Sunday, April 22, 2012

Using a Joystick as the Mouse

There are many options for alternative mouse hardware.  In earlier posts both a head mouse and a trackball mouse have been explored.  What about a joystick mouse?

Traditionally, a joystick has been associated with gaming devices.  In addition to gaming, a there are joystick mice available that can be very helpful for individuals with both physical and cognitive disabilities. 

The standard mouse that comes with a desktop computer can be very challenging for people with various impairments.  The movements required for effective mouse use can be very difficult.  How many times have you had to lift up the mouse and place it back down to get your pointer back on the screen where you can see it?  What if the user has upper extremity weakness from a stroke or tremors from Parkinson's?  How do you think this would affect their mouse function? 

It can also be difficult for individuals to understand the cause and effect of the types of movements required to move the mouse that translate to the movements of the pointer on the screen.  This can make the mouse extremely difficult for the user with cognitive impairments.

The use of a joystick mouse can eliminate these problems.  With a joystick mouse the movements seem more intuitive than with a standard mouse.  For example, if press the joystick up, the pointer moves up.  Many hardware options can include alternative methods for clicking as well as the shape and size of the joystick itself.  This can assist people with grasp issues by having the flexibility to change the joystick top.  

The joystick mouse pictured above comes with interchangeable joystick top options as well as buttons for double click, single click, right click, lock, and speed changes.  The accessibility of the buttons can create increased ease of use.   

In addition, if access of any joystick buttons are a challenge, any ability switch can be used for click features.  This can be plugged directly into the joystick mouse, dependent on the model, or with the "swifty" USB adapter for ability switches.  Dwell click software (discussed in an earlier post) can also be used for click needs.

There are joystick mice that are not only geared towards individuals with disabilities but people that require a more ergonomic computer workstation setup.  

The mouse pictured above will hold the users hand in an ergonomic position in an attempt to decrease or eliminate repetitive strain injuries.  The right and left click is performed by the thumb positioned at the top of the joystick.  Again, if clicking is an issue, ability switches or dwell click software can be used.

Additionally, software can be used to "turn" any USB joystick into a mouse.  The software acts as a driver, interpreting joystick movements into mouse movements to move the pointer. 

Always remember that changes in the control panel might still be required to facilitate independence with any adaptive mouse hardware or software.  With the appropriate adaptations, the mouse does not have to be a challenge for a wide range of individuals, helping to create an adaptABLE world!   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Word Prediction Software

What is word prediction?

Word prediction software is a very important tool in regards to typing and communication.  It is seen with both computer access assistive technology as well as with communication devices.  

It is a software that predicts the words as the user is typing.  The goal is to decrease the amount of keystrokes of the user.  Depending on the user, this can can have a variety of benefits including increasing the typing speed of the user or decreasing spelling errors.

When using word prediction software, a word list is displayed on the screen.  The user will press the corresponding button in order to choose the appropriate word.  In some programs, the correct word can be chosen with the mouse as well.  This can be used with email, text based documents, social networking, or any program where text is inputted.  

How is this different from word completion software?

Word completion software works in the same way as prediction but it makes predicts the word as you type it.  When the user sees the word they are intending to type, they press the corresponding button.

With both word prediction or word completion software, there are varying modifiable features that different programs have.  This can include but are not limited to:

  • Method of prediction
    • Frequency of use
    • Alphabetically
  • Number of words on the list
    • This can slow the user down as they will require extra time to scan the list
  • Words can be programmed or added to the program dictionary
    • Such as the user name
    • Some programs will "learn" new words automatically
  • Font size of the words on the list
  • Spaces to be added after choosing the word off the list or at the end of a sentence
  • Text to speech options
    • If this is an option, the words will be spoken as they are chosen off the list
    • This can also include text speech of letter by letter or at the end of the sentence  
    • The voice (male or female)
    • Rate of speed of the speech
  • Phrase prediction
    • Some programs will not only predict words but phrases as well.  For example, if the user types the word "how", "how are you" can be part of the prediction as well as single words.

Why is word prediction or word completion software beneficial?

There tends to be differing thoughts as to if word prediction or word completion software really increases rate of speed with typing.  In of the some literature, it is explained that word prediction software will only increase rate of speed if the user types less than 15 words per minute.  Although this is a good standard to keep in the back of your mind when trying this software, there are many other benefits to its use, outside of possible increase in speed.  

Outside of rate of speed, this type of software can assist many types of individuals.

