Common questions about fibromyalgia and computing answered

Fibromyalgia Awareness Week banner via Fibromyalgia Action UK - around 1 in 20 in the UK affectedFibromyalgia has been in the news recently with Radio 4 presenter Kirsty Young announcing that she is going to take a break from the programme 'Desert Island Discs' as her fibromyalgia is causing her issues.

Fibromyalgia is much misunderstood, can cause pain all over the body and can also have symptoms such as non-refreshing sleep and clumsiness. This week (2 - 9 September 2018) is Fibromyalgia Awareness Week and we wanted to answer some questions we frequently get asked about how computers and digital technology can be adapted to help those with fibromyalgia and other similar conditions.


From day-to-day, I have really sore fingers. I’ve heard about voice recognition - is it difficult to set-up?

No, not at all! If you have a fairly new Windows or Apple computer then you have built-in voice recognition. It is easy to use and as long as you practice for a while you should be able to get fairly good voice recognition. We’d always suggest getting a USB microphone as normally the external microphones are not of a high enough quality to be effective at recognizing your voice.

I want to keep on typing to control the computer. What might work for me?

Depending on how you are affected by fibromyalgia there are a couple of solutions that might work for you. There are keyboards which are known as 'compact' - these don’t tend to have the number pad on the right-hand side so it means you don’t have to stretch from one side of the keyboard to the other.  Other keyboards have a bit of a 'softer touch' so you don’t need to hit the keyboard quite as hard. Other technology we might suggest includes word prediction software which will automatically predict the words you are typing.

Fibromyalgia causes 'brain fog' and I have real issues trying to work. I find software with many options confusing. What can I do?

Within software packages like Microsoft Word there are lots of ways of making things easier for you. One of the most effective options is the ability to hide toolbars and taskbars in your Microsoft Office applications to remove options and tools you never seem to use. This should help you focus more effectively on the functionality that you do need to use.

What about smart home devices? Could they help me?

Devices such as Google Home and Amazon's Alexa device can certainly help you in all sorts of ways. If you have poor memory skills you can ask the devices to remind you about important appointments or things that you need to buy at the supermarket. They can also help you if you feel anxious, as there are lots of 'skills' that can improve your mental health and help you to relax.


Case study

Clive's sister Fiona has fibromyalgia and she has lots of difficulties with trying to keep up-to-date with hospital appointments. They had a chat to AbilityNet's friendly Advice and Information Officer who suggested using an online diary in conjunction with a smart home device so they could make (and more importantly remember) important hospital visits. Fiona is a very visual person so one of our volunteers also visited Fiona in her home and helped her to colour-code her appointments to make them easier to see.


How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help people with disabilities and older people use computers and other digital technology to achieve their goals. There are a number of ways and situations in which you can contact us and request our help.

Call our free helpline - our friendly, knowledgeable staff can help with many computer problems and questions about adapting digital technology to your needs. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

In a work environment, all employers have a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments to ensure people with disabilities can access the same opportunities and services as everybody else. For more details on this visit www.abilitynet.org.uk/ctod and www.cleartalentsatwork.com.

Arrange a home visit - we have a network of volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you remotely over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which can be downloaded for free and contain comprehensive information about technology that might help you.

My Computer My Way - a free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

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