Retiring domain (and this blog)

I’ll be retiring the site and archiving this site, ideally on one of my other Dreamhost domains. Sadly I realized that there wasn’t really a large audience for the book I wanted to write. Specifically there was an audience of one person and it required a time machine so I could send the book back to in time to myself.

I can think of reasons for the lack of audience, but the core lesson is that completing this book would be significant work without anyone actually reading it. I’ll be focusing for now on the evolving “AI Guardian” development. Some content from this blog will be revised and republished in my general blog for parents, guardians and caregivers of persons with cognitive variants:

iPhone email failures – review Settings

Our #1 son had been doing well with email until recently. He thinks he’s sent an email but it’s gone missing. It took a while for him to be willing to have him watch him use the app. I think he may be accidentally hitting the unsend button — a relatively new feature of iOS

This led me to review Settings and simplify his email experience. I turned off threading, turned off various include/suggest features, and especially turned off the unsend feature. I made the app more or less the way it used to be. The “helpful” smart features and the new unsend feature are added complexity.

I also saw that his iPhone was using his iCloud account to send messages — which is not how I thought it was set. I changed it to use his gmail account to send.

The lesson of the story is that complexity creeps into all the apps our people use — and over time it can render an app unusable. It can be very hard to get help, especially if one used to be proud of the ability to do email. If you’re supporting someone with a cognitive disability you need to be thinking “check-settings-to-simplify” whenever a critical apps seems to have stopped working.

Now if only he’d let me observe how he uses the Music app …. (I think he may listen to Music he’s purchased by using the iTunes Store app. It can be done and it’s a much simpler interface in a way …)

Smartphone independence – getting more feedback

Do you know parents or guardians of adults or children with a cognitive disability who would like help with iPhone setup and getting the most value (and least harm) from an iPhone as a life aid?

I’m available to help with them with this – free of charge. I hope to get some real-world feedback to advance my stalled book project ( or identify a different approach to community needs (ex: screencasts)

Some sample topics:

1. Using Screen Time and Screen Time remote for different ages and abilities.

2. Location sharing, navigation and transit including Lyft/Uber.

3. Calendaring and shared calendars.

4. Memory aides: notes and reminders.

5. Managing risk: scams and attacks

6. Messaging and email

7. AirTag use to reduce lost items.

8. Managing Family Sharing purchases with adult family members (this is a hard problem).

9. Facebook management

10. Managing the lost or disabled iPhone

11. Credentials: managing passwords, which to use, managing two-factor authentication with delegation.

I can only do iPhones unfortunately. At this time I would be working with guardians or parents.

Contact me at:

Handling emergencies — the Emergency Note and managing phone loss

After a long COVID related pause I’m back working on my book on using iPhone technology to support spectrum and cognitive disability adults. Today’s chapter was about the “Emergency Note”.

One of the most important notes is the Emergency note — but I only got around to creating one after our Explorers became more independent and had to handle unexpected events on their own.

An emergency doesn’t have to be life-threatening or painful. For some Explorers it can be an unexpected change in routine. It may be a bus that doesn’t show up, or entering a Lyft address incorrectly and getting off at the wrong location. When stress and anxiety sets in an Explorer may lose the ability to think clearly; the emergency note should help reestablish confidence.

I created a shared note for our Explorers. They can edit it as well.

The core of our emergency note is a list of phone numbers to call. It starts with our numbers then extends to local numbers and long distance calls to relatives. For completeness we include 911, but also the local police department’s non-emergency number. The note advises self-identifying as “spectrum” or “special needs” when calling police. (Our local police department has an award-winning program for working with spectrum adults.)

Our note also has general advice on managing emergencies:

1. Find a safe place to problem solve.
2. On a hot day look for shade, on a cold day look for shelter.
3. Get as comfortable as you can. If there’s a coffee shop or restaurant nearby you might go inside and sit down. You can order a beverage.
4. Find out where you are at. You can see your location on Apple Maps. You can say “Hey Siri, where am I” and you will see your location and a map.
5. Start with Mom, then Dad, and then move down the list. When trying a number send a text and and also phone. If there’s no answer leave a voice message. In the message say where you are and what you need. If you think you’re phone might not work mention that.
6. If all else fails you can call SPPD non-emergency and get help from them.
7. If you call the police explain that you have autism.

