NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2003
Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Computer
But What Your Computer Can Do For You

by Elise M. Edgell
North Orange County Computer Club, CA
(click to email author)

For many years I have been looking for hardware and software that I could buy for my computer to make it faster, smarter, have more colors, give it more memory, and be able to run more printers, scanners, modems, and various other gadgets. It always seemed that I never had the funds to purchase what I really needed to be able to edit photographs, print high quality photos, have a computer fast enough to run the software to do all the marvelous things available.

Now it seems that computers have evolved to the point where the necessary CPU speed, sound, video, RAM memory, monitor, broadband connection to the Internet, and printers are powerful enough and inexpensive enough to enable people to do all the wonderful things that were previously out of reach. The use of the Internet and digital photography are two very popular uses of the home computer.

But what else can we let the computer do for us? It is obvious in our club that we have an aging membership. It is time to let the computer start assisting us in the things we do. There are some features built into Windows that can make life easier. It is possible to enlarge the size of the type on the monitor. The speed that the mouse moves can be changed to compensate for a hand that is not as steady as it once was. The color scheme in Windows is changeable. There are many choices as to what appeals to you ro as to what makes it easier for you to read the text on the screen. Also, many programs let you change the color scheme to make it easier for you to read the screen.

Have you ever thought about having the computer read to you? There are programs that are able to read any text file. This means that any text that you can copy into Windows Clipboard can be read to you. It can read your e-mail, help files, documents, books, web pages, etc. One such program is iSpeak by Fonix. It also has a place where you can enter your town text and the program will say each letter as you type it and each word as it is completed. Then the text can easily be copied and pasted into your favorite word processing program or e-mail program. The thing that I found very interesting is that when I did some searching on the Web for information about the program there was a whole list of things that it can do for you, none of which indicated that it would be very helpful for anyone with impaired vision.

There is a program called Zoom Text by AiSquared that is aimed at the vision impaired market and has an add-on which will read the text out loud, but it is a much more expensive program.

Do you have a problem with carpal tunnel syndrome or are the joints just not working as well as they once did? Are you not a touch typist and have trouble seeing the keyboard? Programs such as Via Voice by IBM and Dragon Naturally Speaking allow you to write text by dictation and even control the functions of the computer with voice commands. In the past these programs werenít very efficient because they take a very powerful computer to work properly. I think the current computers are approaching the necessary compute power.

Many programs can also be used on a PDA such as a Palm or a Pocket PC. Such devices can be very useful because they are easy to take with you when you leave your computer. A PDA can remember megabytes of names, addresses and phone numbers that you are having trouble remembering (Senior moments?). They can be easily programmed to remind you of appointments (time to take pills?), lists of things to do, directions on where to go, etc. About the only requirement is that a person has the ability to read.

E-mail is getting very popular with Seniors but how many people are using the Internet to order groceries? Shopping can be a major problem if you can no longer drive. Public transportation leaves a lot to be desired. Being able to place an order from your computer and have it delivered is more than a convenience for many people. Also, many pharmacies allow you to order refills of prescriptions on their Web sites. There are many other sites that will mail your prescriptions to you. Using a search program such as Google is also a good way to get information about any medication that you are taking (and about anything else that interests you). You can do all of your shopping using the Internet. Not being able to walk around a shopping mall is no longer a bar to the Shop Till You Drop syndrome.

There are other devices that can be used in the home in conjunction with a computer or in a stand-alone capability that can make life much easier. When it is difficult to get around, it is handy to have a remote control device to turn lights on and off, control a fan, room air conditioner, or any other small appliance. Having a remote video camera in position to show who is at the door is also very handy. There are also devices that can be worn on a cord around the neck so in case of en emergency help can be summoned at the press of a button. Telephones for hearing impaired are available for free in California (with the proper documentation).

The many helpful uses of a computer are not restricted to the elderly. People of all ages may have a disability. And, you donít have to have a disability to let your computer make life easier and more fun.

I would really like to hear from anyone who is using or knows of interesting programs or devices that can be used to improve the quality of life for so many of us. Please e-mail me with any suggestions or ideas at EliseME@aol.com.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member.

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