Accessing Your Technology

Of all the awe and wonder associated with technology (and there’s loads), the most striking with regard to assistive tech, in my opinion, is the sheer range of options available for each individual task. Name something you can use technology for and with a little Googling or speaking to the right people, you’ll find innumerable ways to achieve it.

Now, for anyone who works anywhere within or in close proximity to the realms of AT, this is hardly a groundbreaking revelation. You only have to open the first page of Inclusive Technology’s catalogue (or visit their website) to be confronted with a plethora of software titles or accessible switches all pertaining to the same outcome. I suppose the raison d’être of AT is exactly that, making everything accessible for everyone.

However, it is not until this is taken from theoretical possibility into discernible reality that I believe you appreciate the invaluability of such scope. Seeing different people achieving similar outcomes via vastly different methods is an example of this. My interest though, stems from facilitating one individual, achieving any number of outcomes via vastly different and often interchangeable methods. I am extremely privileged in my role to witness this regularly. Obviously, the technology being used is impressive in itself, but the adaptability and ingenuity of the users is quite something else.

One instance of this involves the user — a bonafide superstar in his own right — using a range of tech to complete his school work, communicate, drive his chair and listen to music. He is setup with a BJoy ring wireless attached to the joystick on his chair; this allows him to control the mouse cursor on up to 4 devices via separate USB receivers. He has 2 small switches (left and right click) on his arm rest which replicate the clicks of a mouse and the right of which is used to switch between receivers.

The first ‘win’ in this set up is the positioning of the left button, it is low down on the inside edge of the armrest rather than on top next to the joystick. This allows much easier access with less emphasis on accuracy, it just needs a small movement of his right hand to activate. This is particularly advantageous when fatigue is starting to impact his movement. When using his BJoy to control his communication aid, he can also use his knee to activate the switch. This means he doesn’t need to move his hand from the joystick between clicks — again, reducing the effort required to use it and increasing the proficiency of its use. Then there are the occasions where switch use isn’t working for him, when the movement towards the click becomes increasingly difficult and doesn’t make sense to him as the most straightforward option. In these instances he may opt to use his nose (which he not only finds useful, but hilarious!) or his toes, which he amazes me with the accuracy of.

Whilst not conventional AT use, this is a great example of achieving your desired outcome in the way that works best for you.

In addition to the control of his devices via their cursor, he also makes use of a number of wireless switches. These are hooked up to switch interface boxes that allow him to control any mains-powered device. This includes a bedside lamp, a sensory light projector and his ‘Spotify Box’ (this has been developed by Mike and will be covered in a later blog post). So he has the choice of navigating through Spotify on his PC using his joystick or playing any song from his own playlist by pressing the appropriate switch — whichever makes the most sense.

Currently, he is developing his EyeGaze skills for communication using an Accent 1400 with NuEye. This is compatible with his joystick and switches should he need them and, of course, his nose and toes!

Another AT WhizzKid I get to work with also makes use of BJoy Ring Wireless when in his power chair. However, he is increasingly using his manual wheelchair both at home and at school so the range of methods he has to access his school work are proving invaluable.

The software he uses for school work are Clicker 7 and Splash City. The latter of these has been the biggest game changer. Where the expectation in maths is to manipulate tools or resources to achieve the outcome, Splash allows the user to imitate this using their computer, meaning the recording of maths work doesn’t rely on an adult scribe or a hugely differentiated task but simply an effective method of access.

His setup at home includes a large touchscreen all-in-one PC which is essentially a massive tablet. It can be moved around the house and works off it’s own internal battery. This is so he is able to use it placed on a table that overhangs his bed as well as on the desk where it is primarily situated. On the desk, he has a wireless Optimax Joystick with additional left click switch, a Logitech wireless Touchpad (which unfortunately doesn’t appear to be in production anymore) and a wireless keyboard.

The theory behind this set up is that the various methods of access will each be more suited to different tasks, so he will choose the one he uses depending on what he is doing. In practice, however, a combination of all of them are used at all times as means of speeding up his computer use. I’d love to take credit for this way of working and tell you I suggested he tried positioning each component in such a way as they were all usable in conjunction with one another. But I can’t. He out AT’d me.

The joy in this, I find, is that he doesn’t see it as a particularly remarkable feat. He clicks with whichever switch is closest to either hand without a second thought. If the target is close to the bottom of the screen and the cursor isn’t, he’ll use the touchscreen instead. If he needs to move across the screen quickly, he’ll use the touch pad. If it’s a smaller, more precise movement he requires, the joystick becomes the preferred option. If there is typing involved, keyboard shortcuts are utilised- and this was just maths homework!

When people ask what I do, I try to explain the implementation of technology as a means of bridging a gap or mitigating the effects of a disability. The two examples I have shared demonstrate that in different ways and are just a small sample in a huge community of professionals and users for whom this is their reality. So whether it is finding the best bit of kit, adapting the stuff that’s already there or finding a way of using it that, whilst completely different from everyone else, works best for them, that’s what I try to do for all of the amazing people I work with.