computer for special needs
For simplicity's sake, let's assume you are running Windows 95 or
later (We will tackle DOS, Win 3.1 and the Mac later). If
so, there is a lot you can do to adapt the computer to your
special needs. You can shift the mouse to left-handed use, modify
the keyboard to half-keyboard functionality, and more.
Settings are usually changed via the Control
Panel, accessed from My Computer. Here are some possibilities...
You generally will not need to purchase a special mouse -
unless yours is specifically shaped for the right hand. Instead,
do one of the following:
Make a global change to left-handed use: You can
usually reverse the
functions of your current mouse to work with the left hand via
the Windows 95/98 Control Panel. Click on Mouse
Properties, then Button Assignment (The exact titles may vary,
depending upon your version of Windows).
Make an application-specific change to left-handed use:
you prefer (perhaps because several people use the same
computer), many programs allow you to reverse mouse button
functions within the particular program. When you close the program,
the mouse returns to the default right-handed settings.
If you are one-handed, you may find it
convenient to control all the keys by using only half the
keyboard. The Windows operating system makes this
possible. And it is easy to arrange in under a minute.
Using Windows you can shift standard
keyboard functionality to a half-keyboard for either right or left hand.
Keys are not arranged in usual QWERTY fashion with this option,
however. Instead the Dvorak keyboard layout is used.
layout aims to make the more frequently used keys more
accessible, with something like 70% of all keystrokes involving
only home row keys. By strategic placement of
the letters and punctuation, Dvorak typists can attain the same output with reduced finger
movement, reducing the strain on hands, wrists, and arms.
Possible drawbacks/limitations to the Dvorak
- Time spent relearning.
You can expect to spend some time relearning if you
are used to the standard keyboard layout, though this is
supposed to be easier than it sounds. Key caps are
available to simplify this relearning, or you may be able to
swap around your existing keycaps. Or you can use
paper stick-ons. For a tutorial on one-handed touch
typing using the Dvorak, go to: http://home1.gte.net/bharrell/l_index.htm
- Lack of portability. If
you have to use the QWERTY keyboard someplace else - for
instance, at work - keep things simple and use it on your
Decided to change to a half-keyboard Dvorak?
Here's what you do:
- Click to open My Computer
- Next, open Control Panel
- Then open Keyboard
- Double-click on the Language option
the drop-down list, select either LH-Dvorak or RH-Dvorak
To set these keyboard options, go to
My Computer, then Control Panel and click on Accessibility
Having to depress a key, then stretch half way
across the keyboard to reach another key and press it can be
quite a trick. The StickyKeys setting enables you
to execute multi-keystroke commands by pressing first one key,
then the other. You don't have to hold both down
simultaneously. This works with Shift, Ctrl and Alt.
Do you struggle with fine motor control?
Setting FilterKeys causes Windows to ignore brief or repeated
keystrokes or to slow the repeat rate.
Would you like an auditory confirmation of
pressing Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock? ToggleKeys
will do the job. Each time you enter one of these
controls, a tone sounds to confirm the action.
You can control other settings within the
Control Panel as well. Need fonts and colors designed for
easy reading? Enable High Contrast (a Display
option). Want to control your pointer with the numeric
keypad on your keyboard? Just select MouseKeys
(a Mouse option).
If a physical limitation interferes with your
computer use, browse the options available
via the Windows Control Panel. Then experiment.
Keep the settings you like, return the rest to their defaults.
Customizing Windows 95 and later
is a breeze. However, earlier operating systems can also
be altered without great difficulty. The files to do this
are free from Microsoft and can be downloaded directly from
For DOS, get DVORAK.SYS to
use with KEYB.COM (already on your system)
For Windows 3.1, get the left
or right-handed DLL file contained in MSDVORAK
Microsoft has loads of
accessibility information available at http://microsoft.com/enable/
If customizing a Windows PC is
easy, customizing the Macintosh is even easier. Apple's
machines offers similar accessibility features to Windows PCs -
plus a few. The keyboard is adjustable, system software
includes StickyKeys, SlowKeys, and MouseKeys,
you can disable key-repeat, etc. Noteworthy are the Mac's CloseView screen
magnification software, electronic documentation, visual alert
cues, text-to-speech synthesis and voice recognition (PlainTalk).
All of these features are
standard with the Macintosh’s system software (System 7.x, 8.x, and 9.x).
For information and instructions on using
the various options, go to: http://www.apple.com/disability/easyaccess.html
Free is nice, but sometimes you
need more. If the in-built options are not adequate to free up
your computing, there is a lot more stuff out there. Products
address the entire range of disabilities, from cognitive
function to limited mobility, vision or hearing, etc., and
include everything from input devices to text-to-speech
processors to special computer furniture. Here is a quick run down of
Keyguard: A keyguard
is a rigid template placed over a standard keyboard that lets
you rest your hand on it without a key being pressed. Holes in
the template guide the user's finger or pointing device to then strike only the key associated with that hole.
The keyguard thus enables a more precise key selection than otherwise possible due to tremor or poor motor control.
Alternative Keyboards: These replace the standard keyboard with keys or buttons that are more accessible to those with
limited dexterity. The alternative keyboard may have larger,
more widely spaced keys, or may be curved, divided in the
middle, or have extra functionality.
Trackballs: A trackball allows cursor
control with very limited movement. About the size of a tennis
ball, a standard trackball can installed at head height
for chin control ( mounted on a mechanical arm from a table or wheelchair).
It replaces the computer's mouse.
Miniature trackballs - hand held, table mounted or wheelchair
mounted - work with laptop computers. Roughly
marble-sized, these small trackballs require even less motion and are often
controlled using a finger or thumb.
People who have good control of movement of some part of their
body can use a single switch to control a computer. The switch
can be activated by hand, foot or a facial motion. Pneumatic switches controlled with mouth air pressure
can also be used in a "sip and puff" technique.
Head mounted pointer: The on-screen cursor can be guided
by head motion via a head-mounted device. Simple switches can be used to replace the mouse buttons.
On-Screen keyboard: This keyboard graphic resembles
a standard keyboard, or it may be optimized for scanning. Using
a mouse alternative (above), the user "presses" keys
on this on-screen keyboard. Moving the cursor over an
on-screen key and activating it with the mouse button function
substitutes for pressing that key on a standard keyboard.
Speech input, speech recognition, or dictation:
The user simply speaks commands into a microphone connected to the computer.
Best results are obtained with systems trained to recognize the user's speech.
That way, as long as consistency is maintained, the user does not have to be able to speak clearly.