As you may have seen from the about me section or realised from my website icon I am a disabled Apple user. I am paralysed from the neck down and on a life support machine 24/7, obviously this provides many barriers to using technology, however, not so much with Apple and the Mac specifically. As a severely motor impaired user most people jump to the conclusion that the primary way I interface with the Mac is via Switch Control. I have been using a Mac since 1989 so have discovered my own favoured way of controlling my system, we didn’t have the option of Switch Control with System 6 OS! In this post I’ll show how I currently access and control my 27 inch iMac with 5K Retina Display and hopefully demonstrate that despite the very welcome accessibility features in macOS Sierra there is a more precise and quicker way of taking complete control of a Mac.
As stated above I first used a Mac in 1989, two years after I was completely paralysed by a virus that attacked my spinal cord, and the revolutionary control system was called Headstart. Headstart was the forerunner of what I use today, a TrackerPro (img.1), despite having a very high level spinal cord injury and a tracheotomy tube I do have complete control of my head movements and this enables the use of the TrackerPro which has a small receiver that sits on top of the screen and a small reflective dot which sticks to the centre of my glasses. The receiver picks up the position of the reflective dot and small movements of the head (therefore dot) moves the cursor on the screen, this allows for much more precise movement as opposed to Switch Control, it is also a much faster way of moving the cursor. TrackerPro can be viewed on the Inclusive Technology Website and is also now available on the Apple Website and as you can see at over $990.00 it is extremely expensive for a piece of equipment that just emulates a mouse or trackpad, however, the cheaper versions I have tested have always had problems such as not being responsive and reacting adversely to sunlight.
TrackerPro on it’s own does not give the full functionality of a mouse or trackpad, there is no way to left or right click. In order to have this necessary ability I use a Sip/Puff switch (img.2) that I wear on a very small headset, a puff effects a left click and a sip effects a right click. The Sip/Puff switch plugs directly into the TrackerPro and together they provide a complete mouse emulator. The Sip/Puff switch available from Origin Instruments at $295.00 and negates the need to wait for a period of time in order for a dwell click to activate, once again speeding up control of the system. As the TrackerPro alongside the Sip/Puff switch are technically a USB mouse there is no specialist software that needs to be installed.
Being paralysed from the neck down means a standard keyboard is completely inaccessible so my main form of text input is via an onscreen keyboard called KeyStrokes (img.3) which is available from AssistiveWare for $149.00, however, with the release of High Sierra in the autumn a full featured onscreen keyboard is expected to be included free of charge in the Operating System. KeyStrokes has a built in predictive text bar which also has intelligent learning to enhance predictions, using this I an able to type at approximately 25- 30 words a minute. I also use Dragon to enter basic text.
Over the years I have been paralysed, with the help of many iterations of accessible Mac adaptions I have gained GCSEs, A Levels, a BSc (Government) from the London School of Economics and completed many other academic courses. For my own pleasure I have also run websites, made computer artwork, run an internet radio station and had a brief go at podcasting all using this accessible technology demonstrating that such accessible technology gives complete access to the macOS platform.
Below are some images of the assistive technology set up described above. Image 4 (img.4) shows where the TrackerPro sits on the iMac. Image 5 (img.5) shows the Sip/Puff Switch box that is connected to the TrackerPro. Image 6 (img.6) shows myself wearing the tiny reflective dot on my glasses and the tube that enables me to activate the Sip/Puff Switch. Image 7 (img.7) shows where I choose to have my onscreen keyboard.