A Guide to Some High Technology Communication and Leisure Products
This Information Sheet aims to provide first stop information and guidance on a range of high technology products and services designed to make life easier for older people and people with disabilities. The equipment covered includes computer-based solutions, TV, Radio and Audio Systems.
The first section focuses on computer-based equipment. This includes aids and adaptations which may make using a computer easier if you experience difficulty entering information to the computer or obtaining information from it. The second section deals with audio/visual leisure equipment and services.
Information within this Information Sheet is an outline of the equipment available and is intended as a guide to direct you to other organisations and inform you prior to approaching suppliers. In-depth advice on accessible computer-based solutions is contained in fact sheets and skill sheets produced by organisations such as Enable Ireland, the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC), the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI), DeafHear, and ISAAC Ireland. See 'Useful Addresses' at the end of this information sheet for contact details.
For up-to-date information on specific products and suppliers in Ireland, visit the 'Products and Suppliers' section of the Assist Ireland online database (www.assistireland.ie). The information in this resource can also be accessed using the telephone support service on 0761 079 200 during office hours.
The information contained in this document is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this Information Sheet.
WHERE TO GET HELP AND ADVICE
Before making any decisions about buying equipment, or making alterations to your home, it is strongly recommended that you contact an occupational therapist (OT). An OT is qualified to assess your daily living needs. The OT will advise on possible solutions and will arrange for the provision of suitable equipment to those who are eligible eg medical card holders. The OT can also advise on home modifications, where appropriate, and on grants that may be available to help with the cost.
You can contact the OT for your area through the Community Care section of your Health Services Executive area. Contact details for your local services are in your local area phone book.
If you decide to buy equipment privately it is strongly recommended to seek the advice of an occupational therapist on the suitability of that equipment to your condition or situation. It is also recommended that you try out the equipment, if possible, before purchase.
There are many different ways to trail equipment before purchasing. Disability specific organisations such as DeafHear and the NCBI may provide you with the opportunity to trial equipment in their centres or shops before you buy. Some organisations and HSE areas may have access, through local therapists, to Try-It.ie the Assistive Technology Loan Library, where equipment may be borrowed for trials.
Alternatively, you may be able to arrange a trial or demonstration with a supplier, by contacting the company directly. Contact details of suppliers can be found under 'Disabled Persons Products & Services' in the Golden Pages and some may have a website with details of their products and services which you can view online. Another source of information on suppliers of assistive technology, aids and appliances is the Access Directory. This directory is produced commercially each year and copies are widely available (see Useful Publications).
Sometimes suppliers organise exhibitions of different types of equipment in various locations around the country allowing people to see and try equipment. These exhibitions are often advertised in the local paper or on local radio. You can also request to be put on a supplier's mailing list so you will be notified if there is an event being held in your area.
Some companies will give equipment for a try-out period before purchase. Enquiries should also be made about maintenance (if it will be required), maintenance contracts (if relevant) and whether a user manual is provided with the equipment (essential).
When purchasing from any supplier, it is important to remember that it is their business to sell. There may be several suppliers of that particular piece of equipment or different manufacturers of the same type of equipment, so always shop around.
PROVISION OF EQUIPMENT
The supply of equipment may depend on your age, your financial circumstances and the type and extent of your disability.
Home computers and leisure equipment are not regarded as daily living needs, and are therefore not supplied via Community Occupational Therapist referrals/recommendations.
If you are in paid employment and need assistive technology to enable you to access a computer at work, then you may be entitled to help with the cost and provision of equipment under the Workplace Adaptation Grant. This grant is administered by FAS, and is designed to assist an employer with meeting the costs of aids and adaptations required by an employee with a disability. For more information, please contact your local FAS office.
For children at school
If a child has a disability, is under the age of 18 and still at school, access to funding for equipment may be available if they have a diagnosed disability or learning difficulty. For further information contact your local Special Education Needs Officer (SENO) through your child's school principal.
For students in further or higher education
If you are a student in Higher Education, you may be entitled to a disability allowance, as provided by the Department of Social Welfare. Students may also be entitled to Local Authority maintenance grants. For further information, please contact the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD). (See 'Useful Addresses for contact details).
