My Computer My Way: Find how to make your device easier to use

Logo for My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is a free online guide of accessibility features for computers, tablets and mobile phones. The aim is to provide you details to make whatever device you’re using easier to use via built-in accessibility features, browser extensions or via apps that you can install.

It’s been around for quite a number of years and having revisited the site again recently I am glad to see it has been updated to current operating systems features.  So whether you need help now with Android Pie, Windows 10 or iOS12 this useful guide has been updated to include the new built-in accessibility features. 

The layout of Accessibility features is divided into four categories

  • Vision; options include features to help you see and use applications more clearly
  • Hearing; accessibility features and information for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Motor; ways to make your keyboard, mouse and mobile device easier to use.
  • And cognitive; computer adjustments that will make reading writing and using the internet easier.

Further information

https://mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk/

The good:  provides details on just about every build-in accessibility feature for your device.

The not so good: There is a limited amount of information on apps or applications that might also provide useful features.

The verdict:  A useful tool for individuals who have limited or no access to an assistive technology service and need help to find solutions on their own.

Live Transcribe: People who are deaf can have conversations with those who are hearing using this app

A cartoon figure of person holding a takeaway cup with a phone app transcribing the speech of that person.

With just an Android phone, a deaf person or someone who is hard of hearing can have a conversation with anyone.  Live Transcribe is an app that types captions accurately in the language that’s being spoken. It’s powered by Google’s speech recognition technology and there are 70 languages to choose from.

Live Transcribe is easy to use, anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or network connection and it’s free to download.

The video below demonstrates how the app can be used.

According to Dr. Mohammad Objedat, Professor, Gallaudet University:

“Live Transcribe gives me a more flexible and efficient way to communicate with hearing people. I just love it, it really changed the way I solve my communication problem.”

And what’s next?

Google are currently working on the Live Relay project which aims to make phone calls easier for individuals who are deaf or non-speaking.

Live Relay uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion to allow the phone to listen and speak on the users’ behalf while they type. By offering instant responses and predictive writing suggestions, Smart Reply and Smart Compose will help make typing fast enough to hold phone calls without any significant delays.  Follow @googleaccess for updates.

The good:  The captioning accuracy is excellent

The not so good: No offline option

The verdict:  Works really well, a valuable tool for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Webcam Face trackers

User at a laptop using a webcam face tracker

Webcam Face trackers allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android only at present).

Primary users of these technologies are people with motor impairments.  There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  Webcam Face trackers are another possible option for hands-free control of your computer or phone. 

Although it may not be as accurate as other hands-free options, such as wearable sensors, with this approach, you don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot.  As you move your head, the motion is translated to mouse cursor movement by the webcam.  However, you do have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is dependent on lighting conditions.

Basic pointing device support on an Android tablet or phone is possible with EVA Facial Mouse.  This is available through Google Play.  It will allow access to functions of the mobile device by means of tracking the user’s face, captured through the frontal camera. 

At the time of writing, a webcam face tracker is not available on iOS devices.  However, it is possible to use Switch Control with head gestures to act as switches.  For example look left for select, look right for home.

All 5 Webcam Face Trackers listed below have options for mouse dwell, click and drag lock.

There are two free windows webcam face trackers – Camera mouse and Enable Viacam.  Both work quite well.  For the paid options, SmyleMouse also tracks facial expressions and has the option of clicking with a smile.  ViVo offers integration with leading speech recognition programs.

As there are trial versions for most of these options below, its best to try them all to really get a feel for it and see which one works best for you.

Wearable hands-free mice options to consider are:

SmyleMouse $499


ViVo Mouse $430


Camera Mouse free


Enable Viacam free

iTracker for Mac $35

The good:  You don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot and they are battery-free.

The not so good: They are not as accurate as other methods of hands-free options.

The verdict:  If you don’t need very fine cursor control and don’t want to wear a sensor on your head, then webcam face trackers are a good option for hands-free control.

Wearable hands-free mice

Wearable hands-free mice allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac, etc.), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android, iOS)

Primary users of these technologies are or cervical spinal cord injury.

There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are wearable hands-free mice.  With this approach, you wear a sensor (usually on your head but can be worn elsewhere if that works better for you) and as you move, the motion of that sensor controls the mouse cursor.

There is no camera or other optical unit involved, so you do not have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is independent of lighting conditions.

