We can run our computers entrely with voice recognition software. Dragon® Naturally Speaking,® (Preferred Version 9.5) is the best I've found for the money. It converts speech to text, and allows users to perform commands and even move the mouse without touching anything. But I recommend that you set yourself up to use voice commands and be able to use a keyboard, for more efficient computing (if possible). You can find Naturally Speaking for about $55 on eBay®. (by the way, you don't want the packages that come with a headset. You want a better headset). Computers are your friends. I say that tongue-in-cheek all the time, but to those inconvenienced by a wheelchair, a computer (connected to the Internet) truly is a wonderful tool. One you can rely on to do the most for you, other than, perhaps, your chair. Even if you don't have much use of your hands (like me), a desktop or a laptop computer, with the right minor adaptations, can provide you with access to a whole world of things to see and do on your own. I have written and pulled together this entire web site by myself, without my fingers touching a single key. Everything has been done with either by mouthstick or with speech-recognition software (see below), other than some of the photos I asked a talented, emerging young photographer to take, but most were retrieved online). Every day I read the local newspaper and the Wall Street Journal online, plus we can access papers from across the country and throughought the world. We can listen to music, watch TV and movies, and order just about anything you can get in a store. We can receive and send faxes, listen to voice-mails, and call for emergency help ... all without moving from the keyboard and monitor. I do the same things from my laptop when I travel.
With the advent of the Internet and the multitude of related businesses supported online, one's imagination is the only limit for anyone who can talk or use a mouthstick. Games, books, discussions, videos, and even therapeutic treatments are available through your computer. You don't even need a very fancy computer. A few little adaptations (all commercially available) is all that's required to make most any computer accessible, fully accessible, to most anyone who is inconvenienced by a wheelchair.
For some, typing on a keyboard or using a mouse with one's hands is simply not an option. A mouthstick – the proper mouthstick – held in one's teeth, is an amazingly efficient tool for manipulating the keyboard if one does not have good use of one's hands. Check out the Mouthsticks section of the Helpful Stuff page. A traditional, handheld mouse is not very easy to manipulate if you don't have use of your hands ... even with a good mouthstick. The IBM® TrackPoint® mouse is a fantastic alternative. It has a little red pointer device (like a little joystick) built-in to the keyboard between the G, H, and B keys (pictured to the left). The left and right mouse buttons are built in to the front of the keyboard. For mouthsticks users, the TrackPoint® mouse (actually a “pointer,” not a mouse) is a wonderful accommodation. You can buy the little red, flat, textured caps at eBay.® They look like the picture to the left, and are easier to use with a mouthstick than the standard rouded caps.
Unfortunately, IBM® no longer makes the TrackPoint V Keyboard® (the best of all TrackPoint keyboards) for desktop computers. IBM® sold their retail/consumer business to a Chinese company called Lenovo.® They tell me that TrackPoint® keyboards are no longer being made, and there are no plans to make any in the future. They also have no back stock. You may find some of the TrackPoint® keyboards online at places like eBay.® I will probably regret publishing this, because I may never find a TrackPoint V again, but it's not all about me. You can also find the TrackPoint mouse in ThinkPad® laptop computers. The only problem with laptops is they don't have the number pad, so one cannot use the Microsoft® Windows® MouseKeys feature to click and drag, as discussed below. If you do not have, or you cannot get, a TrackPoint keyboard, the MouseKeys feature in Windows could be a good alternative.
Microsoft® operating systems such as Windows come standard with accessibility functions to enable typing and mousing with a mouthstick. "StickyKeys" is invaluable. The StickyKeys program allows users to press the Shift key to shift the next key pressed, or press the Shift key twice which then allows numerous keys pressed to be typed as if they were "shifted," until the Shift key is pressed again. It works the same way for the other function keys as well (Alt, Ctrl). StickyKeys comes pre-installed in Windows,® and is easily turned on by clicking Start; Settings; Control Panel; Accessibility Options. Then click the box to put a checkmark where it says Use StickyKeys. You can then select the options you want and click OK. Because mousing around is not as easy for people witout use of their hands, there are keyboard shortcuts that improve your efficiency on a keyboard (keystrokes can actually be faster for people able to use their hands too). The shortcuts just need to be learned. I use Alt-Tab all the time. Try it. For a list of keyboard shortcuts, pull up "Windows keyboard shortcuts overview" from the Help menu of Windows.® You can click here for an online list, or here for an online tutorial.