There’s also a “planning ahead” section:

– Always carry some cash, an ID card, a credit card and written emergency instructions. It would be great to carry this separately from your phone in a slim wallet.
– What would you do if your phone was lost or stolen? Can you remember Mom and Dad number? Should you write down some numbers to keep in a card in a wallet separate from a phone? How would you make a phone call?
– If you don’t have phone you can go to a store and ask for help. You may have to try multiple places. Customer service at a larger store may help, you may need to speak with a manager. It helps if you can give them a number to call.

In a world where we are ever more dependent on our phones the hardest problem is loss of the phone. This can happen with battery failure or a lost or stolen phone. Once we memorized numbers and carried wallets, but now some Explorers are reluctant to carry anything but their phone and nobody remembers phone numbers very well. (We memorize passwords instead of phone numbers!)

Even if an Explorer is willing to carry an ID card or credit card they may be in a wallet attached to the phone. If the phone is stolen a phone wallet goes too. (Of course wallets can also be stolen.) At the time I write this we are still working this problem. Possible solutions include memorizing one or two phone numbers (this can be hard), carrying a wallet with a few printed numbers on it, carrying an ID tag, having numbers written on the back of a the tongue of shoe.

A smart watch can be part of a phone backup solution too.

Chapter section: Paying for a smartphone with an ABLE account

I need to start this section with a caveat. I have no professional expertise with Achieving a Better Life Experience (529A ABLE) accounts. My experience is limited to one Explorer has a Minnesota ABLE account. I’m writing what I believe to be true, but don’t cite me to the IRS if they question anything. If you have doubts please consult a local expert!

Now that you’ve been warned, this is what we believe.

Most Explorers who receive Social Security Income (SSI) have effective caps on how much they can save outside of an ABLE account. Saving money to buy an iPhone, for example, may push them over a savings limit. On the other hand, buying on an installment plan may be difficult or complex.

With an ABLE account they can save more money. Money in ABLE accounts can be spent without penalty on qualified expenses. The 2015 Federal Register 529A guidance says “expenses for common items such as smart phones could be considered qualified disability expenses if they are an effective and safe communication or navigation aid for a child with autism”.

For an Explorer who has an SSI savings limit an ABLE account can be a good way to purchase an iPhone and related accessories. I have not seen any documentation of how often an Explorer can use ABLE account money to purchase an iPhone or if ABLE money can be used for repairs or maintenance. We use our iPhones for 3-5 years unless a device is lost or broken.

Can an ABLE account be used to pay for a monthly mobile plan? IRS 27_IRB suggests it can: “Example. B, an individual, has a medically determined mental impairment that causes marked and severe limitations on her ability to navigate and communicate. A smart phone would enable B to navigate and communicate more safely and effectively, thereby helping her to maintain her independence and to improve her quality of life. Therefore, the expense of buying, using, and maintaining a smart phone that is used by B would be considered a qualified disability expense.”

Can an ABLE account be used to pay for Apple’s “new iPhone every year” iPhone Upgrade Program? How about buying a used iPhone? What about trading in an older iPhone for a new one? Purchasing Apple Care? Selling a used ABLE funded iPhone? Can an ABLE plan pay for an Explorer’s portion of a family mobile plan?

These are great questions … for a specialist tax accountant! I’ll have to leave them as open questions for now. I suspect doing a trade-in for a 2-3yo old ABLE purchased iPhone is safer than selling it. I think buying a used iPhone from a vendor would be fine, but I would not use ABLE money to buy a used iPhone from an individual.

For many if not most Explorers an ABLE plan seems to be the best way to pay for an Explorer’s iPhone and data plan.

iPhones for Explorers: Managing passwords

From a book chapter on managing Explorer passwords (credentials):

Every Explorer digital identity involves, at the least, a “name” for the Explorer and a password. Almost all involve an email address for communication, password resets and (alas) marketing. Most now require a mobile number.

Sometimes these things are called “credentials” but for simplicity I’ll refer to managing passwords. Just remember that there are “names” and other things that often go along with passwords.

