My first experience of teaching was teaching adults to use computers. One of my students presented me with a  challenge. She had some to the class to see if it was easier to use a computer than a pen. She had come to the right class as I had plenty of ideas on how to help her.

Using what you already have to its fullest capacity

The first approach was to retire the mouse and use the keyboard to do everything instead. There are many keyboard shortcuts that you can use. Ever noticed that some computer software you see things like ctrl+p on the drop down menu next to the word print. It is not so obvious on those programs that use a ribbon across the screen rather than a dropdown menu. However, there are lists in the online support pages for the more up to date versions of the software.

Here are some shortcuts that I use regularly when using Microsoft Word

ctrl + b for bold

ctrl + c for cut

ctrl + e for centre

ctrl + r for right align

ctrl + s for save

ctrl + v for paste

ctrl + y for undo

ctrl + z for undo

It is not just Microsoft who use these shortcuts.  Google Chrome and Adobe Photoshop both use ctrl + p for print.

Of course to make some of those commands work you need to select the text first and yes, you can do that using the keyboard as well. This time though you hold down the shift key and press the arrow or cursor keys that are often in a group all on their own on a keyboard.

There is another problem. How do you use two keys at once when you only have the use of one hand? That is where you need to investigate the accessibility options in your operating system.

I use Windows 10 these days and that includes a number of tools that makes using a computer easier but even much older versions of Windows included sticky keys and filter keys. Sticky keys make it possible to use shortcuts by pressing keys one after another rather than at the same time. Filter keys are helpful when there is a risk of pressing the same key multiple times such as when you have shaky hands.

I have played around with my start menu so I was not surprised when I struggled to work out where I had moved the settings page for the keyboard. What did work for me was going to settings in the menu and then clicking on ease of use. I could then look in the menu on that page to find the keyboard page.

New physical equipment

My second approach was to produce a catalogue of adaptive devices. The college was unable to produce any demonstration models but at least I could show her some of the things that are available.

One obvious tool for this kind of situation is a tracker ball. Remember the days when a computer mouse had what looked like a large marble underneath it and when you moved the ball the cursor on the screen moved. Take that idea but turn the device upside down and make the ball much bigger and you have a tracker ball. The idea is that you put your hand on the ball and as your hand moves the ball the cursor moves around the screen.

Remember that was some time ago and before having a touchpad on a laptop was as common as it is today.

New software

This was my third line of attack as voice activation software was not incorporated into as many things then as it is today. Then buying new software was quite an investment. Today things have moved on.

Voice activation does not require additional specialised software anymore it comes as standard with Windows 10.  I have not played with Cortana very much and I am not sure how well it works in practice. It is definitely something worth exploring if you are facing some kind of physical or sensory challenge that makes it harder to use computers.

The biggest hurdle is lack of knowledge

One of the things that has not changed that much is the role an organisation called  Abilitynet plays in helping people access computers. Their website is still the place to go to get help if you need additional support to use a computer.

Their website still has loads of helpful information to help make computers more accessible. Some for it is for individuals and some for organisations.   This is what they say they do

AbilityNet supports people of any age, living with any disability or impairment to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education. We do this by providing specialist advice services, free information resources and by helping to build a more accessible digital world.

Their website can be found at https://abilitynet.org.uk/ and is well worth a visit.

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