Tecla

The Komodolabs Tecla Shield connects your smartphone to your wheelchair or adaptive switch.

What is the Tecla Shield?

It works really quite well, I’ve got to say.

I’ve brought this review over from https://robotsandcake.org/blog as it seems useful and pertinent.

The Tecla Shield hooks you into your iPhone, iPad, Android device or computer via buddy buttons or your wheelchair, I know great right?! I’ve got one plugged into the chin controller on my Permobil M400 wheelchair, and it connects that controller to Apple’s iOS Switch Control interface. You can just plug a Buddy Button straight in as well if you like - you don’t just have to use it with your wheelchair. It works really quite well, I’ve got to say. On my previous chair I had the iPortal from Dynamic Controls, which accesses Assistive Touch on iOS and gives you a cursor on your screen, which is not possible with the Tecla; on reflection, as the iOS Switch Interface has been so well developed since then so I don’t feel any loss for using the scanning cursor interaction over the mouse mover. Full disclosure guys, I was sent this device to test but it wasn’t sent to me in exchange for a positive review. I don’t think the Tecla guys roll that way!

The Tecla Shield is developed by the Komodo OpenLab in Toronto, Canada. Their blurb runs thus:

Tecla gives access to iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices to […] anyone who, due to disease or disability, finds it difficult to use a touch-screen. The Tecla Shield allows you to explore the Home screen and launch applications just like anybody else. You can also navigate and interact with the built-in apps on iOS® or Android™ devices to take photographs, listen to music, browse the internet, make phone calls and watch videos. With the Tecla Shield, you will also be able to access the on-screen keyboard to compose e-mails and messagest…)


What can you do with the Tecla shield?

every function of the operating system is accessible to the disabled user

With the Tecla Shield you can control every aspect of iOS. To be clear: every function of the operating system is accessible to the disabled user, which is huge. So making and receiving calls, listening to music and audiobooks, posting to Facebook and Twitter; any and all of these can be done using the Tecla Shield. This makes it so much easier to keep up with the important goings-on over at @inventabilitwit. :-) The Tecla Shield and iOS Switch Control is possibly the best solution for using a mobile phone for those of us with motor function problems in the world today, I certainly haven’t come across anything even remotely comparable.

Another killer feature for me is that you can do everything with just one switch. I have control of my head and limited control of my right index finger, so in my wheelchair I can use a number of different inputs like a chin controller, single switch or both. But out of the chair - and I’m out of the chair for large blocks of the day at the moment - I really just have one switch. I can’t move my finger between two buttons so that one switch has to give me full access to every function. Using just one buddy button and the Tecla Shield I have full access to my iPad and iPhone whilst lay in bed.

I’d mention again as well that it’s great that you can manually unhook the Tecla really easily (it’s just a serial cable) from your chair and use it with a button. It’s much less great that it’s a pain to pair the Bluetooth with another device. If you have, say, an iPhone you use with your chair and an iPad you use in bed, you’re going to need an able-bodied person to unpair from the iPhone and then connect to the iPad via Bluetooth for you. It would be awesome if it could be connected to two devices at once. It’s also been my experience that if the able-bodied person isn’t technically minded, they quickly get frustrated and give up trying to do the reconnection at all. I have NO IDEA why people do this, but it’s a common enough reaction amongst carers that it’s definitely worth mentioning.

Another niggle is that you can’t power the device directly from your wheelchair, so you’ll have to get someone to unscrew it every few days and charge it overnight. It has a 90 hour battery life but that goes by much quicker than you would imagine. Considering I’m sitting on what is essentially a couple of car batteries, this seems like it could be designed out. One solution is to always have one of these external battery packs charged up and ready to go, that way if you’re caught short and your Tecla shield dies you can simply plug in this external battery pack and be on your merry way. But still, it would be great if we could power it from the chair.


What is iOS switch control?

Usually the accessibility options for touch devices are subsetted, limited options

If you haven’t used a newer iDevice, you might be wondering what the hell iOS Switch Control even is. It came in with iOS7 and it was pretty revolutionary for quadriplegics and other people with limited motor skills. I was lucky enough to be on the beta test (with an iPhone5) so I got a great chance to bash around before it came out and what made this software stand out is that you get full use of the device. That was unprecedented and made it possible for me to really move forward and design my smart home around my phone, using it as the controller for everything from the heating to the curtains (I will cover more of this in another post). Usually the accessibility options for touch devices are subsetted, limited options that might give you phone access and a few global preferences. You don’t normally get the keys to the kingdom! Access to touch-interface devices (smartphones and tablets) for people who can’t touch things is probably a harder problem than access for deaf or blind people, so we tend to be last in the development path, if we are there at all. Cheers Apple!

So with iOS Switch Control you can use every function of the phone, with a well-thought-out modal menu interface. It’s an excellent little overlay, which pops up when activated by your accessibility switch which in this case is the Tecla Shield. I’ll do a longer post on this another time.


Can I connect the Tecla Shield to a wheelchair?

The only requirement for the Tecla Shield to work with your wheelchair controls really is that it has an Environmental Control Unit. The folks at Tecla say they haven’t found an ECU that hasn’t worked with the Tecla shield so far. I didn’t have one on my Permobil M400, but once I had it added to the chair, setup was an absolute breeze.

Next you will need a DB9 Serial Cable, which is just called the Wheelchair Cable in the Komodo store. This connects the ECU to your Tecla Shield. I keep the ECU, cable and Tecla in a small backpack on my wheelchair and it keeps everything nicely out of the way, yet accessible if I want to unhook it. I tried out the wheelchair clamp mount from Komodo but honestly I was afraid of getting it wet, smashing it inadvertently when driving backwards – it just didn’t seem that secure or useful a mount to me, so I’d say just shove it in your backpack. If you don’t have one, I’d further say: get a wheelchair backpack! The last part is your normal wheelchair controls; this will vary massively depending on how you control your chair. I use the Compact Joystick Chin Controller. It sits on an swing-away arm directly under my chin. But you can hook this up to a headrest array or any specialist interface such as sip and puff controls.


What do I think of the Tecla shield?

if you’re quadriplegic you should get one

I seriously couldn’t imagine my life without it right now. I’m using it to: make phone calls, keep up with meetings while I’m temporarily stuck in bed (via Facetime on the iPad), listen to audiobooks in the park under the trees, and do, well, everything that everybody else does with their mobile phones all the time. (Including spending far too much time on Twitter.) I’ve got to say it’s superior to the iPortal from Dynamics, which was pretty revolutionary itself at the time. It can’t hurt that the Tecla costs £225, compared to the £1125 I ended up spending on the iPortal (that could not then be ported to my new chair, obviously, ouch). So I’m (fairly) unreservedly recommending it. In short, if you’re quadriplegic and want to control your iPhone you should get one of these.