  • Fatigue
    • Individuals that fatigue quickly with typing can decrease the amount of keystrokes required for typing skills.  This can facilitate energy conservation and increase the amount of time tolerated for typing.
  • Pain
    • If the user experiences pain with extended typing, this software would decrease the amount of "button pressing" required.
  • Impaired spelling
    • Words predicted would be spelled correctly, decreasing errors and time spent correcting errors.
  • Word finding issues
    • If the user has difficulty with word finding or even mild aphasia, if they can type the first letter with word completion and prediction, the desired word would be on the list.  This could be difficult if the word is not initially prediction, requiring the user to type additional letters.  This would work best couple with text to speech features.
      • Can also assist folks with learning disabilities, adult and children
  • OnScreen Keyboard users:
    • Increases the efficiency of OnScreen Keyboard (OSK) users, especially for individuals using alternative access such as a head mouse.  The use of this software would increase efficiency and rate of speech when typing.  Many OSKs come with word prediction and completion software.  This includes the standard OSK in the accessibility options in Windows 7.

Word prediction or word completion software is a very important tool for individuals with disabilities or difficulty with access.  If you think that this software would be helpful for yourself or someone you know, remember that it is very important to trial different programs to see which features are right for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What is an On-Screen Keyboard?

Many individuals do not know what an on-screen keyboard is (or that it is already on their computer).

An on-screen keyboard is exactly what is sounds like, a keyboard that is on the screen or monitor of your computer.  It is another way to type or access your computer.  It can replace the keyboard hardware that came or is part of your current system.  An on-screen keyboard can be used with any program that requires text.  This includes the internet, TextEdit, Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. 

If the individual cannot use the standard computer (the hardware) due to physical limitations, an on screen keyboard can eliminate this issue.  For example, if the user is using a head mouse for alternative mouse skills, the on screen keyboard would allow that individual to type.  If the individual is able to effectively use any mouse (mouth mover, trackball, joystick for example) but has significant issues with keyboard use, the on screen keyboard would be very important.  Individuals that would benefit from on-screen keyboard use can vary from Parkinson's to people with a spinal cord injury.

In order to "press your button" or click on the desired letter, dwell click software or an ability switch can be used.  Dependent on the keyboard that works best for the user there are various ways that the keyboard could be modified.  This could include the color, size of the font, ability to dwell and the features associated with that.

Other options can include word prediction (to be featured in the next blog post), phrase prediction, or even favorite websites for increased internet access.

How can you get an on-screen keyboard?

The most economical option would be to access the on-screen keyboard located on your computer.  Both the Windows operating systems and Macintosh have on screen keyboards as part of their accessibility options.  The amount of modifications available in these keyboards might be different or not as vast as keyboards for purchase.  An easy way to find the on-screen keyboard in your computer just type it in the search window.

To purchase an on-screen keyboard many of the companies will allow anywhere from a 14 day to 30 day free download.  An Assistive Technology Practitioner can also be helpful in educating the individual on companies, features, and possibly perform an evaluation to assess the appropriate keyboard.  Keep in mind that what works for one person might not necessarily work for the you so that trialing various options are very important.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mouse Hardware, the Trackball

There are many options for mouse use other than the  conventional mouse that come with computers.  The standard mouse that comes standard is very difficult for many individuals to use.  It is not very intuitive.  It is oddly shaped, doesn't always do what you want (ever have to lift it and move it?).  It also requires good coordination throughout the entire arm.  If there is any weakness, incoordination, or spasticity, it can be had to control and use correctly.

As in a previous post, if the individual is overshooting or undershooting with the mouse pointer, there are changes that can be made in the control panel.  Additional changes can be made with the double click, size of the mouse pointer, ways to find the mouse pointer, as well as many more.  During the trial of alternative options, looking at different mice for the hand could be appropriate.  If the user does not have hand use, there are additional options as well (look at previous post for a head mouse as an options, although not limited to that only choice).

Trackball Mouse:

A trackball mouse is different from a convention mouse is that the user moves the ball with his thumbs and fingers; arm movement is not required.

The size of the ball and buttons vary between brand of trackball.  Some trackball mice have buttons that can be programmed for other features such as drag lock.  

This mouse can be very successful for individuals with work related pain such as carpal tunnel or someone that has weakness in the shoulder from a stroke or other injury.  It can be positioned or mounted to utilize the best strength of the user's arm.  

It is though a small change such as using a trackball vs. a conventional mouse that can enable independence for a computer user.

Feel free to leave comments on your experiences with alternative mice.