The GlassOuse and the Zono are wireless, requiring no physical connection between the sensor unit that you wear and the computer that you are controlling. They both have perhaps the most thorough and refined designs in this family.

 The GlassOuse package is worn like eyeglasses (but without anything in front of the eye).  It weighs about 50g. GlassOuse also supplies a range of switches that can be used to perform the mouse click such as bite, puff or a proximity switch. 

The Zono is more of a headphone-style mount for its sensor, and also has several alternative ways to wear the sensor, such as an eyeglass clip.  The Zono can be used with a breath or puff switch so you can click by blowing lightly on the switch sensor.

The EnPathia and eeZee sensors require that the mouse must be tilted, not rotated, to move the cursor. So the motion used will be quite different in the head-controlled case; to move right, you would tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder, instead of rotating your head to the right. This is a less intuitive and more difficult movement for many people.  Finally, an open-source option is the Headmouse by Millmore with build instructions available on instructables.com

Some wearable hands-free mice options to consider are

GlassOuse V1.2 €499

GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch
User with GlassOuse V1.2 mouse with bite switch

Quha Zono £550

EnPathia €227

EnPathia mouse worn on the users head
EnPathia mouse worn on the users head

eeZee Switch  $599

eeZee Switch on frame of glasses
eeZee Switch on frame of glasses

ED Air Mouse

ED Air Mouse with switches
ED Air Mouse with switches

Head Mouse by Millmore <€50

Millmore testing his Head Mouse
Millmore testing his Head Mouse

Video of user using a wearable mouse

The good:  These hands-free options can potentially have precise control and are not affected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: Commercial options are expensive.

The verdict: If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and you are happy to wear a sensor, then these wearable mice are a good option for hands-free control.

Handsfree Lip and chin Joysticks

Person using a BJOY chin joystick to control a computer
User using the BJOY chin joystick

A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, wearable sensors, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are Lip and chin Joysticks. 

These products are designed specifically for users with physical disabilities. They are typically USB Plug and Play, which means they will work with any computer platform that supports USB mice, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android. All can be customized using the built-in mouse settings in the operating system, while some will also include setup software for further customization.

To activate the mouse buttons. The IntegraMouse+, Jouse3, and QuadJoy incorporate a sip/puff switch into their joystick, so that a sip action clicks one mouse button, and a puff action clicks the other. Other options are switches, the BJOY Chin has two circular switch pads, one on either side of the joystick, which can be pressed using the chin or cheek. And the TetraMouse has a second joystick that is devoted to button actions, right next to the joystick for cursor control. Low cost options are the Tobias’ mouse and the Flipmouse.  This are open source hardware and software projects with documented instruction on how to build and 3D Print.  The user moves the cursor by using a mouthpiece. The right mouse button is operated by pushing the mouthpiece towards the case. The left mouse button is emulated by a sensor that recognizes if the user sucks air through it.

Some Lip and chin Joysticks options to consider are

IntegraMouse+  €2000

Person using a IntegraMouse for mouse control

Jouse3 $1,495

Person using a Jouce3 for mouse control

QuadJoy 3 $1,398.60

Person using a QuadJoy 3 for mouse control

BJOY Chin €445

TetraMouse XA2 $449

TetraMouse XA2 for mouse control

Tobias’ mouse  <€50 for parts

Tobias’ mouse low cost opensource mouse

FLipMouse €179

FLipMouse low cost opensource mouse

Video

  • The good:  These hand free options can potentially have precise control and are not effected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: do require a line-of-sight to the computer, and commercial options are expensive.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and don’t want to wear a sensor or reflective dot then these joysticks are a good option for hands free control.

Hands free reflective dot trackers

user using a refective dot tracker to control their computer

If you have a physical limitation that makes it difficult or impossible to use a traditional mouse with your hands, a hands-free mouse can be critical to accessing a computer comfortably and efficiently. A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as wearable sensors, eye trackers or even speech recognition.  One other possible group of devices are reflective dot trackers. You wear a small reflective dot (often placed as a sticker on the forehead or glasses), and a special sensor unit mounted on or near your computer tracks the motion of the dot to control the mouse cursor as you move.  There is no wired connection between you and the device.   The wearable reflective dot is smaller and less conspicuous than some of the other wearable sensor options. 

These products can replace a traditional mouse for computing platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. And some will work with platforms like Android and Chrome OS as well.

