What’s the easiest way to video chat with my special needs brother?

I have a brother that lives in a group home that I’d like to be able to video chat with whenever he feels like it. I’d like to avoid having to get the staff at the home involved when he wants to talk.

I’m not sure how to describe his level of functioning. He can run fairly simple devices to TVs, DVD players and even a VCR. He doesn’t have the dexterity to use a smart phone, nor can he read.

Is there any easy-to-use device available that could be put on their WiFi that would allow us to chat on my iPhone? I’m a database programmer by trade, would building something with Raspberry Pi be doable for someone that writes SQL all day?

Thanks in advance. If a moderator believes that this should be moved to IMHO or MPSIMS, I’m fine with that.

The first thing that pops into my head is a ruggedized Android tablet designed for small children, like a LeapFrog. It does have a webcam and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s got an easy-to-use video chat app. I didn’t dig too much.

In a worst-case scenario, I bet you could design your own app* that’s just a big red button that launches Skype (or whatever) and automatically calls you.

*In my brain all ‘computer stuff’ is identical and interchangeable, so maybe you couldn’t.

IMO one of the biggest dexterity problems with smart phones is also a problem with most tablets - the “On” switch is very small and difficult to use. Is that solved in the models you’re thinking of?

The Nabi tablet has big icons for clumsy fingers. My grandkids have been using them for awhile. It seems easy for them. I suppose they have cameras in them.

Same question - does it keep the same tiny fiddly “On” switch that most phones and tablets have?

Most of those are push button switches – push on, push off.

So, when working with an agency for the blind, I saw one that had been modified by taking a bigger rubberized plastic mushroom shape onto the “tiny fiddly “On” switch”. It stuck out about an inch from the case, so made the machine a bit harder to transport, but it seemed to work well for the blind user.

Maybe something like that would work for your brother?

That would seem odd for I, a sighted person, have more than once grabbed my Android in a completely dark room and easily oriented right so I could find the on button. I have also played with braille materials and been unable to distinguish easily one dot, two dots, three dots in a triangle(?) passing under my fingertips, a discernment braille readers make much faster and easier than I.

Perhaps it was intended for someone who is not only blind, but has motor issues of some sort?

Yes, both vision loss & peripheral nephropathy as a result of diabetes (plus old age).

A homebuilt device is going to be less sturdy and more fiddly than any mass-market device. You would have to think of and predict every likely scenario and ensure your program accounts for them, or endure a painful trial-and-error phase. I don’t know about your brother, but most people I’ve met or heard about with any sort of mental difficulty handle frustration very poorly (i.e. are prone to tantrums).

I think J. Bravo is on the right track in looking at tablets designed for small children, combined with a launcher (i.e. the home screen and main interface of a smart device), and virtual keyboard designed for people with motor difficulties. If you can’t find one, you could probably put something similar together using an app like Tasker*.

What kind of motor difficulty are we talking about? Is this a lack fine motor control that could be solved with a larger screen and buttons (possibly a laptop with a touch screen)? small jitters (think nervous, or some elderly people)? Large uncontrollable movements like Josh Blue**?

*Tasker is an automation app that also lets you design an interface and attach actions (e.g. launching a video-chat app) to parts of that interface or, possibly, even gestures like swiping from left-to-right.
** here’s a youtube clip of Josh Blue doing standup. Are you related to Josh Blue? starts dialing TMZ

Is voice control an option? There are a number of ways to rig up calling with voice commands.

How about an Echo Spot or Show? Both can do video calls with other Echo devices or the Alexa App on a cellphone or tablet.

Only caution would be to set his up with a spare cellphone with a limited set of contacts. If you set it up with your phone, your brother could make calls to everyone in your address book.

I’d really prefer an “all WiFi” solution so that I don’t end up on the hook for data charges. Also, a phone might be more likely to walk away or get lost.

I’ll look into the Nabli line of tablets. I’ve never heard of them but they look promising.

Echo devices (Alexa smart speakers with screens) are WiFi devices exclusively.

They are linked to a single Amazon account (yours in this case). For onetime setup purposes only, you need to upload a contacts list from a phone. After that, a phone is not required.

The Alexa app on your phone or your Echo device could be called by your brother by saying ‘Call Nars’. Any other person in your contacts can be called in the same way. If you want to keep your brother from calling your boss Bob, you need to use a contacts list without your Bob. Otherwise your brother could say ‘Call Bob’.

Ok. Thanks for the clarification.

My other concern is with the voice recognition. He’s easy to understand if you’ve been around him but I don’t know if “Hey Alexa, call Nars” would be recognizable to the device.

I can’t say either but it is a smart device and learns voices with a bit of training. Amazon seems pretty active in having this device be an assistive technology. Other than poor handling of contacts (IMO), it has been a godsend to my visually impaired mother. She uses an Echo for all of her phone calls, even though she can no longer see to dial.

This is what I was thinking of as the first option. I know there are other options, but this one seems like the easiest.