I can’t use a computer without assistive technology. Over the years as computers have become more powerful assistive technology has become better and better. There are now hundreds of specialist gadgets and software that can make it easier for people with disabilities to operate computers or smartphones.

When I was at school back in the 90s I first started using a tracker ball to move the cursor on an old Acorn computer. By the way if you are not familiar with Acorn computers it’s what we had before Windows PCs were everywhere. The only thing I used to do on it was write stories and play games, because that is pretty much all you could do. Compared to PCs now that thing was rubbish, but of course back then I thought it was great and I was on it all the time.

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The old tracker ball mouse

It wasn’t until a number of years later that someone at my school suggested I use a graphics pad and pen to control the cursor on a PC. This was a MAJOR improvement over the tracker ball because I could move the cursor around and click much faster than before. Plus it was a lot easier too. And that is what I continued to use until I left school and throughout college. Then when I started University I was introduced to Dragon Naturally Speaking and using computers became even easier still for me.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

In case you are not familiar with Dragon it is voice recognition software that allows you to control the computer and type using voice commands. It took a little while for me to get used to Dragon as I was so used to using the graphics pad. But now Dragon is an essential programme for me as I wouldn’t be able to use a computer without it. Sometimes, it can get annoying if it repeatedly doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but the independence it gives me far outweighs any gripes I may have about it.

For typing I don’t think there is a better program out there right now. I can type faster than it would take an able-bodied person to type the same sentence. It is light years easier and faster than clicking on an on-screen keyboard like I had to do in the past. I’ve written before about what it’s like to use Dragon, which you can read about here.

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However, one of the biggest drawbacks with Dragon in my opinion is that moving the mouse is not a fast and smooth process. Dragon moves the mouse by using a Mouse Grid. This divides the screen into nine squares and you choose the square that corresponds to where you want the cursor to move. It would be better if I could just move the cursor fluidly like you can using a normal mouse. Similarly, clicking is not as effortless as I would like. You have to say “mouse left click” (which often Dragon mistakes for “mark’s left leg”) which takes a few more seconds, and a little bit more effort to do.

Moving a mouse and clicking is effortless for an able-bodied person, and that’s what I wanted it to be like for me. I needed to find something that would make it that easy for me.

Enter SmartNAV.

SmartNAV

SmartNAV is a “hands-free ergonomic mouse” and allows me to move the cursor quickly and easily, just by moving my head.  SmartNAV has an infrared camera which sits on top of my PC monitor and shines an infrared beam at my forehead. I wear a reflective silver dot on the middle of my glasses which reflects the beam back to the camera. The result is that wherever I point my head the mouse follows. It’s quick, easy and efficient. Now I can type quickly with Dragon AND quickly move the mouse around with SmartNAV, which is great.

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The  SmartNAV IR camera

SmartNAV does have its limitations though. Firstly, because the infrared camera responds to infrared light to move the cursor it can be disturbed by sunlight. I have a window directly opposite my PC and whenever the sun comes out the cursor goes haywire and darts all over the screen. So whenever I use smart NAV I need to keep the blinds closed behind me. It is not so much a problem in the winter because obviously it is not as sunny. But in the summer it’s a bit annoying if it is a nice sunny day and I have to sit inside in the dark.

Secondly, I can’t click using smartNAV so I have to use another program called Softype, which clicks automatically whenever the mouse stops moving. However, at present it is playing up and won’t open for some reason. You need to hold the cursor still for soft type to click, and sometimes it’s a bit tricky to hold my head completely still.

So with SmartNAV and Softype I can move the mouse and click quickly and easily, whilst using Dragon to type.  But as I explained above they do have their limitations.

SmartNav can be bought online for $499. However, my local Electronic Assistive Technology Support service provided me with it for FREE because it’s part of the NHS. It’s fantastic that the NHS provides this technology to improve people’s independence, as otherwise many would not be able to afford it.

GlassOuse

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In the summer last year I came across a gadget called a GlassOuse at Naidex.  GlassOuse can be used to control any device using Bluetooth, and it is worn like a pair of glasses.

It is incredibly easy to use. All you need to do is make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your PC or smartphone, pair it up with your device and away you go.  There is no software that needs to be installed and you don’t need to plug anything in.

GlassOuse moves the mouse as you move your head, and you can change the settings to make it move as fast or slow as you like. Biting onto the blue button that you can see in the picture above allows you to easily click and drag.

I was so impressed by GlassOuse at Naidex that I bought one whilst it was still in the initial funding phase on Indiegogo, and it has not disappointed me.  Using GlassOuse is a liberating and refreshing experience as it allows me to move the mouse around and click on things as fast as I like. I’m only limited by how quickly I can move my head.

But the biggest drawback with it is that it puts pressure on my nose at as it sits on top of my glasses. So after a few hours or so the skin starts to get sore, and then I need to give it a rest for a while. If it wasn’t for this I would probably use it all the time, but I try to use it for one or two hours at a time, which is fine.

The really neat thing about the GlassOuse is that it can be used with any device that has Bluetooth enabled, including smart phones. I had never been able to use my phone independently before I got the GlassOuse, but now I can. Just as with the PC it is incredibly easy to pair up with my phone. As soon as it is paired an arrow appears on screen which I can by moving my head, and using the blue bite click button I can click on any icons that I want.  Now I can text, browse the Internet, take photos and even play Angry Birds completely independently. It’s fantastic!

Check out the video below of me controlling my phone with GlassOuse:

GlassOuse is on sale for $399 (£322). This may seem like a lot of money but it’s actually cheaper than SmartNAV and  Eye gaze, and in my opinion it works a lot better. So  I think it is definitely worth the money.

Click this link if you are interested in buying one: http://glassouse.com/?ref=65 

As technology continues to improve I’m sure there will be more gadgets coming onto the market that will make our lives even easier. I can’t wait to try them out! I’m so grateful that such a wealth of assistive technology exists because without access to computers and the Internet life would probably be a lot less interesting.