COMPUTING EQUIPMENT AND ACCESSORIES
Computers, together with any required accessories and software, can offer a useful and speedy means of communicating, obtaining information and pursuing leisure interests. For example, a computer set up with the necessary equipment and software can be used to:
- Print a letter, document or greeting card.
- Write an email to another person or organisation.
- Make and receive telephone calls, with a live video of the other person if both you and the other person have the necessary equipment.
- Look up information on the internet, for example about products, organisations, services, places or even your families ancestors.
- Fill in application forms online.
- Pay bills and manage bank accounts.
- Shop online for anything from groceries to televisions.
- Read printed material out loud from books, magazines, letters and so on.
- View and/or print photographs from digital cameras.
- Play DVDs and CDs, access radio and TV.
- Play games.
- Control environmental control systems.
For persons with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disabilities, computers can also be used to compensate for various limitations and produce the same results as persons without those limitations.
This section gives an overview of some of the options available to assist in making computers easier to use.
CHOOSING A COMPUTER TO SUIT YOUR NEEDS
Nowadays, there are a number of different types of computer systems designed to meet a variety of needs and applications. For example, some laptops are designed to be as small and light as possible for ease of portability whilst others have large wide screens to suit the playback of films from DVD. You are therefore strongly advised to seek professional advice about the best computer for you, and the necessary specification, from your local Community Care therapist or specific disability representative body before making a purchase.
The main types of computer include a Personal Desktop Computer, a Laptop or Notebook or a PDA (handheld computer). The majority of advice and equipment below can be used with desktop, laptop and notebook computers.
The level of greater independence that computers can provide cannot be utilised if the user is unable to input information or readily access the output. Consequently this section of the information sheet covers:
- Operating and entering information to the computer (Input)
- Receiving information from the computer (Output)
OPERATING AND ENTERING INFORMATION TO THE COMPUTER (INPUT)
Information is usually entered to a computer via a keyboard and mouse. Users may experience difficulty using these inputs, perhaps because of difficulties with motor function or visual limitations. Solutions include:
- Changing settings in the computer so that only one key needs to be pressed at a time or to ignore unintentional repeated pressing of keys.
- Changing the appearance of the cursor on the screen, which the mouse controls, so that it is larger or has more contrast.
- Placing sets of large high contrast letters on the keyboard so the keys are easier to see. Braille keytop overlays provide blind computer users with the Braille equivalent of the information printed on the keys.
- Placing a keyguard over the keyboard. Keyguards can help reduce the number of unwanted keystrokes (perhaps due to someone with limited manual coordination hitting more than one key at a time), keep the keyboard safe from spills and help individuals identify the keys.
- Using large key keyboards or one-handed keyboards.
- Replacing the mouse with a joystick or trackball. Trackballs allow individuals with limited hand and arm motion to spin a rotating ball in the direction they wish the cursor to move as an alternative to having to move the entire mouse.
- Keyboard alternatives also include devices and software which allow keyboard input by means of puff/sip (pneumatic) switches, large tactile switches, or scanning selection.
- Using software which predicts the words as you enter them (word predictive software).
- Using an onscreen keyboard and a switch (there is a wide selection of switches to choose from) instead of a keyboard and mouse.
- Using an onscreen keyboard and a headpointer switch. The pointer is moved around the screen by small head movements.
- Using a touch screen instead of a keyboard and mouse. These monitors, or monitor attachments, allow the user to select areas displayed on the monitor by touching them with their fist, finger, headwand or mouthstick.
- Using voice recognition software as an alternative to typing on a keyboard. The user's voice can control commands and input text.
- Eye tracking systems. For people with very limited movement there are devices which enable control of the PC by following the movement of the users eyes. An eye controlled input system tracks the eye movements of the user as he/she looks at different squares on an on-screen keyboard. The system accepts the key indicated on the keyboard if the user's gaze remains on that square for longer than a few seconds.
AbilityNet, a British charity that helps people with disabilities use computers and the internet have produced the following skill and fact sheets which explain how to make these changes to computer input and obtain any necessary equipment.
