Hands-free Assistive Technology For Technology
August 6, 2014 5:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for suggestions of ways to interact with technology that doesn't use hands. For the past year and a half, I've been suffering from hand and wrist pain. I've seen multiple doctors with no resolution yet. So I'm looking for some suggestions on how to use technology and not aggravate the condition.

I'm still in the process of seeing doctors, but I need something to help me in the short-term. Braces aggravate the condition; I've tried several types and none have worked. They all cause an increase in pain and numbness. (Though, if you have any suggestions, I'm open to trying something new.) A confounding factor is that I've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. While my doctors don't think the pain is from fibromyalgia, I think that might be what prevents me from using the braces, or possibly makes this a more painful condition.

I've been using the dictation features of my iPhone and computer (MacBook pro). It helps, but I still end interacting with the devices using my hands more than I'd like. For example I may have to backspace or correct and depending on how bad my wrists are that day, that can be enough to cause significant pain. Using the mouse to manipulate windows can also cause pain, even if typing is minimal or nonexistent.

There are a number of things I would like to be able to do the voice control, and I'm hoping these technologies exist. They are:
- Voice control of basic Mac OS tasks such as opening and closing programs, scrolling in windows, tabbing in documents.
- Basic controls for iPhone such as scroll up or new tab. Ideally voice commands of basic gestures.
- Basic control for android tablet using voice control such as scrolling or opening new tabs and apps. Ideally voice control to replace basic gestures.
- Dictation that works for code and programming languages; HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Etc.... (I'm sure this is a long shot)

- Not voice controlled, but I'm also hoping to find a way of controlling the screen cursor that doesn't require hands.

I don't know if these technologies exist; my problem has kept me from doing any in-depth searches. But I am hopeful that at least some of these exist for people with disabilities or just general hand pain. It's also possible that the dictation software built into Mac OS and iOS already has these features and I just haven't figured out how to use them. If that is the case suggestions on where to find this information would be greatly appreciated. (Or android, but I'm not impressed with the voice control so I am doubtful.)

As one final request, one activity that I enjoy is writing. Obviously my ability to do this is limited now. I've been trying to make use of Apple's voice to text software. It works very well, but the way I speak is different than the way I type. My "voice" is different. I'm not happy with how the writing I dictate comes out. If anyone uses dictation for writing, do you have any tips on how to get better at verbal writing?
posted by [insert clever name here] to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Dragon Naturally Speaking" has a reputation as being an excellent package. They've been producing products like this for nearly 20 years, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if they were better at it than Apple. (Sorry, I have no personal experience with the product.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:30 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Further to what Chocolate Pickle stated, the Mac version of Dragon Naturally Speaking is called Dragon Dictate. I do have experience with the PC version. It is easy to use, and the more you use it, the more the program tailors to your voice profile. Set up takes about 20 minutes. You can use the program to dictate for writing, and to command the computer to open and navigate programs on your computer hands-free. If you plan to use this for writing, the only command you need to remember initially is "correct this".

Voice to text can be difficult to reconcile at first. In most cases, you will have to speak everything you want written, including punctuation, which may seem tedious at first, but you do get used to it. The only advice I have is: practice.

Macs have accessibility features built-in, and from what I understand, aren't bad. To access them:
Apple menu> system preferences > accessibility > speakable items. You will need a microphone.
(Sorry, I don't have any experience with using this feature on a Mac)
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 7:00 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the WebAIM page on assistive technology for people with motor disabilities.
posted by instamatic at 7:38 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some more good resources can be found in this StackOverflow question on programming using voice recognition.

Might also check out this amazing demo of someone coding quickly by voice, using a framework he wrote called Dragonfly. There is a reddit thread about it here.
posted by Aleyn at 10:31 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, Dragonfly might be an unrelated project now that I'm looking more closely. Still something to check out.
posted by Aleyn at 10:39 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

A stylus might help. I get carpal pain very quickly with mousing and typing but I've used pencils my whole life and the only damage has been a big callus on my middle finger. I found the switch to using a Cintiq to be pretty painless. I haven't ever had much luck with handwriting recognition but maybe the newer software is better? I have my Cintiq mounted on an Ergotron adjustable arm. It's the bomb.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:06 AM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the suggestions. The code demo is truly amazing. I was sure what I was asking for with code was a long shot but it looks like it is possible. And I didn't realize that Dragon had a bunch of voice controlled apps for mobile devices, so I'm going to look into that as well. Huzzah, there is hope for me yet.

Bonobothegreat, I'll give the stylus a try, but writing with pen and paper hurts, so I'm not too confident. It won't hurt to try though.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2014

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