Computers for Disabled People

Kensington Optical Mouse - Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 - Dragon Naturally Speaking Headset

A lot of people tend to think that computers have only been around for the last 20 years, computers have actually been around for decades in one form or another. In fact , rumour has it that the computer used on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission was about us powerful as a modern-day calculator. It's only the technology that has really improved computers in the last decade or so, 25 years ago computers were very basic compared to nowadays, if you could go back in time taking with you a simple program that you have installed on your computer, an old computer would have absolutely no chance of running it. The first computer I bought was back in 1992, that isn't very long ago but believe me even computers then were prehistoric compared to what you get now. My first computer cost over £2000, the dot matrix printer I also bought at the time cost around £700. This ancient computer had a 300 MB hard drive and 6 kB of RAM. My computer now has a 900 GB hard drive and 6 GB of RAM. For those of you who this means absolutely nothing, basically it's the difference between a clapped out Robin reliant and a Formula One racing car. But the silly thing is that the very basic computer that wouldn't do anything nowadays cost three times the price of a really good computer now, imagine if someone gave you £2700 nowadays for a new computer, I'd have a whale of a time, a nice mackintosh would be a good start.

I've got to be perfectly honest with you now and say that I really do not know how I would cope on a day-to-day basis if I didn't have my PC. If I'm not out doing something else such as fishing then most days revolve around me doing something on my computer, this could be thinking up a new design for a website, maintaining one of my many websites that I look after. I also spend a lot of time browsing the Internet looking for different ideas, or just seeing what other people are up to in their interesting lives. I've integrated my amateur radio and computers together and can now use the computer to control all my amateur radio equipment, believe me this alone has made life so much easier, it's also a great deal of fun using the two together. If you have a hobby then using the Internet to browse websites such as YouTube can really give you ideas to how you go about doing things yourself.

The computer is a truly powerful asset in my life, it enables me to keep in touch with family and friends, whether that be by Facebook, e-mail or just socialising online using Skype and a WebCam. I recently contacted my birth mother at the age of 42, I was e-mailing her the same day I received my first letter from her, it doesn't come any better than that and that is down to the computer and Internet.

I often get e-mails from people asking me for advice about friends or family who have recently had accidents and have ended up in a wheelchair, I always tell them that a computer can change a life for the better, even if computers are not part of this person's life before. If you can't get out and about and see the world, then just using a computer will bring the world to your doorstep with just the press of a few buttons and the click of a mouse.

Technology can only get better and more advanced. If we've got nothing else going for us at least we know that a small box of tricks can make our lives really worth living.

Kensington Optical Trackball Mouse


Kensington optical trackball mouse

I have got fairly good movement in my arms so strength isn't really an issue. However, dexterity in my fingers is virtually non-existent as I don't have any hand or finger movement whatsoever. When I first started using a computer I used to struggle along with a standard computer mouse. I wouldn't say it was particularly difficult to use, however after using the computer for a while it got quite uncomfortable so prolonged use of the computer would often make my arm ache. A few years ago I came across the Kensington Expert Pro Trackball Mouse which I readily purchased in anticipation. Putting this mouse onto my computer was one of those moments when you suddenly realise that life has suddenly become so much easier, rather like when I got in my adapted vehicle for the first time and drove it.  More recently the Kensington trackball has been updated from the Expert Pro, to the optical trackball. Whereas I still have both types of trackball, I tend to use the optical trackball on my main computers. Unlike a normal computer mouse, the Kensington trackball remain static next your keyboard, you only need to turn the ball on the trackball itself. The ball is about the size of a snooker ball and moves in the socket very smoothly.  The Kensington Optical Trackball has four buttons and a scroll wheel. Each button can be programmed to your own individual requirement, i.e. the bottom right-hand button could act as a drag function, or if you prefer, a right hang click button, the trackball is totally programmable which is why it suits disabled people so well.

