Not that long ago I wrote about my initial experiences with Assistive Technology. And even though those experiences happened quite some years ago and I’ve undergone a lot of healing and a number of behaviour alterations since, I still use a handful of alternative means to access a computer.
But by far the most important one I use, that makes the time I spend on a computer much more productive and enjoyable, is the manner in which I use a keyboard.
As my physical ability has progressively changed, my needs — in the sense the solutions I use — have not. Well that’s not entirely true. I no longer need switch access scanning or mouse keys, but I still heavily rely on the keyboard, and sticky keys especially, to interface a computer. I can use two hands to type, but that can be challenging (working in Photoshop is the exception) so I don’t typically use both hands. But in an effort to speed up my productivity I don’t so much require said solution, as I much prefer to use it.
Which gets to my point, my most productive use of time, in terms of my access, is the keyboard. Most of the solutions I currently use involve these 90 keys that lay before me…
Today, Wednesday may 9th, marks the very first Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). I encourage you to take a few minutes to experience another perspective towards web accessibility first hand by going pointing-deviceless (whether you use a mouse, trackpad or rollerball, use the keyboard) or using a screen reader to navigate your computer, for even five minutes, at some point today. Every little bit helps.
But in combing through various articles and Twitter links this morning I stumbled across a post written by Derek Featherstone, titled Awareness, that immediately had me contemplating both my Grandparent’s struggles. To be fair, I’m not sure they saw their disabilities as anything they “struggled” with, as it was just something they had to deal with to successfully live a life. But for the purposes of this post and what GAAD actually represents it’s nearly impossible, for me at least, to fathom their lives as anything but a “struggle.”
When both my Grandparents were young — my Grandfather was 3 when he was struck by a motorcycle and contracted Red Measles while in the “Fever Hospital” and my Grandmother was 7 when she was afflicted with Meningitis — they were each left with their disability’s. But in spite of such matters they lived out their childhoods and met each other at a social club organized by/ for the Hearing Impaired in Dundee Scotland as young adults. They were married in 1948, had two children by 1955, then immigrated to Canada in 1957…
It’s been a somewhat surreal year! Both for me and the planet, more broadly. Whether it was my getting involved with the IDRC or the global reawakening concerning exclusion/ inequality and the subsequent Occupation Movements. 2011 was a rager! Exciting, indeed. But for the sake of this post and it’s home on this blog I’ll concentrate on the former.
I was recently involved in a conversation with a colleague about my computer accessibility. The conversation didn’t start that way, focused on me I mean, but it ended on me. I don’t recall exactly how the conversation started, or more specifically how I was able to shift the focus on to me, but immediately following said discussion I found myself writing that colleague an email clarifying what I’d said. That email serves as the basis for this post…
I’ve been away from here for quite sometime attending to a whole host of issues. So in an effort to get back into gear I’ll continue my series of posts describing my computing career. This is the second post in what will be three relating the story of what brought me here. Be sure to see my post the origins of interest for the first bit of my story…
… So by April of ’97, soon after transferring to a third “rehab” hospital (which was everything but a rehabilitation facility, hence the quotes), I was no longer “locked-in” — which as I understand it calls into question my original diagnosis, seeing how it wasn’t permanent (semantics, eh?). I started to regain enough mobility in my right arm and hand to be able to use a keyboard to type and use mouse keys.
Ahhh, mouse keys. I should probably provide you some context. Picture the ways in which any computer pointing device, like a mouse, can move. Limitless, right (speaking 2 dimensionally of course)? Forward, left, right and back. Plus every direction in between. Now imagine the representation of those basic movements on a flat surface, on a keyboard say, and using the numeric keypad to represent 8 directions that device can move. The number “2″ key, when pressed, moved the mouse cursor up on the screen. Number “4″ moved it left. Number “6″ moved it right. And number “8″ moved it down. Then the number “1″ key moved the cursor up and left diagonally on the screen. Number “3″ moved it up and right diagonally. The “7″ key down and left diagonally. And “9″ down and right diagonally. The number “5″ key is the mouse button. Honestly what the rest of the buttons did is pretty fuzzy. Rather than guess I should simply refer you to the Wikipedia entry concerning mouse keys for more accurate context.
And that solution served me remarkably well for probably close to, if not exceeding, two years. Mouse keys are still simple to understand and most importantly easy to use. And it got completely out of the way and let me “master” elements where mouse keys reached their limit and other solutions picked up the slack — keep in mind I’m speaking wholly as a differently-abled creative individual whose primary creative canvas has been a computer monitor for well over a decade. It’s just the nature of the beast. 8 linear directions will only get you so far. It’s much like an Etch A Sketch™, in theory, as it’s movement is rigid and limited. And must like said Etch A Sketch™ there are ways around it’s operation…
Last week I was asked for my advice concerning input devices, the keyboard mainly, and image applications, specifically the HTML5 Canvas attribute. It was an interesting conversation. One that mainly had me focused on a few aspects of what I find most useable. Nothing that I’d say was incredibly stunning or necessarily revealing, again speaking exclusively about what I wrote, but yesterday something happened that made that conversation ever more relevant.
One part of said conversation, my part, brought up OSX Lion, and it’s gestures. And how I wasn’t in any hurry to upgrade. You see I haven’t the most precise control of my fingers — spacially speaking — and I find the trackpad on my computer incredibly awkward to use, a lot of the time. I can use it to move to any spot on the screen and click, once, but as for most of the advertized gestures in Lion, or at least my impression of them, having witnessed demonstrations both on the internet and in person, I was left with the strong impression those gestures would remain largely unusable to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hostile to the idea of Lion’s capabilities, as gestures are just one of many new features, or upgrading for that matter — I was planning on upgrading, eventually — but I said that on Thursday or Friday of last week, and by 8 o’clock Sunday night Lion was installed and running on my machine. I guess I should have defined what I meant by “not in a hurry.”
But I wasn’t incorrect. Lion’s gestures, for the most part, won’t work for me. At least in any consistent manner that would, even remotely, be productive. But I’m still trying. And I remain optimistic…