NOTE: Until Microsoft® fixes the software, I’ll save you some frustration about the Windows Start key that is fairly standard on most keyboards these days (the little flag on the key between the Ctrl and Alt keys left of the spacebar). To open the Start menu you have to press the Windows key three times.
MouseKeys allows you to move the mouse cursor from the keys in the number pad on the right side of a full-size, 104-key keyboard. It is not as fast as a regular mouse, or even as fast as the TrackPoint® mouse discussed above. But when turned on, MouseKeys also allows you to click and drag – something Microsoft® didn't think to incorporate into the StickyKeys program for the mouse buttons built into TrackPoint® keyboards. To turn on the MouseKeys option, click Start; Settings; Control Panel; Accessibility Options. Click the Mouse Tab at the top of the dialog box and then click the little box next to Use MouseKeys to put a checkmark in it. You can then select the options you want and click OK.
The most important part of setting up voice-recognition software on your computer is getting the right microphone. The best I've tried is a VXI powered headset (USB). Because the speaker on the ear is unnecessary, and I don't like wearing a headset, my brother (an Electrical Engineer) took it apart and mounted the microphone to my desk. It works great.
As I mentioned, Dragon® Naturally Speaking® (Preferred Version 9.5) is available on eBay® for about $55. It has improved quite a bit from the earlier versions. It requires quite a bit of RAM (Random Access Memory) to run well. But RAM chips are fairly inexpensive on the Internet these days too. Be sure to follow the set-up tutorials when you install Dragon Naturally Speaking . And leave the Tips function on for a while so you keep learning tricks every time you start the software.
Television & Movies
My computer is connected to my cable TV box so I can watch television on my computer screen. To do that yourself, you just need a TV Tuner Card in your computer, and the accompanying software. I've had good luck with a product called WinTV® by Hauppauge®. Click here to find the product that's best for you. Then run a Google® search for it. You can also watch movies on DVDs (Digital Video Disks) from your computer screen (desktop or laptop), if your CD drive is also a DVD drive. Most are these days, but check to be sure. If you get a CD-DVD drive, chances are it will come with the software to watch movies (probably already installed on your computer). If not, you can find it free online (try here). Or many DVDs you rent will have software you can install for free, right on the DVD.
Music & Books
As long as you have Internet connection and speakers through your sound card, you can listen to music. Check out thousands of free radio stations here, and here. There are many others, and you can select from thousands of songs (with videos) on YouTube. You can even create an account and a playlist, free of charge, on YouTube, to play the songs you can find. Many books are available in digital format for downloading to your computer, and more are being digitally released all the time. Thousands are free of charge at Project Gutenberg, and eBooks has 130,000 books to buy for immediate download. If you like to read books away from the computer, check out the Sony eBook reader, pictured to the left, or Amazon’s Kindle Book.
Faxes & Voice-mails
There are free programs available on the Internet that allow you to send and receive facsimiles. Most anything can be scanned and faxed through your computer. With the price of scanners these days, that's very affordable. It's also nice to receive faxes in digital format. I like getting my faxes in PDF format and reviewing and filing them on my computer. We are becoming more and more paperless. That's good for those of us who don't have much use of our hands.
My land-line telephone service provider offers a handy feature for its Call Notes® voice-mail system. If I don't answer the phone for an incoming fax, the system receives the fax and converts it to a digital, machine-readable file and sends it to me in an e-mail. The system also notifies me when I receive a voice-mail, and sends the message to me as a WAV file in an e-mail. I love this kind of technology ... especially when it helps us to adapt and overcome.
If you are like me, you want to be independent as much as you can (that's a good thing). You don't want people to have to hang around all the time ... "just in case." So you'll need a good system for contacting people, for those rare occasions when you do need something right away. If your power and Internet are working, you can post a message to call for help in a "chat room" or on a blog or message board. Depending upon how many and what type of people visit that site, you may get someone to call emergency services (911, police, ambulance, fire, etc.), or a friend, or family member, to provide assistance. You can also use online services or a modem to call phone numbers (with or without your microphone) or to send an emergency fax.
There is so much available through the Internet. If you're not connected to it, you're missing out on so many things that will expand your capabilities and your mind. It may seem daunting at first, but it's not really difficult, once you learn the basics.
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