- Keyboard - Single Handed Use - StickyKeys
- Keyboard - Tuning the Response - FilterKeys
- Keyboard - Dvorak Layout,
- Mouse - Adding Pointer Trails
- Mouse - Enlarging your mouse pointer
- Mouse - Locating the Pointer
- Mouse - Slowing Down the Double Click Speed
- Mouse - Slowing it Down
- Mouse - Using the keyboard - MouseKeys
- Keyboard and mouse alternatives
- Voice recognition software - an introduction
RECEIVING INFORMATION FROM THE COMPUTER (OUTPUT)
Information is usually viewed or read on a computer monitor. For anyone that has difficulty viewing the monitor the following techniques and equipment may be used:
- Changing the size and type of font, background colour and monitor resolution.
- Using a larger screen.
- Changing the size, colour or contrast of the mouse pointer.
- Visual beep indicators alert individuals with hearing difficulties to computer "beeps" (which are produced when something is wrong with the computer, when a function of the computer cannot be performed or when the computer generates a question or message for the user) by means of a visual message on screen.
- Using software which magnifies a portion of the screen.
- Using screen reader software to read out information displayed on the screen with a synthetic voice (speech synthesizers). The voice output can be personalized according to gender and age and with different accents so that a young British girl sounds like a young British girl and an American man sounds like an American man.
- Voice output can also assist individuals with learning disabilities by providing auditory reinforcement to visual learning.
- Using screen reader software to convert information displayed on the screen to Braille output. Refreshable Braille displays allow individuals who have visual difficulties to read screen output through tactile feedback. Small knob-shaped pins in rows and columns simulate Braille text. The display is updated when the user has read what is on the display, the pins change according to the text on the screen and the user continues reading. Alternatively, paper output in Braille can be obtained by using a Braille printer and text-to-Braille translation programmes.
AbilityNet have produced the following skill and fact sheets which explain how to make changes to the computers output and discuss any necessary equipment.
- Vision Impairment and Computing
- Choosing your preferred colours in Windows
- Choosing your preferred text style in Windows
- Making Text easier to see in Windows
- Screen Display Options in Windows XP
- Windows Magnifier
The National Council for the Blind in Ireland's, Centre for Inclusive Technology (CFIT) can assist with providing information for individuals with low vision or blindness.
ASSISTIVE AND EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE
The functions that a computer can perform are governed by 'software' or 'programs' which are usually contained on a CD or DVD and loaded onto the computer. Software packages have been produced to develop:
- office and financial management
- photo editing and enhancement
- cognitive and motor skills training
- communication skills training
- word prediction software
- organisational skills and mind maps
- text to speech and phonetic support software
- voice recognition software
- learning living skills
- employment skills
- environmental control
The price of software can vary considerably from free software to packages costing hundreds of euros. Ability Net maintain a list of 'Useful low cost programmes' on their website as does the OATS (Open source Assistive Technology Software) website. Priory Woods School maintain a guide to educational software they recommend and detail how skills can be built using switches for computer control. Retailers and manufacturers of computer software offer their own selection of programmes.
SOUND AND VISION EQUIPMENT AND SERVICES
There are thousands of TV's, radios, DVD/CD players and other audio/video products coming onto the market today. Ensuring a new product is suitable for your needs and is easy-to-use is getting increasingly difficult.
This section offers some general pointers to buying sound and vision equipment and details changes resulting from the introduction of digital broadcasting.
Listed below is a simple check-list which may help you choose a suitable product:
- Does it have features I will never use?
- Should I choose 'Analogue or 'Digital'?
- Does the product need to be lightweight and portable?
- Does it require headphones or does it have speakers?
- Can I operate the controls?
- Can I read the displays?
- Is the product affordable?
TV AND RADIO BROADCASTING SERVICES
Background to services
Technological advances in radio and TV broadcasting have led to a rapid expansion in the number of channels that are available, a greater choice of equipment, and changes in the way programmes can be broadcast into your home. Traditionally, a few broadcasters sent their programming through the airwaves (known nowadays as terrestrially) from a transmitter. The broadcast signal would then be carried 'over the air' to your home and picked up, via a receiving aerial by your radio or TV set. The picture and sound quality often varies and can be prone to electrical interference and changes in atmospheric weather conditions.
