Using your computer after a Stroke

Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t use one side of your body.  Your foot, leg, arm, or hand all stop working - sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.  This is how a stroke might affect you. Strokes happen when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, or is blocked. It also might affect the ability to communicate and process information. It's a devastating blow, but the good news is that there is a lot of technology that can help you.

Winston Spencer ChurchillHow many people in the UK are affected by Strokes?

According to the Stroke Association there are approximately 152,000 strokes in the UK. That's one stroke every three and a half minutes.Famous people who have suffered a stroke include BBC TV presenter Andrew Marr, and former prime minister Winston Churchill.

Common questions about using a computer after a Stroke

I have issues with hitting the wrong keys on the keyboard - is there anything out there that can help me?

There are a lot of alternative keyboards available. Some have really large keys so that it’s easier for someone to identify and hit the key they want. Some keyboards are very small so this makes them easier to use for someone with poor mobility. Both types of keyboards can be fitted with a keyguard and this makes it harder to hit two keys at once.

I find it really difficult to use the mouse as it is too fast for me. Can you tell me how to slow it down?

You can easily slow the mouse down by going into Ease of Access within the Windows Control Panel and then slowing down the mouse. You can configure the speed of your mouse to your own requirements.

Apple's System Preferences can be found in the apple menu

You can do the same on a Mac by opening System preferences and clicking on the Mouse options.

I sometimes find it difficult to hold two keys down at once. How can you help?

Built into every new computer whether it is a Mac or a Windows PC is a really useful freebie. It’s called Sticky Keys and means that if you want a capital letter you can just hit SHIFT and then hit the letter that you want and then hit SHIFT again to turn this function off (

My Mum has difficulties making herself understood since her stroke but she can use the keyboard. Is there any technology that can help?

Software such as Natural Readers for Windows Computers or the Mac’s inbuilt Voiceover technology can certainly help with small pieces of text being spoken out. 

There are also a lot of dedicated communication software packages available if your needs are greater. One example is Proloquo2go.

Using a tablet computer or smartphone may also help as they also include Virtual Assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana that can repsond to commands and dictate messages.

Take a look at our webinar about How to Control Your Computer With your Voice for more details about the options.

Case Study

Jane's mum Gloria has had a stroke and now she finds it difficult to communicate with her grandchildren. We've steered her towards some software that will help her "speak" her thoughts.  Gloria has some memory problems too so we've explained that there is software available that can help with reminding you about important tasks.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Survey: Will Privacy Fears Kill The Apple Watch?

A survey conducted by AbilityNet to mark the fifth Tech4Good Awards shows that although most consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable devices such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit or Jawbone they are unlikely to use them because of fears about who will have access to their data. Almost 80% of people would be happy sharing personal health with doctors and 60% with the NHS. But only 10% would be happy sharing it with private health companies, and just 2% with private companies who collect and share the data as part of these new services.

The Apple Watch is available from todayThe survey was conducted in April 2015 and asked about the new generation of wearable devices and the personal health data they can collect, such as heart rate, body temperature, distances run, and so on. Would the potential health benefits of sharing that data outweigh people’s privacy concerns? Who would they feel comfortable sharing it? And who would they definitely not want to be able to access it?

The results showed that whilst half the sample could see potential benefits of sharing health data using these devices, the large majority would not share it with private companies. People said they would not trust them without guarantees of anonymity.

As one survey respondent said, “I would want to know that it was for my benefit - or for general health research - and not for private companies to try to sell me something." Another respondent voiced a common concern, about "how the data would be used e.g. would insurance companies use data to increase premiums for people with particular health conditions?"

Robin Christopherson is AbilityNet's Head of Digital InclusionRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

"We know that Apple sees the Apple Watch as a health device, and has done a lot to allay fears about data usage. The survey also shows that consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable technology such as the Apple Watch or FitBit Flex but, with so few people trusting private companies with their health data, the case for sharing personal health data still needs to be made.”

"The results show that it comes down to trust. People only want to share their personal data with people or organisations they feel they can trust such as doctors or the NHS - or if they know it will be used anonymously in” research for the public good. They don’t feel happy having private companies using their data for their own gain.

“Whilst the idea of smart, wearable, technology is becoming much more familiar and we are increasingly looking to technology to solve some of the problems of modern life, healthcare providers and private companies interested in data gathering need to provide greater reassurance to their customers before everyone will be happy to have their health tracked and shared with the cloud."

