Maybe You Can Help Solve This Disability Challenge: Crowd-Sourcing My Independent Living

Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Peer Support | 3 comments

You may not have the answer to this puzzle, but you may be able to forward this accessibility question to someone who might network this with an expert who has the answer.

For about 40 years I have worked for human rights of people who are considered disabled, mainly mental health. About two years ago, I had a major fall and I am now a quad in a power chair. I have a few other disabilities as I will explain. My decades of activism and my current status as an extremely-disabled person teach me that I have to keep making a noise for my empowerment, or much of this society will ignore me.

My Accessibility Question

Two years ago, during my 10 weeks of rehab, one of the most difficult pieces was my communicating. The main expert in rehab meant well and was very skilled, but could not quite solve this.

Where can I find this particular type of equipment?

I need a very good microphone, the kind that reaches near my mouth and sits on my ear that you might see on a musician or a speaker in a TED Talk. This mic needs to be very powerful because my vocal cords are half-paralyzed and my speech is disabled.

This good mic needs to do three things, and ideally I would be able to easily toggle the mic between these three functions:

1. Accessing my iPhone. This mic would be able to connect to my iPhone so that I could send or receive cell phone calls, like a bluetooth with very good reception. Since I am a quad, there are some challenges with my hand reaching my ear to turn on such a bluetooth. However, my left hand can now reach up higher to my ear if I need to turn on an easy button on my bluetooth, or I can use a button on my chest to turn on a modified bluetooth.

My portable amp.

This is the portable amp that I use with my disabled voice to talk with people when there is any background noise.

2. Amplification. When I need to talk to someone with noise in the background, like when I am in my van, this microphone would be connected to a good portable amplifier. Currently, I use a portable amp that is very basic and a bit hard to hear, called the ChatterVox. While I appreciate what it has done for me, there must be better amps, with clearer output.

3. Computer. My pretty new and strong computer has a voice recognition program that many disabled people use to operate their system and change their speech to typing, called Dragon. But because my voice is so weak, I need a very good mic, or else such programs cannot understand me. The same thing applies to using Siri, Google voice recognition, etc.

Background: My Various Disabilities

Since about 1982, I have had a type arthritis that impacted my spine making it very difficult for me to turn my head. Called ankylosing spondylitis, I ended up with a fused spine for years and my doctor warned me that this is dangerous. Sure enough, as I tried to get my cat off a high loft, when I fell from the ladder, that was enough to break my neck.

Because of my pre-existing A.S., surgery had to be delayed for my back for about one month after my fall. During this delay, my lungs got strong enough for surgery but my vocal cords and my fingers became disabled. As someone who typed 110 words per minute, played improvisational piano for more than 50 years, and who has spoken in 14 countries, these extra disabilities have been daunting.

During rehab, the only thing that seemed to work for me to operate the computer was eye-scan technology, but this was a bit slow and exhausting. Therefore, I have utilized a human being to be my “mouse” the last two years for everything that I write. So I would much rather be able to operate the computer myself!

Can You Help Solve This Puzzle?

There you have it. For some phone calls I have used a basic Bluetooth device but the mic is pretty weak and this was only for calls. Then for talking to someone in front of me I have used another mic, but this has had a lot of distortion. Finally, for voice recognition on my computer, I have used a third microphone, but the quality has been low.

Four speech therapists have tried to help my quest for the correct technology, but have not been able to find the best devices, though we all suspect they are “out there.”


So can you point me to a device that could do all three functions? Maybe through my iPhone? Maybe Google Glass? Keeping in mind that I cannot move my head for that kind of signal?

If you would like to share your ideas you can post a comment here on my blog, or you can email me at or you can comment on my facebook page. As I said, even if you do not know the answer, maybe you can forward this question to someone who does know. Thanks for helping me make a noise!



  1. Hi David,

    Tricky puzzle. I’m not sure how to solve it entirely, but this splitter might come in handy –

    At least it would let you plug the same mic into both the amp and the phone.

    I personally like the headphones w/ mics (Bose makes high-end, noise canceling model), which work with my computer and phone, but not sure about the amp.

    TED uses this brand of mic – – but, I think the challenge here will be interoperability and easy switching.

    I also really like the portable bluetooth speakers, but I don’t know if any of them can work as an amp –,2817,2417433,00.asp

    It really might be worth talking to a musician or visiting a music store – they have some crazy gear I’m not very familiar with –

    I’ll let you know if I have any more ideas.

    mad love,

  2. David, I shared your post with my nephew Steve, who’s into electronics, and he shared the following:

    As for toggling between different functions/inputs, I’m not sure. But as for a microphone for someone with severely impaired vocals, maybe a laryngophone?

    I’ve actually never seen one of these in person but was just reading about them the other day. It uses a contact microphone, which is a microphone which picks up the physical vibrations of the object its attached to and not sound waves in the air. If you press it up against your throat you pick up those vibrations going from your vocal chords through your throat and out your mouth while not picking up the noises going on in your environment. They use these in the military to allow people to communicate in soft voices in noisy environments.

    I think the laryngophone is simply a contact microphone with an apparatus made to comfortably hold the thing to your throat. I know for sure if you hold a contact mic up to your throat you can hear your own quiet, breathy whispers surprisingly clearly and vividly.

    I hope this is helpful…

  3. If anyone would have the answer, it would be Roxie Mayfield. You probably know her but if not, I will connect you.