Making Macs Accessible for Dummies
August 13, 2014 11:20 AM   Subscribe

My mother-in-law, who has some vision and mobility issues, just purchased her first Mac. Help me help her use it.

MIL just ordered her new computer online, and will be getting it in a couple of days. My FIL is *not* a mac user, and they're both not that comfortable around computers.

She's got both "I'm getting older and can't read small things" bad vision, and severe mobility issues (can only really use her non-dominant hand to do things, and very much has to hunt-and-peck type.) I'm also not in the same area as her, so I can't help her get things set up- I'll be visiting in a couple of weeks (and hopefully getting stuff like Time Machine set up, etc.), but obviously, it would be great for her to start exploring and figuring things out on her own.

Does anybody have any good resources that could, in a very, very, basic way, explain the accessibility features on her Mac? Specifically, I'm looking for something that explains how Sticky Keys work and how to enable them (she, surprisingly, hadn't heard of this at all when I last talked to her), as well as a general guide to using zoom (which, for her, is going to need the use of Sticky Keys- holding down a key and using the mouse isn't going to work; ditto using the track pad), as well as things like adjusting the type face size in various programs.

Essentials include that they're specifically with instructions for Mavericks, and, again, very easy to follow. (I mean I think if she read this her questions would include "What's a modifier key?" and would be lost from there; this is decent, but its for the wrong OS.) I'm guessing the "Mavericks for Dummies" book or something like that might work, but free resources would be great!
posted by damayanti to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Look in the Universal Access controls (in System Preferences) and see if any of those settings help usability for them.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2014

Apple's accessibility page is a bit slick but it can give her a good idea of what options are available to her. The main things that I think will help her are

- dictation. That little microphone icon means she can talk and it will do a passable job of typing what she is saying
- big cursor - some people do better with a mouse and others really like the touchpad. Make sure she has the one she is most comfortable with
- fonts, big everywhere! Firefox and Thunderbird (and I'm sure other browsers/email programs) have some good ways to make all the type bigger, even in the menus and other places. Probably something you'd need to help her with but just know they can be done

And otherwise, yeah, I'd just look at the "for dummies" guide for Mavericks or invest in a month of videos (many moms including mine swear by them) which may be good ways to get her feet wet learning the stuff. I found that with my mom she was really fine sitting and watching videos that I considered waaaaay too slow but might be just fine for her. Also look and see if there is a nearby Apple Store or public library that might have very very beginner courses, especially if she's social and might enjoy being out and about with other people.
posted by jessamyn at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've got lousy vision but not-yet-blind (but fortunately have been using Macs since 512K.) Here are some things which help me:
Community/magazine principally looks at voice output, which your mom may not need today. There's also audio background guides to various Mac fundamentals, as well as regular podcasts.

There are many accessibility utilities, although it can be hard to find them on the App Store.

Only one thing I can't do with Mac (so far) is enlarge the UI font -- the words in the menu bar, in the dialog boxes (esp the new smaller ones) and so forth. But Mac does have built in zoom, and there's this handy utility which virtually enlarges fonts by switching the screen resolution (in steps) from super-small to super-large.
Same functionality here but not as easy:

Tragically, iTunes has a lousy interface for large print, but it may turn out to be her favorite app, since it plays podcasts and audiobooks as well as music and films.

The American Foundation for the Blind provides info and services to people who can still see some. They've got many meta-resources at that link for later-in-life computer learning.

To improve web legibility, use any of the "distraction free reading" utilities. Instapaper, Readability, Pocket, Evernote Clearly &c can turn a nightmare of tiny blue on gray type into lovely readable text. Plus, no scrolling -- just tap the spacebar.

Heck, you can use Safari's built-in Reading List feature. Add the Custom Reader Safari Extension and modify the font/size/spacing to her content.

As far as keyboards go, don't bother with a large print one, unless she's never used a keyboard before now. There's software which turns the standard Mac keyboard into a one-hander (add a modifier key and the key meanings hinge over from the other side). Use "Sticky Keys" Accessibility pref to allow simultaneous presses to be entered sequentially. (Instead of command-option-I, she could type command then option then I.) Slow Keys help out if she's got tremor in her hands.

Well, that's a start! Check with the independent living center in her area to see if they have an assistive tech expert, who may help out directly or know someone else who can. Check with the local NFB or ACB group (blind people's self-help through political action, education and social fun). There are many very power users in the blind community, and if you can connect, you may find a great tutor there.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:59 PM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just two more things:

Mavericks claims to have predictive text input (like autocorrect on the iPhone) but I haven't seen it. Don Johnston's Co:Writer 7 provides this and more, in a large print environment. Mr J has been doing assistive tech for 30 years, and he stands by his stuff.

Even if you don't go with predictive text, a "snippet expander" like TextExpander is a thing of wonder. I've expanded 15 characters to around 200 in this message alone.
posted by Jesse the K at 6:18 PM on August 13, 2014

« Older Transferring files from PC to new iMac   |   How can I cheaply hang 10-20 hammocks with no... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.