T-Power: Empowering Special Needs Kids Through Technology - Part III - Using What May Be Already on Your Computer
by Dr. Merle Marsh
Before ordering lots of extra software and accessories for your computer, it's wise to check what your computer may already have available within it. Today's computers are packed with so many goodies that it's easy to miss the Special Needs options that may be helpful to you and your children.
Depending upon which computer system you use, start by checking the information about Special Needs that is included on the Apple or Microsoft websites. There you may discover ways to use your computer that you hadn't thought of before. Here are three major sites to browse:
These sites will give you information about what comes with your computer system, in addition to links to and facts about additional software and hardware that may be of interest to you. Be careful as you examine site information, however, for sometimes it's difficult to tell what you already have from what is available for purchase.
If you have Microsoft Windows XP, you'll want to find the Accessibility Wizard. Go from Start to All Programs, then Accessories. Select Accessibility. In the Wizard, you'll be led through all the categories, which include options for "People Who Are Blind or Have Difficulty Seeing Things on the Screen," "People Who Are Deaf or Have Difficulty Hearing Sounds on the Computer," and "People Who Have Difficulty Using the Keyboard or Mouse." Experiment with and select the options you want. You probably won't have difficulty setting the options, but if you'd like additional guidelines, you'll find that the Microsoft Accessibility Tutorials (See Web address above.) are very thorough and simple to follow.
If you want the computer to be ready to read text to you or your children, look for the Narrator option under Accessibility. Microsoft explains that "Narrator is designed to work with Notepad, WordPad, Control Panel programs, Internet Explorer, the Windows desktop, and some parts of Windows Setup." It can, in addition, read typed characters, but you'll need to be sure you check the "Read typed characters" box in the setup for Narrator.
Many older Windows systems have the Accessibility Wizard, but the Narrator part of the Accessibility options may not be available on older systems or computers without speech-to-text capability. On any Windows computer, however, you'll be able to set the appearance of words and icons on the computer screen, the speed and action of the mouse and keyboard, and the level of sound by going from Start to Settings to Control Panels. Once you're there, select the control panels you want such as Mouse, Display, etc.
For Special Needs options on Mac System X, select System Preferences and then Universal Access." There you'll see the categories: Seeing, Hearing, Keyboard, and Mouse. When you select one of these, you can pick the choices that you want for your computer. In Seeing, for example, you can switch to White on Black, Enhance Contrast, Zoom In or Out, Enable Speech-to-Text, and Enable Access to Assistive Devices.
While most of the options in Universal Access are easy to use, if you want to use Speech-to-Text, you've got to do more than simply select "Enable Speech to Text." After you've checked this option, open Speech in System Preferences. In Speech, check "Read selected text when key is pressed." Then select a key. While you can pick any key, we suggest a Function Key — one of the keys with an F and a number on it. Just press F1, for instance, when the box for key selection opens and then OK. (Note: You can pick keys other than the Function Keys, but if you do they'll only be usable for this Speech-to-Text option. Let's say you pick a "c". You won't be able to type anything with a "c" in it. - So we strongly urge you to pick a Function Key.) To put your Speech-to-Text to use, just highlight what you want read and press the selected key. It works quite well, and you can select from a variety of voices for the readings. None are quite human yet, but all can be understood.
In Mac Systems below System X, head to the Control Panels (under the Apple menu) to change such items as appearance text and icons on the screen, sound settings, and keyboard and mouse options. Universal Access is not available on systems below X.
Besides the accessibility options that are included in computer systems, you'll want to check out those that are available within the software programs that you use. Both Internet Explorer and Netscape have options for making text larger, and Microsoft Word includes a variety of useful options. Look carefully at the selections offered in software menus to see if there are options you can use.
The options provided by computer systems probably won't be the complete solution to your child's needs. They are, to be sure, a place to start, and may be combined with other software and products that help with accessibility.
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