Advances in design improve accessibility for impaired users

The arrival of the graphical interface was a boon to people who disliked the MS-DOS
command line, but it slammed the door on some disabled users just as MS-DOS speech
synthesis software was opening up the work world to them.

After a few rough years, adaptive technology is again making the desktop friendlier to
the disabled.

Emacspeak, a speech generator program for people who use the Emacs text editor, can
control a range of Unix tasks. Visually impaired users hear all the commands and resulting
computer actions within Emacs.

To run Emacspeak, download an 82K file from
You'll also need the Free Software Foundation's Gnu Emacs 19 Version 19.23 or higher, plus
an audio card and TCLX 7.3B, an extended version of the Tool Command Language.

Emacspeak extensions include W3, a browser that speaks Web hot links; Gnus, a news
reader that lets you listen to UseNet text; the VM mail reader; and Eterm, which emulates
19 terminals. This tool set will make almost any type of Unix work accessible to visually
impaired employees.

Impaired mobility can limit workers' access to the Internet and other graphical
environments. Workers with repetitive-stress, limited-motion or fine-motor-control
impairments find it hard to use a keyboard and move or click a mouse. In some cases, all
that's needed is a utility to click a highlighted button automatically if the cursor stays
on it long enough.

See the Web site of Adaptive Computer Systems of Iowa City, Iowa, at, for several useful
products for mobility-impaired users.

Visual HTMLboard, a $40 programmer-oriented package, helps mobility-impaired users
create Web pages using any familiar Windows text editor or word processor in conjunction
with on-screen shortcut buttons-no need to type on a keyboard.

Visual Surfboard, priced at $795, has a Web browser, word predictor,
abbreviation-expansion utility and on-screen keyboard for navigating the Web by cursor

EyeMouse, a combination of video camera and software, tracks pupil movement in a user's
eye to control the cursor. The user navigates via hot buttons, pull-down menus and
on-screen keyboards.

HeadMouse is a similar device for people with good head mobility. Attached to
eyeglasses or a headband, it tracks small targets. For prices, contact Adaptive Computer
Systems Inc. at 888-232-7811.

Mobility impairment caused by repetitive stress sometimes can be nipped in the bud by
good work habits and ergonomic keyboards.

Health Care Keyboard Co. Inc. of Wauwatosa, Wis., sells a $495 keyboard, discounted on
General Services Administration schedule contract, that's highly adjustable for users with
wrist, forearm or hand injuries.

Adesso Corp. of Los Angeles offers ergonomic keyboards priced around $100 with built-in
pointing devices and special keys for Apple Macintosh or Windows 95 users.

Microsoft's Natural Keyboard sells for less than $90 and can be ordered from GSA
resellers such as Government Technology Services Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at [email protected].

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