ROAD WARRIOR: Mobile Technology Helps Everyone

Vol. 31 No. 2

By

Jeffrey Allen (www.jallenlawtekblog.com) is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen in Oakland, California, Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport, and a member of the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal and Experience magazine.

iPadAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 50 million Americans live with at least one disability (cdc.gov/features/disabilities). We all know that some disabilities take a greater toll than others on those who have them, but all of them make things more difficult. Some disabilities are relatively easily correctable, often using mobile technology to effect the correction. Others, while not correctible, may have effects that can be mitigated by the use of mobile technologies.

Although we don’t generally think of age as a disability in the same way that we view other conditions, we do recognize that it often imposes physical and mental limitations on people. These limitations include things that we regularly perceive as disabilities, such as impairment of vision, hearing, memory, and mobility, almost all of which will affect most of us as we age. Some people may never suffer from such limiting conditions, but the advancements that make things better for those who do can also benefit those who don’t. Accordingly, advances in mobile technology that can mitigate these conditions have direct and personal significance to all of us.

I will use the rest of this column to share a few of the tricks I have picked up over the years. Some of the things I am going to talk about may seem relatively simple; but the fact remains that they all can make a difference to your practice and to your life in general. Many of these tips will help those with some form of limitation or disability as well as those who are not so impaired.

Vision

One of the things I have found very interesting is that most of us do not hesitate to wear glasses as a result of impaired vision. Often those of us who have reached middle age develop presbyopia—also known as “middle-aged vision,” when you discover that your arms no longer reach far enough in front of you to allow you to read comfortably. We think nothing of getting glasses to fix the problem.

For those of you who occasionally find you have forgotten your glasses and cannot read small print (or who have found print so small that you cannot read it even with your reading glasses), smartphones and tablets can provide a nifty solution. Depending on the device(s) you have, you may find an application that functions as a magnifier to make the small print more readable (I have had one on my iPhone for the last couple of years). It uses the phone’s camera to assist you in reading the small print. If you do not have such an application, you can still use the camera to help read small print. Simply take a picture of the print and, assuming that your device allows you to zoom in on the image after recording it (as most do), you can expand the print to the point of readability. I have found this especially useful for reading the incredibly small print that electronics manufacturers often use for serial numbers or IMEI numbers that they actually expect people to read.

Another helpful trick takes you into the settings of your devices to choose a more easily readable font or to adjust the font size or to display everything in bold type. An option becoming more and more available is to interact verbally with the device, giving it instructions and getting responses or even having it read text to you aloud. This option can be very helpful if you have some privacy—or a set of earphones—but be careful about using it to read messages in public places. Some of the newer cars also have the ability to connect to your phone via Bluetooth and read text messages or e-mails to you as well. You can also often set a mobile phone or tablet to speak directions to you as you walk or drive, making it easier to navigate.

Other options may be as simple as getting a device with a larger screen to handle e-mail and other text-based tasks. Some smartphones have noticeably larger screens than others. Another possible solution would move you from a phone to a small tablet (or a larger tablet).

Hearing

As we get older, many of us will develop hearing loss. In most cases, the loss is not disabling, but it can significantly impact your personal life as well as your professional activities—particularly for trial attorneys. Hearing loss can lead to misunderstanding statements made by judges, witnesses, or other attorneys, as well as your client. Nevertheless, most people find it more of a psychological hurdle to use a hearing aid than to use glasses. Hearing aids have become very unobtrusive in recent years, however, and in many cases they are virtually undetectable. Unfortunately, the smaller and more difficult to detect hearing aids generally cost much more than the larger ones and often are not covered by medical insurance.

People who have relatively minor hearing loss can mitigate or sometimes solve the problem by acquiring high-grade non-prescription sound amplifiers, some of which are very diminutive in size. Generally lacking the level of adjustability of a prescription hearing aid, non-prescription sound amplifiers are not suitable for correction of serious hearing losses. For those who have a relatively minor hearing impairment, however, they may prove just the thing, at a fraction of the cost of prescription hearing aids.

A word of warning, however: You may find that very cheap hearing amplifiers do not work very well. If you want a good set of non-prescription hearing amplifiers, you should plan on spending between $500 and $1,000. While that may sound like a lot, it represents a fraction of the cost of the newer, better, more diminutive digital hearing aids (which can cost several thousand dollars for a pair). As with prescription hearing aids, the smaller and less obvious hearing amplifiers generally cost more than the larger ones. Vanity does have its costs. Oh, and one other thing: Having the amplifiers or hearing aids doesn’t help a bit if you refuse to wear them.

Memory

If you use appropriate care to protect information, you can employ mobile devices to facilitate remembering the access codes, passwords, and other log-in information required to access numerous accounts. While this may prove more important for older people whose minds have grown so crowded with information accumulated over the years that they sometimes find it difficult to locate a particular piece of information when they need it, the simple fact is that the more accounts we need to access and the more passwords and log-in sequences we create for those accounts, the harder it is for even the young to remember them all.

An easy (but terribly bad) fix is to use the same access information for multiple accounts. That approach greatly increases your vulnerability to the bad guys. Using your mobile devices to store and even create passwords for various accounts makes for a much better solution, particularly if you remember to password-protect the program that has that information and to password-protect your device.

Many of the password programs available will synchronize the information across multiple devices, making it readily available to you wherever you are and on whatever device you happen to have at your disposal at any given time. For those of you who shop online, many of these programs can also securely store credit card information for you.

Mobility

When I was younger, I thought nothing of schlepping luggage and briefcases without wheels (in those days wheeled cases were still relatively rare). As I got older, this luggage somehow seemed heavier, and I discovered good reason for acquiring wheeled cases (both suitcases and briefcases). Although I often still carry a briefcase over my shoulder, when I travel I usually use a wheeled case. Why? Because it is easier. Why put more strain on your back than you need to? Be nice to your body in your youth, and it may stay in good shape longer.

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