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Look, Ma, I’m Driving My Cell Phone With No Hands

First, a question

Can you have a little MS or a lot of MS?

I don’t know about describing our disease like that. But if we were to adopt such terminology, I wouldn’t hesitate to say I have a lot of MS, or a boatload of MS, or even MS up the ying yang. I can’t use my legs or my left hand, and my right hand is just hanging on (in terms of function, not in terms of connective tissue). Because of these limitations, I regularly scour the earth in search of new technologies that will keep me in the game.

It started with Google

Three years ago, Google came out with an adaptive voice control feature called Voice Access for its Android smartphone operating system. Granted, the iPhone’s Siri and Android’s Google Assistant allow for some voice control, but neither of them provides a hands-free experience.

For the past three years, I have enjoyed Voice Access. It’s better than nothing, but it was never right. Google released it in beta form for the first two years, meaning that it was acknowledged to be incomplete. Sometimes I could open an application and successfully maneuver within it. Many times I could only open the application but not operate it with my voice. Often I could open an application but not swipe up or down, left or right.

About a year ago, Google removed the beta designation, but they didn’t improve the program significantly. In fact, for reasons which I won’t bore you with here, it worked less well once it emerged from beta. It’s as if Google released its beta version of Voice Access and then disbanded the development team before finishing the job.

iPhone users and Android phone users tend to exhibit brand loyalty. Not me. Most smartphone functions are similar enough that all I care about is a phone’s voice control capabilities. Even though I used an Android phone for the past three years, I always said I would switch in a heartbeat if Apple came out with something better.

They did, or technically, they will. Stay with me.

Apple gives it a try

Recently, Apple announced that their next revision of the iPhone operating system, known as iOS 13, would include something called Voice Control. They provided this video teaser:

Shortly after this announcement, Apple released a beta version of iOS 13. An official release of iOS 13 is expected in the fall. A couple of weeks ago, I begged Kim to allow me to upload iOS 13 beta onto her iPhone. I experimented with Voice Control and fell in love. Apple had addressed most of the shortcomings of the Android program. Three days later, I traded in my Android phone for a new iPhone, and I uploaded iOS 13 beta.

A normal person would have waited for the official release in the fall, but I’m not a normal person. I’m a person with oodles of MS who is on a mission to stay engaged in life, and I have no patience in these matters.

Both Android’s Voice Access and Apple’s Voice Control make use of one similar strategy. When activated, they assign a number to every “touchable” item on the phone’s screen, updating for each page visited. The user speaks the appropriate number, and it’s as if you touched the screen at that location with your finger. The problem is that with Android, this only works well for native functions, not for aftermarket apps. The same is true for the iPhone’s Voice Control, but they came up with a second strategy. The user can request a gridwork of lines to overlay the screen then speak the number in the center of a grid nearest where the touchable point is. This gives total control to every application that I’ve tried on my phone, and I have a lot of applications. Furthermore, I haven’t found a program yet where swiping and scrolling doesn’t work on my iPhone, whereas many of the aftermarket programs were un-swipeable and un-scrollable with Android.

I could go on, but I’ll save my most detailed review for after iOS 13 emerges from beta status, again, probably in the fall. I can state with certainty, however, that Voice Control not only exceeds Voice Access in functionality, but it provides the first truly hands-free, voice-activated operation of a smartphone.

Yes, I realize that MS can affect a person’s voice. For those folks, sadly, Voice Control won’t be an option.

But what if Android didn’t really disband their product development team?

Am I worried that Android may come out with yet a better version of Voice Access in the near future? I should be so lucky. Let there be a battle among the behemoths to see who can outdo the other in terms of voice accessibility. I might have to switch technologies multiple times, but that would be a good problem to have.

Remember, there is no room for brand loyalty when you’re disabled.

Watch this space for updates.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • JillBoyd
    4 months ago

    Hi Mitch!
    Great information about voice controlled devices. I wonder if you have experience with home devices like Alexa or Google home?
    I work part time, take care of two school aged children, run my household and volunteer my time several places. I have a severe drop foot and my left hand doesn’t do much for me anymore. I am still walking (though very slowly and not very far) and driving, I’m beginning to see the benefit of these voice controlled options. Any experience you could share would be helpful.

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    3 months ago


    Yes, I have extensive experience with Alexa. She is the interface I have for all of my voice activated smart home devices like lights, shades, TV, etc. I also use her for streaming music, setting alarms, asking silly questions to, and building a grocery shopping list. I think Google home has similar functions, but I have not used that one is much.

    I suggest you get one, or 5 like I have 🙂

  • SueWho?
    4 months ago

    Hi Mitch! What a timely, well detailed article. My sister just bought me an Apple laptop this weekend. I’ve historically been an HP user so there’s going to be a learning curve. I’m still learning about my iPhone XR the same sister got me for Christmas. I was one of the few remaining Blackberry users. In the past 12 years I found the raised keyboard on the Blackberry easier to use as the function in my hands slowly deteriorated. Now I need the voice assist for my phone and greatly look forward to this fall iOS 13 roll out. I so appreciate the information.

    Similar to you, I have a boatload of MS, up the ying ya (not quite a full yang yet). I have about 10% use of my dominant right hand in a good moment and about 80% use of my left hand. After 3 & 1/2 years of a significant left leg drag I became paraplegic in 2010. I also have the seldom spoken of abdominal trifecta: Baclofen Pump, suprapubic catheter and a colostomy. I was a registered nurse so I suppose I’m more at ease speaking about the trifecta than most.

    I try my best to live in the moment and to find my joy on a daily basis but considering the progression of my MS I can’t help but contemplate future care considerations as I live alone. I’m curious if you or any of your readers are aware of any creative solutions with long term care at home. Like most, I do not want to go to a nursing home in my 50’s. I also have a very limited income to pay for health care providers and only traditional Medicare insurance.

    I’ve now read three of your articles. I really like your writing style. I bought your book from Amazon for my Kindle tonight and look forward to reading it. Thanks for representing the boatload MS-ers (somedays it feels like the Titanic)!

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    4 months ago


    Thank you so much for stopping by to leave your comments. So far I’ve been able to keep tubes out of my abdomen. It’s strange that nothing works all around my bladder and bowels, but yet my bladder and bowels keep doing their thing. I’m currently trying a cannabis regimen to supplement my baclofen while I try to avoid a baclofen pump.

    I’m currently working with a group of people trying to come up with innovative ways to provide housing for mobility impaired people, rather than warehousing us in senior living. Here’s a link to our website. Maybe there’s something like this near where you live?

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my essays. I hope you feel the same way about the book.

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