These are the practices that I’ve followed for Explorer passwords used by iPhone Apps:

1. Every important digital identity needs a unique good-enough password. Reusing passwords is risky[1]. It should be something you can tap in by hand[2].

2. Use as few services as possible. Does your Explorer truly need yet another service and unique password? If an account is needed and the vendor offers “Sign in with Apple[3]” use that instead of creating a new password to store.

3. Explorers don’t need to know most passwords. You can’t be tricked into revealing a secret you don’t know, and iPhone apps will store the passwords most Explorer’s need.

4. Guides need a good way to manage passwords and other things associated with secure accounts.

That covers apps, but what about passwords for web sites? The good news is that these can mostly be avoided. Almost all web services worth having a password for also have an iOS app. If an Explorer does need web site credentials I recommend letting the iPhone take care of it. If iCloud Keychain is enabled (the default), then iOS includes an almost invisible password manager[4]. It records usernames and passwords entered for web sites and it will recall them as needed. If a new web site password is needed iOS will generate one and save it in the iOS password manager. You can read more about the iPhone’s built-in password manager in the security chapter of the iOS User Guide.

I think most Explorers will need less than a dozen important credentials stored for the services they personally use. In the next chapter I’ll talk about how a Guide can manage these.

- fn –

[1] For example, if you lose control of your iCloud password, and you reused that password with your bank, then you may lose your savings.
[2] I use on my Mac in “word” mode. You can also pick “randomly” from a dictionary and throw in some symbols and numbers. The strongest passwords are long random strings that are nearly impossible to type or tap.
[3] I don’t recommend using “Sign in with Facebook”, they are not a good partner for privacy or security. Sign in with Google is acceptable but of course it does require creating a Google account.
[4] The easiest way to see the interface is to say: “Hey Siri, show me my passwords”.

iPhones for all: Book chapter on configuring Explorer notifications

From the chapter on “Simplifying the iPhone”:

iPhone apps have many ways to get an Explorer’s attention. They can beep, flash[1], display red circles on icons, and show “banners”. Banners are text and images that can stay or fade, and they can appear over apps, on the notification screen, and on the lock screen.

Yes, that’s probably too many ways to get attention — and apps love attention. When many apps are installed they request every possible notification. It adds up to a clamor of distraction. Important notifications, like an incoming message or a Reminder notice, can be lost in the crowd.

Happily it’s not that hard to control distractions. Go to Settings:Notifications and turn “Show Previews” to Never (this will now be the default setting for every app).

Next, for every app listed in Settings:Notifications tap on the app name and toggle “Allow Notifications” to off.

Lastly scroll down to the bottom of Settings:Notifications and review “Government Alerts”. I recommend turning off the AMBER alerts for most Explorers. Emergency and Public Safety alerts[2] are rare, for some Explorers they are useful, for others they can be disabled.

Now you can relax and appreciate the peace and quiet for a moment.

Alas, we can’t do entirely without notifications. Exporers benefit from notifications from,,,, and among others. So for each of these you’ll turn Allow Notifications on and Notification Grouping to “Automatic” and Show Previews to “Never” (both should be default). 

Then, for each of these apps, turn everything off (No Lock Screen, No Notification Center[3]) except for what’s listed below:




Badges on.


Sounds and Badges on, Banners on and persistent.


Calendar is complicated!

For Invitations show Badges. For Upcoming Events Sounds on, Banners on and persistent. Everything else off!


Sounds and Badges on.


Sounds on.

[1] Flash notifications are enabled in accessibility and are designed for persons who do not hear well.

[2] Emergency alerts include tornado warnings, flash floods, and the like. Public Safety alerts are not well documented, I think they can be generated by police.

[3] Notification center is particularly confusing — for most Explorers keep it empty.

Historic event: Google expands “accessibility” to include cognitive disability

I’ve never seen anything like this from Microsoft, Apple, or Google — until today …

Action Blocks: one tap to make technology more accessible

we’ve been experimenting with how the Assistant and Android can work together to reduce the complexity of these tasks for people with cognitive disabilities…

… Googler Lorenzo Caggioni used the Assistant to build a device called DIVA for his brother Giovanni, who is legally blind, deaf and has Down Syndrome. DIVA makes people with disabilities more autonomous, helping them interact with the Assistant in a nonverbal way. With DIVA, Giovanni can watch his favorite shows and listen to his music on his own. ..

