Education And Debate


BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 28 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1149
  1. C J M Poole,
  2. Andrew Millman

    People with a wide range of disabilities may be helped by adapting computer technology to suit their needs. In many cases, only relatively simple modifications are needed to allow disabled people to use standard computers at home or at work. In more severe cases computers can be adapted to allow disabled people who cannot move, see, or speak to communicate effectively.

    For example, Professor Stephen Hawking, who has been severely disabled with motor neurone disease for many years, has written dozens of papers and a best selling book with the help of this type of technology. Furthermore, he lectures and regularly speaks on both radio and television programmes. To allow him to do this, his wheelchair has been fitted with a battery powered computer linked to a sensitive microswitch. Small hand movements are used to select words on a VDU screen mounted on the arm of his wheelchair. These words can be assembled into documents, which can be printed out later or can be fed into a speech synthesiser that reads and then speaks the phrases that he has created.

    Professor Stephen Hawking uses adaptive computer technology to communicate. (Photograph supplied by Manni Masons Pictures.)

    Specialised hardware and software

    Conditions that may be helped by adaptive computer technology

    • Visual impairment

    • Deafness

    • Cerebral palsy

    • Dysphonia

    • Dyslexia

    • Head injury

    • Multiple sclerosis

    • Motor neurone disease

    • Tremor

    • Stroke

    • Deformity or injury to hands or arms

    • Work related upper limb disorder (WRULD)

    Special hardware and software are now available that can accommodate most disabilities and allow disabled people to use all the functions of a computer. It is no longer necessary for the user to sit upright in front of a screen or even to be able to read a screen. Keyboards can be modified or replaced altogether with speech recognition technology. The now familiar mouse, which is extensively used in graphical user interfaces such as Windows, can …

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