Tech4Good Awards has a digital health categoryThere is some good news for General Practitioners and the NHS however; the majority of people surveyed felt most confident about sharing digital health data with their doctor or with the NHS. 81% of respondents were happy to share their digital health data with their doctor and another 60% were also happy to share this information with the NHS.

In stark contrast to the trust put in doctors and the NHS to treat personal health data appropriately, only 12% of respondents felt happy to share their personal health data with private companies and as few as 2% felt comfortable sharing their personal health data with private companies that collect and share data with third parties.

There was particular concern about private companies that share data – which can include the makers of the devices, the owners of the networks used to share the data, the companies that make the apps that use the data and the many companies that trade in personal data.

A survey respondent said:

"I would not want anyone other than my doctor or close family seeing any medical data and would not want it passed on to anyone else without my explicit permission."

Another said:

"I would be most nervous of my health data being used by the wrong people e.g. being sold on to suppliers such as insurance companies. I am concerned I would be discriminated against because of the data I have shared."

AbilityNet's digital health survey was conducted ahead of the charity's Tech4Good Awards, which includes a digital health category, won last year by PEEK – an app for diagnosing cataracts.

Entries for this year’s Awards close at 5pm on Friday 8 May.

  1. AbilityNet conducted the survey in March/April 2015, there were 89 respondents who completed the questions anonymously.
  2. The survey was commissioned to inform the Tech4Good Awards new award category on Digital Health. The survey report is available on request.
  3. The Digital Health Award is open to any individual, business, charity, social enterprise or government organisation with a base in the UK.
  4. The judges are looking for inspiring examples of the way that computers and the internet can help improve people's health.
  5. Entries for Tech4Good Awards close on Friday 8 May at 5 pm.

Two weeks left to enter this week's Tech4Good Awards

Now in their fifth year the Tech4Good Awards are organised by AbilityNet and supported by BT and a network of partners that include Tinder Foundation and The Media Trust. Past winners have included small charities, outstanding IT volunteers, multinational banks and Prof Stephen Hawking. Entries are free of charge and are open to any business, charity, public organisation, school or individual with a base in the UK.

Tech4Good AwardsEntries for this year’s Awards close on 8 May, so there’s just over two weeks to go before we close nominations for 2015 and we’ve already received some fantastic entries. From discovering the young people giving up their time in the local community to learning about the innovative ways people are using technology to make the world a better place, the judging process will be harder than ever this year.

Entry is free and open to any business, charity, public body, school or individual with a base in the UK.

Entries close on 8 May.

Free Workplace Webinar Series

AbilityNet is running a series of workplace webinars to help employers, HR professionals and other specialists support disabled people in the workplace. These short practical sessions explain the issues and potential solutions in a friendly jargon-free way, with plenty of time to ask your own questions and will be useful to anyone with an interest in helping disabled people in the workplace, including HR professionals, managers, occupational health professionals, colleagues, advisers, friends and IT staff.

If you are interested in any of these webinars but can’t make it during the session, a captioned video recording of each webinar will be shared in our Webinars On Demand section after the event, where you can already find videos of the previous webinars in the series, including sessions on RSI and workstation ergonomics, in addition to range of previous AbilityNet webinars. 

Upcoming Workplace Webinars

How to Control Your Computer With Your Voice, 1-2pm, Tuesday 14th April

Voice control for computers, tablets and smartphones is evolving at an amazing pace, from asking questions of Siri or Cortana to dictating emails and issuing commands.

This session will review current voice-recognition technologies, offering practical advice as to how they can be utilised. 

How Computers Can Help Reduce Stress At Work, 1-2pm, Tuesday 12th May

Many will feel that computers and the advent of the always-on culture is a significant cause of stress in the workplace - and a growing cause of absenteeism and long-term sickness. 

This session will explore strategies and techniques that can help employees use their computers to reduce stress and any associated mental health issues. 

Dealing With Visual Impairment In The Workplace, 1-2pm, Tuesday 9th June

Vision can be impaired in many ways and by many different conditions, including the effects of ageing. The pervasive use of computer monitors is also having a direct impact on people’s vision and can lead to expensive claims from staff.

This session will explore the impact of impaired vision in the workplace and identify the support that can be offered to address them.

Dealing With Hearing Impairment In The Workplace, 1-2pm, Tuesday 7th July

Action on Hearing Loss estimates that at least 800,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf, but this is a small proportion of the 10 million people with some form of hearing loss, of which it estimates that 3.7 million are of working age. 

This session will explore the impact of impaired hearing in the workplace and identify the support that can be offered to help employees. 


Talk, and they will listen....

