How Computers Can Help the DisabledWith the benefit of hindsight I'm so glad this is the 21st-century and not 30 or 40 years ago. If I was suddenly taken back in time, back to let's say the 1970s, I think I would find it difficult to cope without the technology we have nowadays. I had my accident in 1986, I spent most of 1987 living in the Cheshire Home here in Brixham, actually right opposite where I live now. I don't remember having any computer lessons at school, I do however remember the old BBC computers that had these huge floppy disks. I do remember a friend of mine, Steven Bowdon having one of those Sinclair computers that came with the tape recorder, don't suppose you could do much on those nowadays. It wasn't until 1987 when I was at the Cheshire home that I actually started using a computer for the first time. I didn't really use the computer for much more than writing letters.
It wasn't until 1992 until I got my first computer. It had a DOS operating system, something like 300 MB of hard drive and 6 kB of RAM. So by today's standards it was rather basic. However, it meant I could start writing my own letters for the first time, I think that's when I realised that technology could offer you a degree of independence. Mind you, computers were not cheap in the early 90s, I think I paid over £2000 for that system, the dotmatrix printer was about £700 if I remember rightly.
The computer plays a massive part in my life nowadays, I can honestly say not a single day goes by when I'm not sitting in front of my computer doing something. If somebody had told me 20 years ago that my life would revolve around computers I would have told them to behave themselves and stop being so stupid. It may sound like a bit of a geeky thing to say, but I get really excited about technology nowadays, it's moving on at such a fast rate it sometimes difficult to keep up with what's new. I recently bought myself one of these new fancy iPod touch screen music players. Absolutely fabulous, you can connect it straight to your PC, make up all your music lists and add it to your iPod. 30 years ago I was amazed when I bought my first Walkman.
Anyone who is new to disability should really consider getting a computer ASAP. Not only will it give you independence, but it will also help you meet other people. I wouldn't say I'm a big social media person, but Facebook is a great way to meet up with people that you may have known from school. Even if you only use your computer for talking to friends, it's worth getting one. A lot of elderly people who are sitting at home with nobody to talk to you should consider getting themselves a PC, you're never too old for a computer.
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 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
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13
If I had to type using my fingers then it would take me a month of Sundays to write an article for one of my websites. A few years ago somebody gave me a disc containing a very early version of Dragon. In fact, I'm not even sure if it was called Dragon NaturallySpeaking in those days, I think it was just called Dragon. That was in the late 1990s, since then I have never looked back when it comes to speech to text on a PC. DNS, or Dragon NaturallySpeaking has now released version 13 and it is absolutely superb. If you speak properly and clearly than the accuracy is absolutely phenomenal.
Dragon is very simple to use, It will probably take you a while to get to grips with all the terms and phrases that you need to use in order to dictate properly, but persevere with it and you'll get there in the end. You have got to follow a few simple rules in order for it to work at its best. You've got to remember that it is only a program and it will dictate exactly what you say. It is a clever program and you will be amazed at what it can do and how well it will dictate what you say. But if you are in the habit of mumbling or not talking properly then it's a habit that you will have to break if you want DNS to work properly for you.
What I really like about is that it now works really well in all applications, including email, YouTube, Skype, forums, message boards, you name it, anywhere that you want to type quickly, Dragon NaturallySpeaking really comes into its own. I had some issues with previous versions not working very well in some community forums, however after some testing in the last couple of days Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 seems to have improved considerably. Obviously I can still use the keyboard fairly well so I probably don't use Dragon to its full extent. It will take you quite a while to learn all the commands that you need to use to operate your system. However once you have got to grips with things then there is no reason why somebody with absolutely no arm movement should be able to have full control over their computer.
If you have had a recent accident and need help dictating to your computer then there really any need to look any further than Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I honestly don't think you'll find a program that does work better than this software. If it wasn't for Dragon NaturallySpeaking then I can honestly say that none of my websites would be where they are now, I just wouldn't have been able to write all the articles by hand.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 comes with a standard microphone that will plug into your soundcard using microphone and headphones jack plugs. I will be perfectly honest with you, I wouldn't recommend these type of microphones, I've never had much success in getting them to work really well. You are much better off using a USB microphone that plug straight into a USB port on the computer. Have a look at USB headset microphones manufactured by Plantronics. and Sennheiser .You will pay quite a bit of money for them, but you will get exactly what you pay for, that is very very good quality.
Navigating the Internet using DNS 13Using specific VoiceCommands makes it quite simple to navigate the Internet without even having to touch your keyboard. In this video I will demonstrate how you can also post a message to an online forum using voice command. The YouTube video on this page is quite small. Try clicking on the title on the box below which will take you directly to YouTube where you can see things a lot bigger
Windows 7 Speech Recognition
The speech recognition that is incorporated with Windows 7 is surprisingly good, I really was not expecting it to perform as well as it did when I tested it today. Because I have been using Dragon Naturallyspeaking for quite a few years now I have a good idea how these speech recognition programs work. Most of them use very similar commands in order to transfer speech into text. I think it will really depend on how much control you want to get out of your speech recognition software. The software that comes with the operating system will not be able to do anywhere as much as Dragon. So if you are looking to control your computer then the dragon is really your only option. However, if all you want to do is write letters, dictate E mails then I think this software would probably suit you just fine. I will make a video as soon show you how it works, you can then compare it to dragon naturally speaking.
When you configure Windows 7 speech recognition it will ask you what type of microphone you are using. You'll probably want to choose between a headset microphone or a desktop microphone. I have tested both and they work well. If you choose a desktop microphone then it will really only work properly if it's in the position on the desk in front of you, very clever actually. You don't have to spend a lot of money to purchase a USB desktop microphones, I have an account with Amazon.co.uk and nowadays all of my computer peripherals and software is purchased from Amazon because it's so quick and easy.
However, if you're like me then you will probably prefer to use a USB headset microphone. Take my advice, if you can afford to buy a good quality USB headset then please do so, it may cost you more money but it be worth it in the long run.
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.