… Action Blocks is the first of our many efforts to empower people with cognitive disabilities, help them gain independence, connect with loved ones and engage in the world as they are. 

The product is still in the testing phase, and if you’re the caregiver or family member of someone with a cognitive disability that could benefit, please join our trusted tester program. Follow us @googleaccess to learn more.

I’ve been making noises for years that smartphone accessibility should go beyond hearing and vision to cognitive disabilities. The silence has been complete. I thought action would require litigation or regulation.

I’m so pleased Google is taking this step. They went first. Nobody can take that one away! I am disappointed that Apple has done nothing. Maybe Google’s lead will move them. I have many many ideas Apple is free to use.

My book project is about iPhones, not Android phones, but if we were using Android phones I’d sign up for that tester program.

Managing web access on iOS for Explorers (and for younger children)

My current thoughts on managing web access on an iPhone. I wish Apple gave us better options, I haven’t heard of any improvements coming with iOS 13. I don’t mention third party solutions — I tested those extensively years ago and decided they weren’t worth pursuing. That’s not a fault of the vendors, Apple needs to do more.

When it comes to giving parents and Guides web management tools Apple has left room for improvement.

My first recommendation for managing web access on the iPhone is to disable it completely! This seems extreme, but in practice most of the things we do on our iPhones are better done using an App rather than using Safari. In addition Apple’s other solutions, like “Limit Adult Websites” don’t work reliably.

To disable web access I recommend two measures, though in theory either would suffice. From Settings:Screen Time tap on “Content & Privacy Restrictions”, then tap on “Allowed Apps[1]” and toggle Safari off. On the same settings screen find “Content Restrictions”, tap on “Web Content” and set it to “Allowed websites only”.

For most Explorers that will suffice. Some Explorers, however, will discover that installing Chrome, or any of dozens of App Store browsers designed to circumvent Screen Time, will defeat these restrictions.

If there truly is a need to maintain restrictions then the next step is to remove all alternative browsers and either turn off the App Store or set an Apps age limit of 12+ (see Managing app installs). This is extreme, but I haven’t found anything else that works and is practical to maintain.

If an Explorer makes developmentally appropriate web content choices, and is not particularly vulnerable to exploitation, another approach is to accept Apple’s default settings and use Screen Time reports to monitor web sites visited. This requries configuring Screen Time to show web sites. I have more on that below.

I’ve not discussed Apple’s option to “Limit Adult Websites”. There’s no documentation on how Apple does this and in my experience it’s not reliable. There’s one circumstance it which it may be useful though. If an Explorer has a problem with a particular web site, and just wants help avoiding it, you can enable this feature and then block a particular site (ex: It’s easy to work around this kind of block, so this is for a mature Explorer who wants help avoiding a particular site. You will find this setting under Content Restrictions:Web Content.


Managing the apps an Explorer can add to their iPhone

This is my understanding of the iOS 12 options a Family Organizer can use to manage what apps a family member under 18 [1] can install:

IOS app installation control

Disallow install: Screen Time:Content & Privacy Restrictions:iTunes & App Store Purchases
Set age limit: Screen Time:Content & Privacy Restrictions:Content Restrictions and tap on Apps
Ask to buy: Organizer Apple ID:Family Sharing. For each family member under 18 enable “Ask to Buy”.

For now Guides supporting an Explorer’s application use will usually want to enable “Ask to Buy”. It doesn’t help much with managing App installation, but it’s important for managing expenses.

If an age limit works for an Explorer that’s a relatively effective option.

If an Explorer needs at least one adult app, but needs to avoid some of them, you can’t use the age limit method. A Guide has to disallow app installation, which hides App completely. In this case an Explorer cannot browse the App Store. This is not a great solution.

What we really need is an “Ask to install” in addition to “Ask to buy”, but what we have is Disallow install. I haven’t heard if iOS 13 is better.

– fn –

[1] At this time Guides of special needs adults need to set the adult’s Apple ID birthdate so their calculated age is 13-15 years old.