty well.  I’m now on my third touchscreen phone and I absolutely love it!  Somehow, I’m blessed with double-jointed thumb which I use to do everything on my phone with.  I don’t even use an enlarged keyboard!

Much like everyone else, having a smartphone has opened up a world of possibilities for me.  I do everything from emailing, to checking Facebook, to surfing the web, and playing Words with Friends on it.  I also text a lot.  Undoubtedly, most adults my age text, but, since I’m nonverbal, I use texting in place of talking to people on the phone.  I text if there’s an emergency; I text if I need help; I text if I have a question; and I text if I just want chat.  Friends and family know that’s the best way to get ahold of me.

Like most people, I have lots of different apps on my phone.  Everything from ESPN to The Weather Channel, I have the popular apps.  In addition, though, I have some apps that are unique to my circumstances.  One of the apps is an emergency app which just a simple text box that has basic information about me and tells about my disability and explains how to best communicable with me.  If I would get stranded somewhere, I could open the app and have people read how to help me.

The second app that really has made a huge difference for me is Proloquo2Go.  It’s the communication app that I’ve had on my iPad for a few years now.  I didn’t realize I could have the app (it’s a paid app) on more than one device until late last summer.  I was playing around on my phone, and I tried installing it.  I was so excited when it worked!  Although I still don’t use the app like I’m supposed to (I don’t do much programming unless I have a presentation or something), I still use it to spontaneously talk to people.  I type out what I want to say and it speaks.  It’s really cool because now I have a communication on my chair that I effectively use because it doesn’t get in my way!  Who would have ever thought that a regular touchscreen cell phone would be the answer?  I only wish we’d have discovered this years sooner!

Lastly, my parents got me a video doorbell for Christmas.  It’s kind of scary to think about, but for years I had been opening the door to my apartment without knowing who was door.  I have a power door and when the doorbell would ring, I’d press the opener on my chair to open it, but I wouldn’t know who was there.  Being nonverbal and in a wheelchair makes me pretty vulnerable—it’s just a fact of life.  This new doorbell works off my WiFi and when it rings, I get a video of who is there on my phone that--so I’m able to see who is at my door before I open it.  It’s really cool and makes me feel much safer!

So, for someone who didn’t think she’d be able to use a cell phone to now completing relying on one to help her live independently, I’m very thankful for the evolution of cell phones.  I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with technology; I’m excited to see what’s next! 

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