Nowadays these relatively poor quality (analogue) signals are being replaced by Digital Broadcasting Services. Digital signals offer much clearer reception, more channels and additional facilities. Whenever and however you change your TV to digital, you'll still get the traditional channels. But you should also be able to receive more channels you may have seen advertised, and digital radio channels via your TV.
In 2012, analogue television transmitters will be switched off, to be replaced fully by digital television broadcasts. This means that if you have an older analogue TV set you will no longer be able to receive programmes. If you are confident using your current TV, learning to use a new TV may be unsettling. Many of the older TV models have larger controls than the newer sets. Newer TV sets may also have more functions to learn. Consequently the new sets may be relatively more complicated to use, until you get familiar with how they work.
To help with the changeover to digital only television, a coalition of organisations working with older people and people with disabilities have come together to form TV Access (www.tvaccess.ie). This is a lobby group to raise awareness, provide advice and user testing for the new format.
There are no plans at present to discontinue non-digital radio broadcasts.
TV services for Deaf or Blind people
At present, Irish state broadcasters are producing only 1% of content with subtitling or signing. Digital TV will allow for more access to subtitling/signing for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and audio description for individuals who have difficulties in seeing the screen. These streams of additional information will allow the TV viewer to choose if they wish to turn on these features on their own televisions. For more information, please see www.tvaccess.ie.
METHODS OF ACCESSING DIGITAL TV BROADCASTS
Unlike traditional analogue services, there are several different ways (or 'platforms' as it is now sometimes called), in which Digital Broadcasts can be received.
- Set top box with aerial
- Satellite dish
- Cable or Phone Line
Set top box with aerial
This is a simple and inexpensive way to gain access to Digital TV and Digital Audio Broadcasting (Radio) channels that are 'free to air' (not requiring a subscription). All you need is a 'set top box', and possibly an upgraded aerial. They are easy to install, all you have to do is plug the set top box into your TV and aerial and it is ready to work. It works by simply converting an incoming digital signal into an analogue one that can be viewed on your existing TV set. Many new TV's are fitted with 'Freeview' built in so all you will need is the aerial.
In common with most other items of audio/visual equipment, a remote control is used to change channels, adjust volume and access other functions. If you find it difficult to use some remotes, it might be worth shopping around for a product you can operate comfortably. There are many 'freeview' products that are readily available from High Street shops and online.
If you are unable to use a standard remote control, it may be possible to substitute it for a more accessible design. There are several replacement remote controls available, such as a Universal Jumbo remote with fewer and more accessible buttons. It is strongly advised that you check for its compatibility and suitability before making your purchase.
If you have a hearing loss and wish to access subtitled programmes, or have a visual disability and want to access audio described programmes, it is important to check that the 'freeview' box you buy supports these accessibility options.
Using a satellite dish
To receive Digital TV and Radio signals from a satellite, you will need to use a dish placed on a wall outside your home. Check to see if there are any restrictions preventing you from doing this before going ahead.
Using a cable via a telephone line
To access digital channels this way, you will need to subscribe to a service provider. The subscription cost depends upon the number of channels you select (especially sport and film channels, which are usually more expensive) and any other services that may be provided, such as telephone calls or internet access. Subscriptions are normally paid monthly and sometimes there may be an installation or set up cost. Connection is made via a set-top box.
For detailed information about digital television products contact TV Access, who have detailed information available on their website. (see 'Useful Addresses' for full contact details or visit www.tvaccess.ie).
Choosing a suitable radio
Which product do I need?
- Small Personal Radio?
- Clock Radio?
- Lightweight Portable?
- Cassette or CD - Radio?
- Mini Hi-Fi System?
- Hi-Fi Tuner or Tuner Amplifier?
Whatever style you choose, it is always best to try it out, if at all possible, before you make the final decision to buy it. If this is not possible, carefully consider just how the size, layout, style and overall design will affect your ability to operate it. Even a simple design will require the user to switch it on and off, adjust the volume and tune into a station. You may find designs with additional features or controls more complicated to use.
