There are various ways that you can adapt your computer, if you find it less than responsive to your needs. Here is a general view of the adaptive computer solutions available. Please send us an email if you are looking for anything in particular that you can’t find here – or if you come across something particularly useful that you think we should include.
Click to read more on each topic:
See your screen and keyboard more clearly
Your computer is already equipped with various ways of improving visibility. For example, you can define a larger size of text for websites, by going into the Preferences section of your internet browser. There are instructions for customising various different browsers and other computer programs run on PCs, on the Ability Net website www.abilitynet.org.uk. Computers using Apple’s OS X operating system have a built-in screen magnifier to increase the size of text, graphics, mouse cursor, etc by up to 16 times.
The built-in zoom feature in many programs will let you increase the size of the text, but if this is not enough, there are software packages that will magnify the screen image many times, and also allow you to force colour changes in programs that won’t normally let you do so.
Some of this software also includes an option to have the content of your screen read aloud to you.
There are also a number of shareware and freeware computer programs that will read any area of text selected with your mouse or keyboard, such as ReadPlease, which you can download free at www.readplease.com This software only runs on PCs, not Macs, which come ready equipped with text-to-speech functionality built in to the OS (operating system).
For users with no useful vision, a full screen-reader is probably the only way to benefit fully from the features of many software programs, such as internet browsers and business suites. These can be expensive, so you need to do some research before you commit, to make sure that you are comfortable with the product you choose.
Mouse and keyboard
Those slim elegant letters on your computer keyboard can be seriously tricky to decipher. Solutions range from the low-tech (stick-on letters several times bigger and bolder than the originals) to replacement keyboards, which may offer bigger characters; better colour contrast; bigger keys for the less dextrous; rainbow colour arrangements; ABC layout, as opposed to the conventional qwerty system.
Keyboards are also available in a range of ergonomic designs to make their use more comfortable and convenient. The model on the left is in sections so that they can be arranged in the position and order that suits you best.
On the right, a radically designed ergonomic keyboard for right-handed use (also available in left-handed version).
Anyone who finds a traditional mouse hard to use has a range of alternatives to choose from. There are various ergonomic designs, to take the strain out of clicking and pointing, or where dexterity is limited, a trackball like the one on the left is sturdy enough to be jabbed at with hand, elbow or even foot.
The joystick mouse on the right positions the hand more naturally in the vertical position, and the ‘rocker-style’ button on top is used easily by the thumb, rocking downwards for a left mouse-click and upwards for a right-click. This alternative mouse uses upper-arm movements, rather than the wrist and lower-arm actions associated with a traditional mouse design.
Wrist warmers (left) help with easing the pain associated with various types of RSI. Conditions such as thoracic outlet syndrome and Raynaud’s syndrome result in cold hands on even the warmest days, making lightweight insulation essential.
Wrist supports can also be useful in maintaining the hands in a less strained position. They can take the form of a padded support to sit in front of the keyboard or mouse mat, or padded straps to wear around the wrists.
You may well find that your computer is already equipped with ways of making your existing mouse and keyboard easier to use. For example, the numeric keypad on a Mac can be converted into a ‘mouse’, if you aren’t able to use a normal mouse; and keystrokes can be ‘slowed down’ so that if you lack fine motor control and find that you accidentally press keys on your way to the one you’re aiming for, the effect is ignored. You can find out more in the Accessibility section of the Apple website.
Other input devices
Some of the options available apart from mouse/keyboard for interacting with your computer include switches (left). These are available in various shapes and sizes; colour coded for easier recognition; heavy duty; with pressure adjustment; or sensitive to the lightest possible pressure.
If you wish to bypass keyboard and mouse/trackball altogether, a touch screen is another option (right). Touch technology is now mainstream, since it has been proven in handheld devices such as Apple’s iPad, and increasing numbers of laptop and tablet computers are being produced with touch input. In fact, any screen can be modified so that the computer can be controlled by using a finger or pointer on the screen.
For users with little or no limb use, it is possible to use a single pointer, controlled by head movements (left), to direct a trackball input device. Data can be input using the on-screen keyboard. And one of the latest developments in computer interfaces is the iris control, which uses eye movements and blinks to move the on-screen mouse.
Speech-to-text, or speech recognition
Automatic speech recognition (asr) is the technology that enables people to communicate with computers in what is, for many of us, the most natural and convenient way: by talking.
Programs like Dragon Dictate and ViaVoice enable you not only to dictate text to your computer’s word-processing and other programs, but also to control the mouse, cursor, internet browser, etc, using voice commands. The software available has improved greatly in terms of accuracy and the speed with which it learns to recognise your commands since the early versions.
You can read an interesting case study about a successful author whose career was rescued by Dragon NaturallySpeaking after she developed debilitating RSI, here