15 February 2010

Of Mice and MS

I usually use voice recognition software to interact with my computer. It's not the easy way to do it, but for me, at this point, it's easier than the alternative. For a while this morning I was stuck using only voice recognition, and was reminded that there are some things it does only awkwardly, and other things I haven't figured out how to do at all without some recourse to keyboard or mouse.

The keyboard part is easy enough. I use an on-screen keyboard program called Click-N-Type, but there are several others, both shareware and commercial, to choose from. The Windows operating system includes a rudimentary version.

OK, so now I'm relying on the mouse to be both the mouse and keyboard. If I could use a conventional mouse, I'd be all set. Of course, it's never that simple, is it?

I haven't been able to use a conventional mouse for years. I tried switching hands, reprogramming button functions, using different shapes and sizes including several trackballs. Using a mouse was somewhere between awkward and impossible. What I really needed was something I could operate by whacking it with my fist.

After limping along with a series of painfully inadequate solutions, I borrowed a Kensington Expert Mouse from the library. (The King County Library System and Washington Assistive Technology Alliance has a bunch of vision, hearing, mobility, and communication tools that they loan out, so you can try them and see how they work for you before you buy them. How cool is that? Have I mentioned that I love this library?)

I don't know why Kensington calls it a mouse when it's obviously a trackball. I guess that's why I'm not in marketing. Although it's not intended for disabled users, it looked like I might be able to operate the trackball with the heel of my hand, and click buttons by whacking them. I didn't want to spend $99 just to try it -- my hopes had been dashed by promising solutions that didn't pan out far too often for that -- but I was sure willing to check one out from the library, free for nothin'. I tried it for a couple of weeks, it worked pretty well for me, so I bought one.

It's not perfect. The two rear buttons are kind of awkward to reach without functional fingers, and the scroll ring is not as useful for me as I had hoped. The buttons aren't effectively as large as they appear, since you have to hit a fairly small area or they don't click. On the other hand, I can use it in ways I hadn't anticipated. Lately I started putting it in my lap, so I don't have to reach for it. Couldn't do that with a mouse.

I don't intend this as an advertisement for this particular mouse/trackball. Everybody has a slightly different set of abilities and limitations; this solution just happens to fit what I can do. Today. Tomorrow I might be back to looking at what's out there, trying to imagine how I might use it to do what I need to do.

I guess my point is that sometimes that works.


  1. Yes, KCLS does rock! It's a great system -- better than the other system with the fancy downtown library that is an access nightmare in my opinion -- floor that aren't level?! But don't get me started.

    I would think the voice recognition software tough to use for just what you noted. Most of us edit and re-write quite a bit.

    Reinforces appreciation for my hands which are holding out relatively well. Also, more appreciation for the effort that goes into your posts. Glad you do it.

  2. Donna - Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I'm glad your hands are still working, and hope that continues to be the case. There's so much focus on mobility problems, but there are solutions for that. Worse come to worst, it is possible to live life on wheels. I think being unable to use your hands and arms can be way more disabling.

    As frustrating as voice recognition software can be, it really does work pretty well and I'm very glad to have it. Welcome to life at technology's bleeding edge!

  3. I guess the million dollar question is how much does assistive technology cost, and is there help paying for it?

    I always thought intention tremor was my most feared symptom, but not being able to move at all might just trump that.

    As long as you have your voice, keep on posting, because I, for one, appreciate your perspective, AND your cognitive skills.

    Have you read Herrad? She's in the same boat, and writes some lovely posts.