If you need a radio just to listen to one or a few stations, and find it difficult to adjust to new technology, perhaps a traditional AM/FM (analogue) radio is best suited to your needs. However, many portable FM radios require the use of an extended aerial, which may require adjusting to achieve optimum performance. Otherwise the signal may fade or pick up electrical interference.
Digital DAB radios are a lot clearer in sound and can receive an increased number of stations. Before purchasing a digital radio check that there is good DAB signal strength in your area. Poor reception will result in a total loss of programmes.
Size and weight
If you require a product that needs to be carried around, check that you can lift it easily. Some models are fitted with speakers, which add to the weight and others are used only with a headphone for personal use. If you only have the use of one hand a physically larger and heavier radio may be more stable on a work surface.
If you require a portable device, can you change its battery easily, or does it have a mains adaptor so that you can use the electricity supply indoors?
There are many different kinds of controls and switches used in the design of radios and other equipment. This includes lever style switches, push-button switches for wave change functions; sliders or rotary controls for volume level, and thumb switches and rotary controls for station tuning. In later designs, some of these function controls have been replaced by using push buttons to increase volume and change station selection. Many digital radios come with a remote control so you can change stations and volume from your chair or bed even if the radio is across the other side of the room.
If you have limited dexterity, you may experience difficulty in operating push-button switches used in older analogue designs. These are of electro-mechanical construction and require some pressure to operate them. The buttons for each waveband are interlinked and close to each other, making them particularly difficult if you have involuntary hand movement or tremor. Radios fitted with lever switches may provide a better alternative.
Rotary or slider controls are sometimes used to control volume or station tuning. The size and shape of control knobs fitted to rotary dials and sliders may determine their suitability for people who find it difficult to grip and turn smaller controls. Sometimes the volume and station selection is controlled digitally using miniature, buttons for volume level and programme selection. Although these require little force to push, they are small, often close together and offer little tactile feedback to help you judge whether you have pressed the switch or not. New digital radios may use a menu display to activate different functions, this may be confusing if you've never used a menu control before (menu controls are often used on mobiles and computers) and you may wish to practice with a friend or relative who has used this type of control before. If you are blind or partially sighted, the design layout, use of colour contrasting and tactile controls, may determine the ease of operation.
With digital radios the station you are listening to is often named on a display. Some people with vision loss may find this display difficult to read, there is one portable DAB radio available with an audible radio station information display.
If you have difficulty using standard buttons, switches, knobs and dials and displays there are a few manufacturers whom provide equipment specifically designed for people who find standard designs inaccessible.
Prices vary depending upon specification, features and type, to suit most pockets.
- The Access Directory
A directory of assistive technology, aids and appliances suppliers and services published annually. Available from:
Access and Mobility Ltd
6 Ticknock Dale
Tel: 01-206 3387
PO Box 94
Tel/Text: 0044 800 269 545
Fax: 0044 1926 407425
AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access & Disability)
Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI)
Ground Floor Office
Bow Bridge House
Tel: 01-633 7222
Central Remedial Clinic (CRC)
Tel: 01-805 7400
Fax: 01-833 6633
DeafHear (formerly the National Association for Deaf People in Ireland)
35 North Frederick Street
Tel: 01-872 3800
Minicom: 01-817 5777
Text: 01-878 3629
Videophone: 01-817 1400
Fax: 01-872 3816
Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)(UK charity providing advice and information and a comprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0044 207 289 6111
Electronic Assistive Technology Library
National Rehabilitation Hospital
Tel: 01-235 5339
Fax: 01-235 5128
National High Tech Assistive Technology Training Service
1 Grand Canal Quay
Tel: 01-899 2080
Irish Deaf Society – The National Association of the Deaf (IDS)
30 Blessington Street
Tel: 01-860 1878
Minicom: 01-860 1910
ISAAC Ireland (the International Society for AAC)
National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI)
Tel: 01-830 7033
LoCall: 1850 334 353
Fax: 01-830 7787
Ricability(independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumersbasedon professional research)
30 Angel Gate
326 City Road
Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
Fax: 0044 207 427 2468
NCBI Centre for Inclusive Technology (CFIT)
Tel: 01-882 1956
VAT (Unregistered) Repayments Section
Tel: 065-684 9000
LoCall: 1890 202 033
Fax: 065-684 9248