Some reflective dot trackers options to consider are as follows

TrackerPro $995

HeadMouse Nano £888.00

SmartNAV 4:AT €465.00

AccuPoint $1,995.00

The good:  If you are OK with wearing the reflective dot you can independently control a mouse cursor without requiring someone to assist putting on a wearable sensor.  Also less chance in something not working than other hands free options such as eye gaze or voice recognition.

The not so good: does require a line-of-sight to the computer, and can be sensitive to lighting conditions.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine, high-resolution movements of the mouse cursor, similar to what is possible with a traditional mouse, then reflective dot trackers are a good option.

Mouse Access for iPad is here

person using a joystick mouse to control an iPad

Until now, people with significant physical disabilities could only operate an iPad or iPhone by switch control. With AMAneo BTi it is possible for the first time to operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse including a trackball, joystick, head mouse or thumb mouse, and even a wheelchair joystick.  The AMAneo BTi also has some very useful built-in features such as tremor filter, dwell click and 2 jack plugs for external switches.

Simply connect the AMAneo BTi to your iPad or iPhone via Bluetooth and the pointer will automatically appear on your device’s screen, with no additional App required. This allows the user to navigate around the screen and interact with a mouse to connect with friends, browse the internet, and play games.


For more information about the AMAneo BTi https://csslabs.de/amaneo-bti

Supplier Inclusive Technology.

The good:   operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse.

The not so good: Can’t connect Bluetooth mouse directly to device.

The verdict: This is a long awaited feature for Apple devices that now give a new user experience for people with significant physical disabilities.

IkeaThisAbles – Accessibility hacks that transform many pieces of Ikea furniture

IkeaThisAbles Accessibility hacks

IkeaThisAbles, is a project dedicated to making Ikea furniture available for everybody, including people with disabilities.

The ThisAbles project was conceived to allow people with special needs to enjoy the quality of life provided by IKEA products.

As part of IKEA’s vision to “create a better everyday life for as many people as possible”, they joined forces with the non-profit organizations Milbat and Access Israel, that specialize in creating special solutions for populations with special needs and disabilities, and developed a new line of products that bridge some of the gaps between existing IKEA products and the special needs of people belonging to these populations.

The project allows anyone to 3D print a range of add-ons that simply and easily convert Ikea furniture and accessories into disability-friendly products.   Now people with disabilities from any corner of the world can print add-ons in their nearest 3D printing shop.

For more information

Website: https://thisables.com/en

The good:   The website offers any user to describe a problem that they have and Ikea will try to find a convenient solution.

The not so good: At the moment there is a limited range of product add-ons

The verdict: Interesting project idea that more manufacturers should adopt

Free Smart Home solution: OpenHAB

Screen shot of Openhab UI

OpenHAB is a free and open source solution for the smart home.  In the quickly growing smart home market, the industry has come up with a vast number of standards, protocols and products, for example, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo or Google Home. They usually don’t integrate well together as there is hardly any interoperability across vendors.  Also, the only thing they connect to is their respective cloud service, which could mean a typical smart home may depend on many remote servers. The openHAB project has attracted a large developer community, which looks at the smart home from a user perspective: This makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.

The good: The openHAB project makes features like offline capability, data privacy and customisability top priorities for a smart home solution.

The not so good: complicated initial setup with a steep learning curve. It presumes a level of technical competence to allow for successful setup.

The verdict: This solution for the smart home has clear benefits over current smart home solutions with regard to reliability, latency (that is, the time it takes for a signal to reach and turn on/off a device) and data privacy.


Further information: https://www.openhab.org/

Magnifier for Smart Phones and Tablet Devices: Claro MagX

App to magnify text or objects

Introduction

Claro MagX is an app that converts your iPhone, iPad or Android device into a visual magnifier. It basically makes small items bigger such as small text in a book or newspaper.  Just hold your phone up to whatever you want to magnify.

As the app can use the devices in-built flash, it can be used in a dimly lit area.  Advanced visual features include full-colour mode, two colour mode and grey scale mode. The app features 16 levels of magnification, high contrast and colour viewing options to make the text easier on your eyes.  Freeze mode option – tap the viewfinder to freeze the image for closer viewing. Tap the screen to release the freeze.


More apps from Claro

The good: Available free on iOS and Android and can be used on any tablet or phone.  It makes use of existing technology.

The not so good: Controls are small and hard to see on a small device.

The verdict: Great alternative to a dedicated handheld video magnifiers and is a useful app for anyone, but in particular for individuals with vision impairment.