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You are in: Home > Articles > Adapting the Computer for those with Physical Disabilities (2)

Adapting the Computer for those with Physical Disabilities (2)

Most software is designed to be used by controlling a mouse. For those who do not have the necessary degree of manual dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination to move the pointer or press buttons this is a problem. Whilst there are programs written especially for such users, driven by switches, we must consider how we can give access to everyday software for all learners.

To start with, the mouse settings can be altered. Using the accessibility options in your computer's operating system will allow the speed of the mouse to be changed, along with how quickly double-clicks are effected. A fair degree of experimentation may be needed to meet a particular individual's needs, but for those finding the mouse difficult to control, rather than totally impossible, this may help. Something that is an eternal frustration for all of us, and especially for those who have dexterity problems, is a dirty mouse! Keep a check that all the serviceable parts of the mouse are kept clean - a dull but necessary job, especially in the classroom! You can completely avoid this onerous task by using an 'optical' mouse. These devices work by using a red laser light inside the mouse. Optical mice are more accurate and can be used on the desk or trolley without a mouse mat.

For younger learners or those with small hands, a 'Tiny Mouse' may be of use. Try using this in conjuction with dedicated 'mouse training' software such as IT MouseSkills, which breaks up the often complex process of learning to use a mouse into smaller more achievable steps. In software written for younger learners often only the left 'Select' button is required. A device such as the Mouser 4 allows you to control the mouse buttons, disabling the right 'Menu' button, thus stopping unwanted Menus popping up all over the place.

There are learners who are unable to use the standard mouse in any way. To address the needs of these people there are some direct mouse alternatives. Traxsys manufacture a series of robust devices that use either a rollerball or a joystick. The case is designed with rubber feet so that it stays in one place, or the more advanced devices can be screwed in place. The 'Select' button on the Roller and Roller Joystick has a latching drag feature - press it and drag lock is set. Press the button again and the drag is released. The Roller Plus and Joystick Plus have extra functions for those who need more help with navigation. There are additional buttons to allow only up/down or left/right movement, and to control the speed at which the pointer moves. All these devices come with a removable guard which, when in place, can help avoid unwanted button presses.

For certain types of software, particularly those that do not require pixel-accurate pointing, a touch monitor might be appropriate. There are several types available. Try to avoid using 'add on' touch-screens such as those that fasten over your standard monitor. These devices lack the accuracy and robustness of modern touch monitors and can cause problems as some learners are more interested in trying to pull them off than using them appropriately.

Switches can be connected to a computer in a variety of ways. By far, the easiest way to connect switches to your computer is through a USB switchbox. These devices simply plug into your computer's USB socket and use clever software to ensure that the switch is automatically set up to work with the program you have loaded. The JoyCable from Sensory Software has sockets for two switches while the Crick Box from Cricksoft features four sockets and a unique in-built database of compatible software which updates automatically over the Internet.

Whether for younger learners or those with longer term access difficulties there are plenty of alternatives for those for whom the mouse is not the most suitable method of accessing the computer.

Adapting Computers (1)

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