I remember reading a book in about 1985, which was a work of fantasy.  It was trying to predict how we were going to live in the middle of the next century.  I don’t remember all of this but it had fanciful pictures of colonies on other planets or hover cars.  Actually I do remember watching "Knight Rider" when David Hasselhoff spoke to his car and the car spoke back. Perhaps that was fiction too?

If you had told me in 1985 that by the year 2015 you could control your computer just by using your voice I would have looked at you in a very strange way. But in 2015 it’s no fantasy.      

I can ask my smartphone to search the web by voice. ..amongst other things. I can ask my phone by voice to find information on the Houses of Parliament.  My device will even display the Houses of Parliment on a map for me.

But strangely if I want to use Google's travel directions I have to use my it's not perfect by any means. I can also ask my phone what the weather is like in Birmingham.  I can ask my phone to send a text message to my Dad………who by the way has a really old phone that just makes calls.

The only strange thing is that I need to be able to swipe my phone and press lightly on the touch screen to enable voice control, so it’s not that good for people with hand/arm difficulties where fine motor control might be an issue.  It is good though for people who have dyslexia or other cognitive impairments (and yes you can get the phone to speak out to you and tell you what is on the screen!)

I have an Android phone but if you have an iPhone you can use your voice to find information via the built in Siri app.  The Android app is called Evi. Now it isn’t perfect. I have a speech impediment and sometimes it gets a bit confused but on the whole it works really well and is a great resource.

So we’ve started off by discussing using voice control to search the web. Of course we get lots of calls from clients who want to use voice to produce documents.  Providing you put the effort in you will get good functionality in. There aren’t any shortcuts but the time spent is well worth it.  
You can dictate documents, then you can change the typeface which they are written in and then finally you can print them off.   This is very useful for people with all sorts of disabilities and actually the wider population.

Some people say they that they speak more confidently then they type.  If you have a digital Dictaphone you can be away from your desk , perhaps in a lecture or on a site visit and then record your notes and have them transposed into your document when you come back to your desk. This saves you time and energy too.

As you'll be aware there are lots of regional accents within the UK. Voice recognition is fairly good at being able to recognise them now but as always it is a work in progress! We'd always make the point that in most cases voice recognition can be used within an solution that also might include alternative keyboards and input devices.

Voice recognition is probably the piece of technology that is most often asked about by clients. 

Here are three short case studies of people that we've spoken to recently.  

Recently a Mr H. called us and wanted to know if he could use voice recognition as he had Parkinsons and found the keyboard problematic.  His voice seemed to be clear when I spoke to him so we're going to get one of our volunteers out to him and take him through the enrolment process.  The enrolment entails reading some text for about 5 minutes so the system can recognise your voice fairly well.  If he masters this he should be able to control his computer very effectively.

A Mr K. rang us to see if we could help his daughter who was struggling to get notes down as she is dyslexic. She doesn't work at the moment and she's not in full time education.  We suggested using voice recognition (which is built into all new Windows computers)  and we also told him that there were some ways of helping his daughter to get enrolled on the system. For example actually telling his daughter what to say during the enrollment process by whispering text to her. We also explained how they could use a mobile phone to act as a note taker and a diary.

Robert called us yesterday. He's got Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and whilst his speech is good at the moment, he is losing muscle tone and finds using a keyboard very tiring.  We suggested using voice recognition with a goose neck microphone. Whilst most people use a head microphone, for people with poor hand and arm movement it can be tiring to put on and take off where as a goose neck microphone can just be placed on a desk.  Voice recognition can also be used effectively by people who have Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).

Oh and as we're talking about microphones it is always more effective to have a USB microphone rather then a line in microphone. It will save you a lot of time and effort.

As you can see all three of these clients had different issues but voice recognition was the technology that could help them become more independent when using the computer.

How can we help?

Find out more about controlling your computer with your voice in our free on demand webinar

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Goodbye Sir Terry Pratchett

Everyone at AbilityNet is sad to hear of the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, AbilityNet Patron and author of over 70 books, most of them in the Discworld series. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007 and a new career started as a spokesman for people with the condition, appearing on many different TV programmes and in the newspapers to raise awareness of the condition.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a Patron of AbilityNet for many yearsBut Sir Terry was not only a spokesman for people with Alzheimer's, he was a writer and always needed to write to occupy his mind. This is where adaptive technology came in. He used voice recognition to get all of his thoughts on paper. In his own words he was “astonished” by what voice recognition could do. “It has it’s funny little ways” he said, and Pratchett soon realised how he ought to speak to the system (which is something we heartily recommend).

