Special Software: Assistive Technology and Cerebral Palsy

By Stephanie Torreno

Cerebral palsy often affects fine motor skills. Computers are useful tools in dealing with these limitations, but using them can present difficulties. Read this article about assistive technology and cerebral palsy and learn how computer software eases difficulties for people with this disability.

The Problem

A neurological condition, cerebral palsy affects each individual differently. A person who has cerebral palsy may have uncontrollable With Computers All Students Are Equal muscle movements, abnormal muscle tone (either too floppy or too stiff), poor balance, and/or speech difficulties. Depending on the type and severity of cerebral palsy, fine motor abilities may be affected, making activities from handwriting to simply turning a page difficult or impossible.

Computers offer freedom for individuals with these difficulties by allowing them to communicate, work, and learn. Fine motor limitations, though, can affect typing skills and abilities to control a mouse. Assistive technology, in the form of accessibility features in Windows or special software, can improve typing and make mouse control easier.

Making Typing Easier

Individuals with cerebral palsy may have the ability to type with only one hand, or with one or two fingers. Others may require a pointer and other adaptive hardware. These circumstances can make holding down two or more keys at one time difficult.

Built-In Help for Windows Users

StickyKeys, an accessibility feature in Windows, enables the user to activate a key to remain pressed without physically keeping a finger on that key. When a shortcut requires a key combination such as CTRL+S, for example, StickyKeys allows one key to be pressed at a time instead of pressing two keys simultaneously.

Another feature, FilterKeys, allows the user to adjust the time a key is held down before it will repeat. This feature is helpful since some keyboards are more sensitive than others. These accessibility features can be activated though the Accessibility Options in the Control Panel in older versions Windows, or the Ease of Access Center in Windows 7.

Word Prediction Software

A separate application, word prediction software, reduces the number of keystrokes an individual has to make. A word prediction program displays a list of words based on the letters that have already been typed. The typist saves keystrokes by selecting the correct word rather than typing the remaining letters.

If a typist wants to type the word ‘equipment,’ for example, he or she normally has to type nine characters. Using word prediction software, a typist may type ‘e-q-u-i-p-m-e-n-t,’ checking the word prediction list between each keystroke to see if the software has predicted the intended word. If the correct word appears after ‘e-q-u-i’ is typed, then the typist chooses that word and has only typed a total of five keystrokes (four letters and one selection key).

This program contains a fixed dictionary with a stored vocabulary that never changes. Words can also be added by the user, and custom dictionaries can be created. A word prediction program improves spelling and gives the user more confidence in typing. Most importantly, this software can greatly improve typing speed and reduce fatigue.

Controlling the Mouse Cursor

Another standard feature built into Windows enables a user to control the cursor using the traditional numeric keypad. When MouseKeys is activated, each number on the numeric keypad controls the direction of the cursor. For example, pressing the ‘4’ key on the numeric keypad directs the cursor to the left. Pressing the ‘7’ key directs the cursor up and to the left, while pressing the ‘1’ key directs the cursor down and to the left.

Other keys on the numeric keypad have the single click, double click, and drag-lock functions. Settings allow for adjusting the acceleration and speed of onscreen mouse features. MouseKeys can be activated though the Accessibility Options in the Control Panel in older versions Windows, or the Ease of Access Center in Windows 7.

With the accessibility features in Windows and word prediction software, a person with fine motor limitations can type more quickly and easily and control the cursor more precisely. While these software features may not ease all difficulties in using a computer, this combination of assistive technology and individuals with cerebral palsy will mean more freedom in computing.