One of the first things we tend do in the morning is head to the computer to check emails, read the news, browse social media, etc. Many of these tasks are automatic, as we push the power button on our computer, move our mouse to the right icon to open the internet, and use the dexterity in our fingers to type the keys so seamlessly. Fortunately, touchscreen technology has made these things much more convenient. However, while some people are able to do everything on their touchscreen, some need complex software to be able to go about their daily lives at work.
A challenge faced by many who are quadriplegic and don’t have the use of our hands or arms, is how to automate many of these processes to make technology less intimidating, since many of us depend on “devices” in this day and age.
I need the full computing power of a laptop every day to work as a day trader, editor, writer, and to interact with the world, as I am home most of the time throughout the week. While I have a caregiver to help with my physical needs, the one area of privacy I need in my life is when I enter the digital world. I want to be as independent as possible.
I am a C6 complete quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down with no hand function, wrist extension upwards, and I have moderate to strong use of my upper arms.
From the moment I was injured nine years ago, I set out on a mission to make the efficiency of my technological life as smooth as possible. We each have different priorities when we’re paralyzed. For example, some women I know find it a priority to be able to brush their hair, put on their own makeup, dress themselves, etc. For me, I’ve always been more interested in having people help me with my physical needs and have emphasized a greater need for technological independence.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with different adaptive technology equipment and software. I’ve gathered input from many of my fellow spinal cord injury friends on what they use to interact in the digital world. For many whose jobs don’t require constant use of a laptop or desktop, a tablet is sufficient for them, and they can use their paralyzed fingers to do all of their typing. However, my needs are different and I’ve put together a list of adapted technologies with videos and links to show you how I work around some of the physical challenges I face.
Adaptive Technology Equipment
There are different versions of this keyboard, but the basic concept is that it has very large keys, and was initially designed for the elderly and those who have trouble typing. When I’m typing short sentences or searches on the internet, I flip my hands over and type with my knuckles.
I wear very simple $1 gloves for protection because I suffer from nerve pain in my hands, and I’ve found that it also allows me to have a bit more dexterity when I’m typing with my knuckles.
The type of mouse you choose is a very personal preference, as I have many friends who do not like a rolling ball mouse. However, I use this giant Kensington trackball mouse with two hands, where I can easily scroll with one hand and click with the other.
The cool thing about this mouse is that there are four buttons, which are programmable for different functions. It basically cuts out keystrokes, which is always one of my main concerns as I suffer from a great deal of pain. The more things I touch throughout the day, the greater the internal pins and needles become in my hands.
3. STANDING DESK
When I was first injured, the challenge I consistently ran into when using a desk was switching between my manual chair and my power chair; both chairs sit at different heights. At the time, my power chair was also a standing chair. I didn’t want to waste time throughout my day, so when I would stand, I wanted to be able to work at my desk.
There are dozens of varieties of standing desks at different price points, but they’re especially useful in a power chair. With a power chair, you can tilt your chair back, recline it, and usually raise it up and down, etc. I am constantly shifting my position throughout the day, and this affects what height I want my desk at.
The adjustable desk is fabulous for me because I can change the height based on what chair I’m in that day, and what position I’m in in my chair.
When I’m typing on my computer, and not using voice dictation software, I’ve had to experiment with different strategies over the years.
There are numerous adaptive tools you can physically put on your hands to type on the keys. I don’t use them often, but this particular ring stylus tool is very practical. You attach them to your pinky fingers and it allows you to type quite seamlessly.
5. DOCKING STATION
I don’t know many people that use desktops anymore, because we live in a world where being mobile is of critical importance. With that said, if you’re not using a tablet, the odds are you have some sort of laptop.
I use the computer for hours each day and staring at a laptop with a small screen, tiny keyboard, and little mouse trackpad can be very tedious.
A docking station is a piece of equipment which usually comes in a small, standing box that sits on your desk and has many different ports. These ports give you the ability to transform a laptop into a desktop. You can plug in a monitor, keyboard, mouse, USB stick, etc., and voilà, your laptop is now a functional desktop! It certainly makes life easier for me.
