Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 26 / JULY 1982 / PAGE 94

Computing Techniques For The Handicapped

George Leotti
Glenolden, PA

In this interesting article, the author, a quadriplegic, describes techniques he has learned to effectively work with his computer. His suggestions may be of interest to other handicapped programmers and, at the end, he has a program-typing hint for everyone.

Being a physically disabled individual I faced some unique problems in making my computer, and peripherals, usable. First, I'd like to briefly describe my disability and then pass along some hints that may help other people, disabled and able alike.

I'm a C5-C6 quadriplegic. What that basically means is that my legs are totally paralyzed. My arms are partially paralyzed. I can't move my fingers or thumbs at all, but I can flex my wrists. Now, on to the hints.

There are many devices available to hold pencils, pens, and paintbrushes that will hold a stick which may be used to press keys on your keyboard. I use a universal holder with an L bar that holds a pencil, eraser-side down. Use whatever is comfortable for you.

To protect the faces on my small keyboard PET, I have someone cut out the fingers of a surgical glove, put them over the eraser, and tape it securely to the pencil. This way the eraser will not fragment and get stuck between the keys. Plus, wear and tear on the keys is reduced.

A New On-Off Switch

The first problem I encountered when I bought my PET was how to turn it on and off by myself. As you know, the PET and Commodore peripherals have their power switches located on the back panels. Why? I don't know. But I do know it is impossible for me to reach them.

The solution was simple. I had another switch mounted on the front panel, above the keyboard. The new switch "jumpers" the power switch in the rear. The Commodore switch now stays in the on position. The new switch turns power on and off. Its switch is a toggle switch which can be purchased at any Radio Shack, part number 275-651.

I had the same done on my 2023 printer. The switch is mounted an inch to the right of the paper advance button.

Who will install switches for you? My brother, an electronics engineer, installed them for me. If you have no one able to perform this operation for you I suggest you: contact a local electronics/computer store, appliance repair shop, or television repair shop. If you go this route be sure the person is insured and knows exactly what you need. If your machine is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer first. They (or the store where you bought it) may install a switch for you.

Another solution to the problem would be to have a switching center installed by a competent electrician. In this way you would not deface your machine and you could have all the power switches in one convenient location.

Operating Tape And Disk Drives

The next problem was how to push the PLAY and RECORD keys at the same time. I found that if you put something in the jaws of a nutcracker to space the ends the proper width, and then tape the ends to hold the spacer, you have a tool that works on the tape drive. This, when held in the mouth, makes pushing those buttons easy. Since most nutcrackers are made of metal, however, it would be easier on your teeth to contact your friendly occupational therapist for something made of plastic or wood.

Just recently, I purchased a 2031 single disk drive because of an overflow of cassettes. It is a remarkable, machine, of course, very fast and efficient, but when I tried to change its diet (remove one diskette and put in another) I found I could not pull out the diskette.

Some tape and toothpicks solved this one. On the left side (front) of my diskettes I have between five and six inches of tape folded in half and fixed to the top and bottom of each diskette with a toothpick at the fold in the tape. Now I can pull out a diskette with one finger.

I used strapping tape (tape with fibers) and round toothpicks. Instead of toothpicks you could use small plastic rings that you can put a finger, or your pushstick, through. Be sure not to cover the write-protect notch on the disk.

Shopping For Machines

If you are disabled and deciding which computer to buy, go to a computer store. Try each model or brand you are interested in. Look for accessibility. I have found that the PET has very accessible keyboards. For me, the separate numeric keypad reduces arm fatigue when entering programs manually.

Also, anyone who has a disability that affects the hands should consider the tractor feed type printer. I have the problem of my paper coming out of alignment almost every time I tear a sheet out of the printer. I have to use my mouth to grip the paper and pull it. So far, I've come up with no practical solution to this problem...

Something For Everyone

Here's a hint which might solve a general problem. When entering a program from COMPUTE!, do your eyes sometimes wander the page looking for your place? In the back of COMPUTE! you will find a card that is used for foreign subscriptions. If you live in the US, or subscribe, tear this card out.

Use a sharp hobby knife to cut out a "window" in the card. Cut out, on the address side, the words (sorry about this) COMPUTE! Magazine. You may need to widen it to equal a whole line of a program. Place the card on the page that has the program, leaving the lines you want, showing through the window. As you enter the program, just move the card down the page.

These ideas are offered as suggestions. Neither COMPUTE! nor Mr. Leotti can be held responsible for any damages resulting from their use.