Monday, February 01, 2016

Smartphone for All: Examples of using Apple or Google to extend memory and independence

A Smartphone for All: book excerpt, from a chapter on using Notes. 

This post has been updated with some excellent additions by Deb T. In addition to being a part of the book, it also illustrates how complex a special needs adults independent living really is.


Whether an Explorer is following the Apple Way or the Google Way their notes will look very similar. They’ll typically start with a handful of Notes created by a Guide, but the number will grow over time. Some Explorers will add their own Notes. 

Most Explorers will prefer to browse Notes rather than search for them. Typically Notes will be ordered by the date they were last changed with the most recently changed Notes at the top. The first line of a Note will typically show as the Note title, so make it descriptive.

If an Explorer is using the Search ability they are probably also creating and editing their own Notes. When using this function it’s helpful to put likely search terms in the note, perhaps as a list of words at the button of a Note.

Notes can be organized into named collections called “Folders” in Apple or organized by “Labels” in Google This adds complexity however and should only be considered if an Explorer has more than 50 notes and really dislikes using Search.

There are many ways to use Notes to extend an Explorer’s memory. The following table gives a few examples taken from real world experience; this table also shows how complicated an Explorer’s routine can be.

Many of these Notes hold non-sensitive or public information, but some require that both the Explorer’s smartphone and Cloud information are truly secure. We reviewed this in Setting up an Explorer’s Smartphone including an encrypted smartphone, long letter-number smartphone unlock codes, fingerprint identification, a responsible Explorer, short timeout auto-lock, and a strong Cloud password.  Some low end Android phones may not be encrypted, don’t put confidential information into Google Keep on those devices. In the table below items that require a secure device are italicized.


Note Title

What’s in the Note

Banking information

Bank account information, how to make deposits or withdraw money or find balance, ATM PIN code if Explorer has difficulty remembering it, numbers to call for a lost or stolen credit card.


Bike maintenance advice, serial numbers, what to do if lost or stolen.


Notes about when bills are due, how to pay, wise limited on spending.

Church, Temple, etc

Names of religious leadership, times of services, people who are part of religious life, social events coming up.

Clothing sizes

Sizes for clothes, boots, shoes.

Combination locks, PINs and passcodes

We all have too many of these. A single Note is a good way to hold them all, but of course this requires a secure smartphone and a secure Cloud.


Important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries. (Duplicates what’s on the Calendar, but often useful to have separately.)

Emergency Information

Who to contact in case of an emergency. This is not the Emergency information that’s part of Apple Health.

Family photos 

How to view family photo shares.

Financial worker

For many Explorers the Financial Worker (benefits admistration) is separate from the Social Worker and there are different procedures to follow. Some Explorers will want Notes combined, others will like separate notes.

Fun stuff

Notes to support local recreation, leisure and fun activities; a helpful resource for independent time scheduling. An Explorer or Guide may use this Note when working on the Calendar. For example: movie theater, pizza and sub delivery, church, etc. Gym information might go here instead of the Gym Note.

Gym information

Open hours, class schedule


Apartment/group home details including contact numbers (also in Contacts), look out procedure, how to request maintenance, how to work with the rental office.

Library information

Schedule, library card number, WiFi procedure.

Medical history, dental and health insurance numbers

To share with caregivers, particularly in an emergency. Includes major medical problems, current medication, providers, people to contact, insurance numbers.


Names and addresses of neighbors, particularly for Explorers who have difficulty remembering names or matching names to people. This may duplicate what’s in (address book) but is helpful to have separately.

Passwords and credentials

Username, passwords, web site address (URL), “Secret questions” with the answers used.

Relatives and special people

Names and birthdays of extended family and special family friends. May be combined with Neighbors.

Residential program manager/staff contacts

Some of these will also be in Contacts, but this is important information for many Explorers. It deserves a separate Note.

Smartphone tips and how to

Basic smartphone tips. If appropriate for Explorer a reminder of how to find the smartphone manual (example: iBooks).

Social worker

Name of social worker and how to work with them, particularly around bus and transit services. The Transit Note might refer here, and the Social worker information might also be in Contacts.

Social Security and Disability Information

Contacts and details, spending limits and reporting requirements.  Date of next follow-up (this would also go in the Calendar).

Sports teams and social group

For each sports teams and social group useful information such as link to team calendar, names and numbers of coaches and players.

Staff and aides

Names of support staff and contact information. This will also be in


Guides to transit including bus pass information if applicable. Reminder of how to use a transit app to get bus information. 

Travel and packing

Packing and travel advice for a short trip.

Web addresses

Generally web addresses will be part of other Notes or they’ll show up on the Credentials page, but in some cases it’s useful to have a short separate list.

WiFi locations and WiFi passwords

Explorers need WiFi to backup their smartphones or download new apps, but they may not have WiFi at home. In some cases it may be useful to list locations and passwords, such as Coffee shops or the Apple Store. Library WiFi information may go here or in the Library Note.

Work and work training program.

Supervisor and care manager and any work requirements or procedures including transportation arrangements.


This is a long list, but the the more independent an Explorer is the more their Notes collection will grow. A Guide should start with 4-5 Notes then work with an Explorer to build out the Notes collection.  Many Notes may begin as information sent in an Email; very few Explorers will search email for reference information.

Some Note content overlaps with Calendar and Contacts. A moderate amount of duplication is needed, but too much becomes a maintenance burden. The appropriate location will vary by Explorer, but the Calendar is particularly important.

Most Explorers will learn to update and manage their Notes; that is a great life skill to encourage. Managing Notes includes deleting obsolete Notes, a Guide will want to make Notes review, including deleting obsolete Notes, a part of their scheduled weekly Explorer support time.

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