If you purchased your Kensington Optical trackball mouse some time ago then you are probably aware that the software that came with the trackball is not designed for the modern day operating systems, it basically stops at XP, although it would work for me on Vista 32-bit system, but no higher. Both Vista and Windows 7 have got mouse functions built into their systems that enable you to program your mouse, albeit in a very limited way. So even though the software that came with my Kensington trackball will not work on Windows 7, I'm still able to program my trackball so that at least one of the buttons can be used as a drag function, you basically hold down the button momentarily and then you can drag things around on your desktop.

I've just recently found out that Kensington have released a new piece of software that now enables you to program your Kensington optical trackball so that you can use all four buttons the way they're meant to be used. The software is called "trackballworks" and can be downloaded from the Kensington website. Once installed on your PC, you can then program all the buttons and functions on your Kensington trackball. I have made a little video showing you exactly how to do this. I apologise in advance and hope that you can follow my videos, I am not exactly an expert at making these type of videos. For your convenience I have included a download link directly underneath the video below where you can download Trackballworks directly from my website.

I have come across a couple of trackballs that have been designed for the disabled, however I wasn't overly impressed and to be perfectly honest with you, the Kensington optical trackball is a much better option. It's not only cheaper, takes up less space, but is operational using just one hand, rather than having to use both hands.


Use Track Ball Works to program your Kensington trackball

Click this link to download Trackballworks

Looking for TrackballWorks for mackintosh, click here...

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11

Whereas I am able to type, it would take me a month of Sundays to type by hand a complex and large document such as the information contained on my website. This is where speech recognition software comes into its own. I have been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking for 12 years now and have found it to be incredibly accurate, the software just keeps getting better. I use speech recognition software every day as I spend a lot of time on various community forums. I've also used it to compile all of the information that is included on my websites. It comes in very handy when I am using my computer in bed, not only can I dictate documents and forum contents, but I can also use it to operate my desktop, for example opening programs such as Photoshop and websites like Google. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a program that is at the top of my must have pieces of software, if you have problems typing then this software is for you

Dragon NaturallySpeaking will work in numerous applications including MSN messenger, Skype, Yahoo, Google and other major search engines. I use it in chat rooms and on forums as well. DNS takes no more than 30 min to install and train, it works almost flawlessly from the word go. There are lots of commands that you can use when writing documents or using your desktop, I'm not going to get into what commands you can use, all the information is included in Dragon and an informational panel will pop-up every time you open Dragon so it shouldn't take you long to get used to which commands to use where and when.

When you are using Dragon make sure that you haven't got too much background noise, use a good quality microphone and make sure that you speak clearly and not too fast, if you follow these basic rules then you will find that it will work almost 100% of the time and make hardly any mistakes.

As good as Dragon NaturallySpeaking is, it isn't always going to work flawlessly when used to dictate on message boards and forums. You'll find that dictation will be perfectly okay, however when it comes to using commands to make correction to words, you may well find that it just doesn't work properly. I find that I can use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to write my messages, but if I want to make amendments and try and select a word, sometimes it will select a portion of the word and not all of it, I often end up making corrections manually using the keyboard.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking are on Facebook and will answer any questions you may have

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Basic Video Demonstration

I have made a short and very basic on-screen video showing you just how well Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 works. Remember, this is a very basic video certainly doesn't show everything that Dragon house to offer, I will probably make future videos, however, for the moment I hope this video will show you how great this program is and how it can really help people who are not able to type using a keyboard.

From my experience YouTube and Dragon NaturallySpeaking just don't mix. Nine times out of 10 when I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking within YouTube, my PC completely crashes

Plantronics DSP 400 microphone headphones

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 requires that you use some kind of input audio device. I have used all sorts of microphones from headsets to desktop microphones. Most worked extremely well but you are probably best off using a headset microphone. For Dragon to work to its full potential, you need to make sure that the microphone is kept in the same position from your mouth at all times. If you fail to do this, you will find dragon will make mistakes. There are so many headset on the market you could spend hours choosing one. I have tried various headsets and found most of them to work extremely well. As for the prices of these headsets, you could pay up to £100 for some of them.


Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 standard microphone headset

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 when bought completely new in a box comes with a headset microphone. It's quite basic with an adjustable headband which means if you're like me and have a large head the microphone headset will still fit comfortably. The microphone element itself is on the end of an adjustable flexible boom which can be pushed out of the way of your mouth. Even though I have got some fairly expensive microphones that work exceptionally well with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, I found that the microphone that comes with Dragon works as well as any microphone. So unless you actually want a microphone with quality headphones, I think you will be wasting your time purchasing a headset microphone when the ones that come with Dragon works perfectly okay. Check out my opinion and review on various microphone headsets

Posting to Facebook & Twitter

If you are a user of Facebook and Twitter then you may be interested to know how easy it is to post messages to both of these websites using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.  I made a short YouTube video which shows you how simple and easy it is to use your speech recognition program to post quick messages onto Facebook and Twitter

Windows 7 Speech Recognition

Vista now has its own speech recognition as standard. Because I am a Dragon NaturallySpeaking user, I really haven't experimented much with it. But going by the short time I did play with it, I was extremely impressed. Accuracy really wasn't any different to Dragon and the commands are very similar. So if speech recognition is important to you and you haven't yet purchased a copy of Dragon, I would advise you to have a play with Vista speech recognition, it might save you a pretty penny

Technology for Severely Disabled People

For people with extreme disabilities there is technology available that can help them to use not only the computer, but just about everything else in your home. This technology is called Possum and is a lifeline to many thousands of disabled people. I myself use it when I'm in bed and could not do without it. You can use this technology to control televisions, videos, lights, curtains, you name it. You can also control your computer which is obviously why this section is on this page. I have included a link which you can find on the left hand menu. This is obviously a UK-based website so anybody outside the UK may have to find similar technology in their own country. Depending on where you live in the UK, you may be able to have this technology fitted completely free. The people at Possum will be able to help you here.

Computers and Ham Radio Combined

Since computers and amateur radio are two of my favourite hobbies, there's nothing more I enjoy than combining the two to work with each other. Most multiband HF transceivers nowadays are designed so that they can be connected to a computer. With the help of a few clever radio hams who have designed some really fabulous software we are now able to use our computers to control the functions on our amateur radio transceivers. It's not really that complicated, using a special interface I connect my HF radio to my computer. Then using a program called Ham Radio Deluxe I am able to control many of the functions on the radio just by looking at the computer screen. This is particularly helpful because most modern day transceivers have a wide array of buttons and knobs that are really very small indeed. The people who designed transceivers like the ICOM 7800 unfortunately didn't consider people like myself who have serious limitations and do not have much dexterity, the transceivers are designed to be used by people who have full function of their hands. Having said this, I would be the first person to say that disabled amateur operators are really a minority and only a tiny fraction of the people who buy these transceivers will have problems like myself so I would never expect these radios to be manufactured with disability in mind, after all, if you were to make all the buttons and knobs big enough for people like myself to use easily, the radio would be about five times the size as it is, and believe me, the bloody thing weighs a ton as it stands at the moment.

Not only do I use my computer to control my transceiver, but I also use it to control my antenna rotator. Using a program called PST Rotator, I can completely control my antenna rotator without even having to touch the control box, I just point my cursor to where I want my antenna to go and just click the mouse button and away it goes.

Some people have asked me whether we can use speech recognition within the software. The answer that question is probably not. Whereas the speech recognition may work in the logging program, you have to remember that you are talking to somebody on the radio at the same time, even though I'm fairly good at multitasking, I'm afraid I can't talk to someone on my radio, plus narrate to my computer at the same time. However, if for some reason you're not able to use your keyboard, maybe you are in bed for instance, then the on-screen keyboard which you can find in ease of access within accessories will work perfectly okay if you want to enter information into the logging program.

Computers Supplied by Charities

Computers can be an absolute godsend to anyone who spends long periods of time at home. If you are unable to afford to buy a computer, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. There is a website called "Computers for the Disabled" they are able to supply good-quality reconditioned PCs for the Disabled, the housebound Disabled centres & home users. Use the link below to go to their website.