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Special-Needs Cell Phones

By Steve Wildstrom Q: Reader Isabel Gomes McCann writes: Regarding your article, "Cell Phones for the Sandlot", the market isn't as limited as you think. I have been looking for a cell phone for a family member who is mentally disabled. Most models on the market are just too complicated for her to use. She doesn't need "fun," she needs to reach her family (and vice versa) or local authorities in case of emergencies.

The simplified models are also great for older people who just want a basic phone when doing errands in case of an emergency and may get confused by all the buttons and menus on a regular cell.

I believe it's wrong to say everyone who would like a cell phone just wants to gab, text, or take photos on a whim. There are other more useful, basic reasons to get one. These easy-to-use phones are also great for the non-gabbers. I may pick up two or three for family members who just want peace of mind when out and about.

Additionally (another example and demographic), this would be very helpful for my dad who is 75 and has some eyesight problems -- particularly seeing very small buttons on cell phones. He sometimes feels unsafe driving longer distances and would love a preprogrammed phone with one button to hit to either call me or 911, if needed.

A: You make an excellent point -- one that quite frankly had just not occurred to me. In fact, it might well make sense for the makers of these phones to consider less kid-oriented versions aimed at special-needs markets.

A forthcoming product might also be of value. The Wheriphone by Wherify contains a GPS receiver and can report its position. I don't think this is a great idea for kids, in most circumstances. There are things parents think they want to know that they really don't, and where their children are every moment of the day is one of them. But again, there are situations where this information could be vital. Wildstrom is Technology & You columnist for BusinessWeek. You can contact him at

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