Imagine a world where computer mice had not yet been invented. Everyone would use their keyboard to move around the screen, run programs, access information, and, of course enter data. Would you feel lost? If so, read on. This is for you.
Understanding Your Mouse Dependency.
A computer mouse is a marvelous tool. While it has only been around computers in any significant way for the last 15 years or so, it help shift us from typing at a command prompt to using a graphical interface like Microsoft Windows or the Apple Macintosh OS. It shaped how we use the Internet. Clicking links on a web page is a function designed specifically for a mouse to perform.
It’s not surprising that a world without such a device would be hard to fathom. However, if you cannot see or do not have the fine motor skills to move a mouse accurately, that world is your reality. The mouse’s essential functions depend on knowing where its pointer is on the screen and positioning it successfully to perform the task you need done.
Given the way most of us have learned how to use a computer, using it without a mouse sounds like a very difficult task. However, people who are blind or less mobile often use a computer more efficiently than sighted people. They use key combinations to move around, start programs, and get things done. We often lose time and sometimes patience trying to find right things on the screen or moving between the mouse and keyboard. If you lose your mouse pointer frequently, have difficulty clicking on the right thing, or are just weary of switching between the mouse actions and keyboard typing, there are great lessons to learn from those who don’t use the mouse at all.
The nice thing about keyboard shortcuts is that you only have to know a few basic ones to start seeing improvements. Some are dedicated keys on your keyboard. They allow you to move around on screen like the arrow keys or start something like the Enter key. Others are “keyboard modifiers.” Keyboard modifiers provide additional capabilities by pressing one or more modifier keys with another key. The Shift key as an example modifies a regular lower case “a” to be displayed as the capital letter “A”. Both dedicated and modifier keys are listed below for PC systems supporting Microsoft Windows:
If you are using a Apple Macintosh, there are also dedicated keys there. Most Modifier keys for the Mac are labeled differently from those used in Windows PCs. See the links at the end of this article for more details.
Getting Started with Keyboard Shortcuts.
For people accustomed to using a mouse, using the keyboard may seem strange. If you look at keyboard lists, number of key combinations may seem overwhelming. However, starting simple with a few dedicated keys help you see the advantages and much less effort. You can start with this LegacyTech article on tabbing:
For more Information, there is a great article in PDF format by Eduardo De Leon from New York University. It covers keyboard use for both Windows and the Macintosh. If you cannot view PDF files, you can download Adobe Acrobat Reader to see the article.
Keyboard shortcut reference lists are also available from and Apple:
On Saturday, I attended Insight: a low vision expo put together by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. With about 300 people preregistered and many more registering onsite, it was an interesting and diverse group of mostly older people. Some fell into traditional classification of blindness. Others could be placed more on a spectrum of vision ability due to a number of age-related conditions. Of adults age 40 or older in the United States, more than 2 million have glaucoma, more than 4 million have diabetic retinopathy, and more than 1.75 million have age-related macular degeneration, according to the National Eye Institute. They were all well-represented at this event.
For people with a range of visual impairments to continue functioning successfully and independently there is also a spectrum of accommodation and improvements to computer and software. As Microsoft Technical Evangelist Daniel Hubbell pointed out in his keynote to the event, many accommodations have evolved beyond traditional requirements into more mainstream usage or, in his words, “customer preference.”
Part of this is that a number of accommodations are simple customizations that simply make sense for our aging population. However, the disability label doesn’t sit well with people who still feel relatively independent. Dan mentioned the problem his dad had with clicking on the Control Panel’s wheelchair icon in Windows XP to get to the accessibility options he needed. “That is not me,” he told Dan. He didn’t feel disabled and wasn’t about to consider himself that way. Now Microsoft uses a more abstract icon to get to the same features and calls them “Ease of Access” instead of “Accessibility Options”…and we all use them in one way or another to see, hear, and move more successfully in Windows.
This shift from accommodation to usability is not surprising. While the Americans with Disabilities Act drove cities and municipalities to create “curb cuts” or ramps at street corners to accommodate wheel chairs, the primary users of those cuts are people with baby strollers and bicycles. A feature that I added to my kitchen during a remodel a few years ago was a cabinet that raised the dishwasher off the floor. While this is a feature initially designed for wheelchair users, it is now an option among cabinet makers. Why? Besides the offering it as an accomodation, it simply makes sense to raise the dishwasher loading area to a more comfortable level. The term Universal Design is now used to describe this approach and is now part of college curriculums for architects, product designers, and engineers.
Dan in his keynote highlighted some of the more dramatic Ease of Access features in Windows 7, an updated Magnifier application and Screen Recognition, a feature that first appeared in Windows Vista. Both are great option for Windows users who have difficulty seeing or controlling applications. He also made a brief reference in response to a question from the audience about changing font sizes in Windows. The shortness of time prevented Dan from doing into this area in more depth other than mentioning the option to make the text on your screen larger or smaller. This ability is also available in other versions of Windows besides Windows 7 but is less discoverable. Given that this feature is more useful if you understand a little be more about it, we will explore that option in an upcoming blog entry.
This is the first Insight expo hosted by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. Unlike a number of other disability conferences, the attendees for this event were not largely disability advocacy groups, accessibility aids vendors, or consultants. They were regular people from all walks of life in search of information and resources to help them be creative and independent as they grow older and deal with vision impairments. I had a great time and got to meet some very interesting people. Hats off to CSBPS and their sponsors for making this event happen!
The modern PC is an amazing device. It is a virtual “Swiss Army Knife” of capabilities, allowing us to interact with the world from our armchair. Using a PC as the central tool, we can read, compose, design, organize, manage, connect, and build rich experiences individually or collectively. It can help run a business, a social group, or offer entertainment and creative opportunities.
The PC is also a mysterious device for many of us, a box with great possibilities wrapped in gibberish, complexity, and unpredictable behavior. It has also become a the device to access services, work, or get information. The technology has become commonplace and necessary.
If you feel lost and need to understand how your PC can help you, Boston LegacyWorks is here to help. If you just want to function better in today’s connected world, we can help with that too!
Through LegacyTalk, we will explore ways to unravel the mystery and improve your experience. With LegacyTech on BostonLegacyWorks.com, you will find resources and tools to help with that process. We are just the initial stages of site development but hope to have the pieces in place very soon. So, come visit us, share your thoughts here and through our site comments. Thanks for checking us out!