In an interview with AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson a few years ago Sir Terry said that even if his ability to type came back he’d still want to use voice recognition. He had high hopes for the future of adaptive technology, although he did wonder if we had unrealistic expectations of computers because of shows such as Star Trek.

He also felt that we still need to “join the dots” in terms of technology. He gave the example of being able to call people on his mobile but he was not being able to do this on his landline. Asked about Artificial Intelligence, Pratchett felt that it would be great if it could all happen, "but only if all the dots were joined”.

Speaking about his death AbilityNet’s CEO Nigel Lewis said:

“Everyone at AbilityNet is sorry to hear the sad news that AbilityNet Patron and amazing author Terry Pratchett has died and our thoughts are with Terry's family.  Terry helped the work of AbilityNet by raising awareness of the power of technology to change the lives of those with a disability or limiting health condition and we will always be grateful for his support.”

Website Security: Sorting the Humans From the Robots

Knowing your webforms are secure from the thousands of unwanted spambots trying to create fake accounts or inundate you with advertising for questionable medical supplements is something that gives most website owners peace of mind. Over the years different security and anti-spam systems have been developed to determine who is actually trying to send you a message, subscribe to your newsletter or buy one of your products.

One of the most commonly used (I deliberately refrain from saying popular) authentication systems is CAPTCHA (‘Completely Automated Process that can tell Computers and Humans Apart’) – users have to decode scrambled or distorted text to prove they are a human being rather than a malicious spam robot.

A Web Accessibility 'Catch-22'

example of a standard CATCHA test using distorted textWith their appearance CAPTCHAs presented many disabled users with a variety of different problems – but almost always intractable, meaning that they were unable to use the form or complete the process. This is because CAPTCHAs are an accessibility ‘Catch-22’ in which the various access technologies used by disabled people that require content to be machine-readable and then converted into their own preferred output format (such as text to speech) are needing to do exactly what CAPTCHAs are designed to thwart.

If the unlabelled image of the distorted code had a text label (as images should) then the robot would simply use that label, and yet without it blind users are stumped. If the text in the image could be recognised by text-recognition software then a blind user could use it but so could a robot. These distorted codes also present huge problems for users with low vision or dyslexia.

In many cases there is an option to have the text read aloud, but this garbled code (made difficult to hear so that voice-recognition software can’t recognise it) means that human ears can’t distinguish it either. As a blind person I have never successfully understood an audio CAPTCHA and it is blind users like me that they are there for. Of course you can reset the CAPTCHA if you can’t read or understand it, but what it is replaced with is equally as distorted or garbled so the user is no better off.

There are better alternatives that don’t catch the user in this accessibility armlock. Some CAPTCHAs use simple mathematical equations or logic questions to find out whether you’re a human or not. For example; ‘Which of the following is not an animal: Dog, Elephant, Hot, Mouse, Monkey’.

Whilst vastly preferable to the usual CAPTCHA because it is now machine-readable and, surprisingly, still too difficult to be understood by robots, this system is still not perfect and can present a barrier to access for some disabled people with very significant cognitive difficulties. There is, however, an argument that says that people with that level of cognitive difficulty may well not be completing webforms without assistance anyway and hence someone will be on hand to help.

"no CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA" has Google solved the problem?

At the end of last year Google launched a new alternative to the widely despised problem. Called “no CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA” it seems too simple to be true. In keeping with Google’s minimalist style and philosophy, they have reduced the problem of website security and spam attacks down to one simple question and tickbox; “are you a robot?”

Behind this simple question and stylish checkbox is a rather sophisticated bit of funtionality. Google’s own research identified that Artificial Intelligence technology was now smart enough to be 99.8% able to decode even the most distorted CAPTCHA texts, so they began to look at ways to improve the system.

Google’s developers created Advanced Risk Analysis functionality that looks at the behaviour of the user (humans and robots) before, during and after the CAPTCHA interaction, so that there is no longer the need to rely so much on the use of distorted text. This led on to the launch of the new ‘No CAPTCHA reCATCHA’ API.

Users have to simply check the box to say “I’m not a robot”. That’s it.

Just to err on the safe side and in case Artificial Intelligence in the form of a spambot can emulate human behaviour, there are additional security layers to the new API. For example, if the risk analysis algorythms can’t be certain whether a user is a robot or human then the good (or bad) old CAPTCHA image will appear.

We were sceptical as to whether the process would work for keyboard users (that’s blind users, those with motor difficulties that find mice difficult to use and also smart TV users whose remote control is in effect tabbing through the page) and to our surprise it did seem to. There is obviously some way that a human tabs through a web page that is distinguishable from a robot. It does not, however, work on mobiles where there is no behaviour to track on a page except the occasional tap on a form field or button.

