Most operating systems on computing devices, now come equipped with tools which enable a fair range of people who live with a physical challenge, to get the most out of their device and access Internet services. As someone who teaches people to use technology, I feel that I might have took the wrong view of these tools in the past. I tended to point out that, these features are there if you suffer or start to suffer with ailments that affect the hands eyes or hearing. I now believe that we should be regularly looking to use some of these tools, whether you have an ailment or not. Due to the fact that, a large proportion of the population now spend many hours on the internet for work and pleasure.
In my experience with an excited learner, they can’t wait to pick up the skills they need to get on the Internet, but have no awareness that using a computing device for a long periods, not just terms of hours, but computing long hours year in year out. Which may affect the agility of the fingers, hands, eyes and back. And anyone who sits at workstation or table to operate their computing device, should check that they are not falling into the RSI trap. If you feel any kind of stiffness or increased stiffness whilst sitting down at a computer, don’t shrug it off as just part of the ageing process. Watch your posture, break away and do some small exercises. If you already do this and still don’t feel right, consult your doctor.
The rate of wear and tear on a body can vary greatly from one individual to another. And as we know through research with genetics, some individuals are more susceptible to suffering with a disability or illness than others. So wouldn’t it make sense then, to start utilising some of these accessibility tool features to protect our bodies and hopefully extend our agility in later life? And not only discover them when we start to notice our fingers and eyes need help.
Accessibility tools do assist people with blindness, deafness and dexterity issues, but they also have aspects of them, that can assist us in our daily usage of computing and surfing the internet. In fact I think after showing someone how to switch on their new device, it should be mandatory that users are made aware how there computing experience can be more comfortable and health friendly.
So for example if someone is in a profession, that requires a lot of research and needs to spend long hours web crawling. Apart from emphasising the need to have breaks, why not get them to actively use a text to voice feature. They won’t then need to strain their eyes at the screen, and it will help if they are starting to get a headache. Another example would be someone who does a lot of data entry. Through accessibility tools you may able to cut down, on the amount of strokes you make on the keyboard during the day.
I have mentioned this in a previous post, but I think if you are going to spend many a long day on the Internet, try to view it on another devices, such as a tablet. This means you don’t have to sit at a work station or table all the time and you can keep repositioning your back for the appropriate support.
Accessibility tools are also not restricted to operating systems, web browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox provide free add-ons to help you as well. I’ve lost count of the amount of times people with fairly competent IT skills, have not know where to look on their browser to enlarge text. Don’t struggle with small print on a screen, make it large. And again you can use a number of different text to voice tools so that webpages can be read out to you. With the browsers though, you do need to know that some of these add-ons, may not run very well on some of the websites you visit, and might have to be disabled in order for you to use the website. But this situation is improving.
Finally in addition to the protective benefits one can get from accessibility features, there is also the benefits of gaining control over the technology your using. Clicks on an iPad and clicks on a mouse can be controlled to speeds to suit the individual. Speeds for scrolling and size of mouse pointer can be controlled. And with iPad you can create your own gesture to complete an action. So making people aware, of where these controls are when they first buy the device can cancel out a lot of frustration. Now if technology sales people would just take the time to point these features out to a potential customer. I’m sure their customer satisfaction rate would increase! Ahhh, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
So if you do use the Internet for long periods on a daily basis, why not look at what Ease of Access tools there are in Windows 7, and if you have recently bought an iPad, look for the accessibility tools by going to Settings and then pressing on General.