How We Use our Cell Phones in Our Family and Why We Need Them

[Black woman stares down at phone in hand knowing she is being judged for using cell phone but she is lost in her world, because she is using the cell phone as an accommodation for her learning disability.]

In our family, cell phones are a necessary part of life and how I manage the household. They work in tandem with organizers, several different types of calendars and different types of planners. Because of fibromyalgia and chronic pain that affects the pre-frontal cortex, the area associated with memory, my memory and cognitive difficulties are worse on some days than others. Some days I might have to look up each and every word for a sentence that I want to use. Apps on my cell phone like dictionaries and quick searches are life savers that folks without these disabilities simply do not understand.

I have a super rock star immune system that thinks everything I encounter is an allergen or a potential virus so I get sick a lot and have to pace myself in our activities. If I do something like go hiking for a few hours or overextend myself, I take days to recover. I also have a daughter who has a disability and receives speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy several times a week. Every six months we travel five hours to Houston to see specialists because of an episode of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, a neurological disease that causes sudden, widespread attack of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that left other disorders that affect speech, vision and emotional processing. Follow up appointments include visits to the cardiologist, kidney specialist and neurosurgeon. We communicate with each other, provide support and reminders to each other as a family because of our varied disabilities with the use of technology and cell phones are interconnected in our lives in ways that folks without disabilities do not understand and cannot understand.

A photo of a Black women texting, with a cell phone in her hand. Above her phone, there is the word “Hii”. Like this person, the writer of this essay, also prefers texting or emails as the preferred method of communication because of intense social anxiety. Missed social cues-even in language!-also means when someone says jump in the lake or forget about xyz “stop texting me forever” the writer will take it literally.

I have dyscalculia, a learning disability — think dyslexia but with numbers instead of words — I use my cell phone for everything to telling time and the how long time has passed to letting me know where exactly I am. Dyscalculia is more than the math version of dyslexia, meaning even if you through a calculator at me, it will manifest in other ways. I have difficulty keeping track of time, recalling schedules and keeping track of events. I constantly check my phone to see how long I’m taking to complete a task. People with dyscalculia have poor sense of direction, poor athletic coordination, (I am very clumsy), difficulty keeping up with fast changing directions, remembering rules for sports or score (I don’t understand sports at all). People with this learning disablity can’t “picture” abstract concepts like time and directions in our heads, but thankfully, if you want to look at it like that, we have good language acquisition and are creative.

I often can’t tell if 15 minutes have gone by or an hour. The way I explain to my kids is that I don’t have an internal sensor that alerts me to the passage of time, so I always late.

Another area that many children and adults with a math learning disability encounter is not being able to get directions right. I can’t picture layouts or geographical locations in relation to states, countries or even street grids in my head. I constantly got lost on campus when I was an undergrad. I had to memorize paths and not deviate or I’d get thrown off track. Often I’d have to go back to point A to remember how to get to point B or C — other buildings or a quick stop at the campus library meant getting lost on a campus and having to retrace my steps. I remember a time when cell phones weren’t equipped with a map system. Now, with my cell phone and a backup GPS unit, I’m able to travel to nearby cities and even visit friends in other states. I would have never attempted this without a cell phone.

[Two Android representations of apps on android devices here to better accommodate those with disabilities and neurodiverse, if they so desire]

I get lost in my small town, and I’ve lived here for years. Sure, I can try to read a map, but I have dyscalculia. Numbers transpose and seem to turn on themselves as I stare at them. I lack “procedural memory”-which is a fancy way of saying I lack the awareness to predict the next step or item in a sequence. And since I can’t retain a string of numbers longer than four digits, trying to remember exits is just not going to happen. I’m a safe driver and you don’t want me trying to read a map while in the driver’s seat. In my case, having a cell phone is a tech device that I use as an accommodation for my particular type of learning disability.

Representation of the writer trying to decipher a map

It’s not a surprise that I developed anxiety while in elementary school. I was doing great in all my classes, except math. The anxiety only followed me as I got older and my aptitude for math stayed the same. Having a cell phone as an adult alleviates some of the anxiety I get when I feel overwhelmed. A phone call that changes an appointment or a time change presents a challenge because grasping changes in appointments, for example, or how a time change will affect the rest of the week is difficult for me.

representation of all of me trying to figure out a time change or time itself. Image is of several different people walking around in a maze under giant clocks

I use a few different apps to manage time and calendars for specific things I need to keep track of and these help with both time management and the anxiety that comes with changes. I also use apps for scheduling, both weekly and monthly layouts, to help me with productivity and focus. Several apps help with anxiety in the forms of meditation and relaxation.

For people with learning disabilities like dyscalculia or dyslexia or with other disabilities, cell phones is a necessity that help us manage our lives better and I can’t imagine trying to navigate everyday life without the accommodations that having this small piece of tech gives us.