Whether or not Google’s new tool can distinguish between a spam robot and a wide range of human beings using an array of assistive technologies remains to be seen. There are only a handful of websites actually using the new process and it will be interesting to watch how this new tool develops and whether or not it is finally the answer to the perennial conundrum that is CAPTCHA. 

Making the keyboard and mouse work for you!

This month we're going to look at some really basic but useful techniques to help you get the best from the keyboard and mouse at work. For devices that are so basic, you can actually make a lot of little changes to help you more effectively when you are at work. It doesn't matter if you have a Mac or a PC. They both share the same universal accessibility options.

Hitting two keys at once?

So for instance the use of filter keys and sticky keys can help you if you have conditions which mean you end up hitting two keys at once (or for the matter if you need to hold two keys down at once). if you are wondering where to find the settings they are in the control panel under Ease of Access!

The point to remember about what I've just described is that it just takes a few minutes to set-up and this is something that your IT department will be able to help with. Or following our simple instructions at My Computer My Way.

Something that doesn't need any time to set-up at all is the use of keyboard shortcuts. We all know the basic shortcuts...CTRL+P is print, CTRL+V is paste and CTRL+C is copy.

If you have an Apple computer this Macworld magazine article will help you out.

Using a keyboard as a mouse

Hang on though.....before we start talking about how to change the settings on the mouse it might be worth pointing out that you can use the keyboard as a mouse (and lots of people do). There's a really useful function called Mouse Keys. This basically means if you've got an issue where you find mouse movement difficult but the keyboard isn't an issue for you then you can convert the keyboard to control the mouse. Once again have a look at My Computer My Way website for further info. 

Actually while we're talking about the keyboard being a good way to use the computer we ought to point out how you can easily use the keyboard to navigate through a form. The information is available on My Computer My Way.

So onto the mouse. So if you have any number of disabilities you will find that the mouse seems to move around a little too quickly on the screen. Don't fret as you can slow it right down so that it is a bit more manageable.

How can AbilityNet help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

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

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

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

Barclays Mobile Banking App Accredited by AbilityNet

Barclays Mobile Banking App is the first app to receive AbilityNet accreditation, following testing at the end of 2014. AbilityNet's Accessibility consultants worked closely with the Barclays team from the early stages of the project and the app has a number of features which promote accessibility and a disability-friendly design.

Barclays BankElaine Draper, Head of Accessibility at Barclays says:

“The new accredited app brings us one step closer to becoming the most accessible bank. The app is now easier to use for all of our customers, especially those with disabilities. Digital innovation is central to our business and we want to build services that meet the needs of every customer.”

AbilityNet’s senior consultant Joe Chidzik has been leading this work and says that Barclays have put accessibility at the heart of their processes. He said:

“Barclays have made great progress with their latest mobile banking app, achieving a high standard of accessibility. Mobile banking is something everyone finds convenient and it's important that anyone that wants to use the app can. Barclays are the first high street bank to get AbilityNet’s accreditation, which involves testing with disabled users to highlight 'real-world' issues.”

Barclays Banking App The Mobile Banking app has been adapted to include an ‘accessibility’ section, where users can select information about the following:

  • Sight- advice includes braille, large print, audio correspondence, large print cheque books and talking cash machines for customers;
  • Hearing / speech- includes guidance on British Sign Language, Hearing Induction Loops and text relay;
  • Mobility / dexterity- guidance includes chip and sign, what to do around differing signatures and home visits;
  • Mental impairment- Customers can locate advice on appointeeship, Power of Attorney, and Court of Protection Orders
  • Dyslexia / Dyscalculia- Customers can log in and receive guidance on chip and sign, online banking passcodes and passwords and debit and credit PIN.

Barclays customers can get more information on the app on, and can download and use the app from android and iOS stores.

Free AbilityNet webinar about accessible apps

Find out more about how to build and test accessible apps at our free webinar on 19 March, which will include insight from the Barclays team who developed the Mobile Banking App.

Sign up for free on our website

Free Webinar: Building Accessible Forms

Whatever the purpose of your website or app you’re likely to be using at least one form, whether for gathering information and sign ups or carrying out a transaction. A badly-designed form can have a huge impact on the experience of every user, but they can cause particular problems for people with accessibility needs. 

This webinar will look in detail at the design of accessible forms. AbilityNet’s experts will share their top tips for how to deal with the most common pitfalls and help you reduce abandonment rates and deliver a truly inclusive and effective user experience. 

Sign up for free on GoToWebinar.