6. MULTIPLE MONITORS
I have a few monitors set up for work because I’m a day trader and I need to have multiple screens up at the same time. However, I think the multiple monitor set-up is beneficial for a variety of reasons. If you have multiple monitors, for example, you can have the internet up on one screen and your email up on another.
Another benefit is you can move your mouse across different monitors and not have to constantly go to the taskbar to keep opening new programs.
If I need to copy and paste something from an email into my internet browser, I can literally drag and drop a sentence across multiple screens and not have to copy and paste manually, which adds more finger strokes.
You can certainly purchase any two cheap monitors and set them up yourself, but the company, Digital Tigers, specializes in multiple monitor set-ups. They not only send you the monitors, but also the physical kit you need to set it up including multi-monitor software. It makes the process seamless for those who are not technologically confident.
Adaptive Software Programs
At the heart of physical hardware, is software. Once you figure out the best way to physically use your computer, the next piece of the puzzle is software. There are dozens of software programs I use to make my “computing” life more seamless, but many of them require a great deal of technological knowledge. For most people, it’s not practical to spend the time learning how to use them.
For example, you can work with a software developer to create something called MACROS, which essentially automates many of your functions on a computer to eliminate keystrokes. This program, which is usually custom designed for the user, has the ability to open up multiple programs simultaneously with one key, enter passwords, etc. If you’re interested in this higher level programming, I’d be more than happy to share some of my insights.
There are three programs I find particularly useful, easy to install, and simple to figure out on your own
1. DRAGON VOICE DICTATION
I’m pretty adept at using my paralyzed fingers to do a lot of tasks, but typing long documents, writing articles, such as this one, would take me several days.
There are several voice dictation software programs on the market, but Dragon Speaking Naturally by Nuance is rated as one of the leaders in the field. What is particularly interesting about this program is that it learns from you over time. The program continuously saves your profile, you can teach it new words, and it gets accustomed to your style of speaking over time. To top it off, if you learn the voice dictation command sheet properly, you can operate the program entirely hands-free.
Voice dictation is useful for many types of professionals, but with paralyzed hands it can be a real lifesaver.
2. PASSWORD MANAGER
In this day and age, the number of passwords we have to remember is ridiculous. There is a password for your bank, email, Facebook, Amazon; the list is endless. I certainly can’t remember all of my passwords, and having them written in a word document or on a piece of paper is just not feasible anymore. Personally, I have over 100 active passwords I use on a regular basis.
Again, there are many different password manager programs out there, but the one I like to use (which also has a free version) is Dashlane. Every time you turn on your computer, you type your master password into the Dashlane program.
When you’re logged in, Dashlane syncs with your internet browser. Whenever you visit a website’s login page, it will automatically sign you in. It also auto fills forms for you, saves your bank and credit card information for when you need to buy something, and allows you to store secure notes with a 250 bit encryption system. Be careful though, if you lose your master password the company can’t provide it to you because they don’t store your private information and will not have access to it.
I cannot begin to express how much time and pain this saves me on a daily basis. The program is also available on the App Store for your smart phone, so you can access it from any device, at any time, for any reason.
3. STICKY KEYS
Sticky Keys is a program by Microsoft and Apple, and can be a real time saver as well. Sticky Keys allows you to perform functions such as, when you double-click a window, it will lock it, and you can drag it around the screen instead of trying to hold the window with one hand, and drag it with another hand.
Sticky Keys also allows you to press up to three buttons on the keyboard at the same time, but you only have to press one at a time and it locks them in place. I’ll demonstrate in the video.
I’ve barely grazed the surface of the adaptive technology available for folks who are disabled, but these are a few of my favorites that I use every day. There are an incredible number of adaptive technology “hacks” out there to make using a computer fun, and not tedious. I encourage you to try some of the above solutions and poke around the internet to see what else might meet your needs.
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