Making the Computer More Friendly for People with Lou Gehrig's Disease
August 18, 2006 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I volunteer with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) patients, specifically with communication issues. I am working with a specific man who is extremely bright and engaged and I am trying to find some solutions to problems we have. He has a head tracking device to move the mouse and has no problems clicking, right-clicking, etc. But he does have problems with one issue right now: iTunes. I’m also looking for general suggestions to make life easier for him.

The issue with iTunes is that the colors are too muted for him to see them clearly from his bed (he has a monitor on a stand pushed up next to his bed). I can't find any way to make the options in iTunes larger or to change the colors to something more friendly. I've looked at skins, but again can't find one to make things bigger and bolder.

Another issue is that I'm trying to set him up to watch DVDs without assistance. Does anyone know of a relatively easy way we can burn his DVDs onto an external hard drive and he can play them?

Also, any general suggestions are welcomed. I've tried, for example, to find a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts, but haven't had much luck (He can control the keyboard much more easily than the mouse).

I showed him iTunes, podcasting and Writely today and he was totally jazzed. He's a really fast learner and eager to know more, so any help would be appreciated by both of us. My other patients would benefit as well. Thank you!
posted by orsonet to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Mac or PC?
posted by anonymoose at 3:09 PM on August 18, 2006

Assuming it's a Mac, Mac The Ripper will quickly make a DRM-free DVD backup to hard drive. Playable with any DVD player software, including Apple's DVD Player or the most excellent VLC.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:16 PM on August 18, 2006

Have you tried monkeying with the monitor's color depth ("Display" control panel in Windows, or "Displays" control panel in Mac)? Maybe using more/fewer colors can force the needed contrast in iTunes.

For Mac, QuickSilver + the iTunes plugin will give him greater control over the UI. He can also go to town on creating his own shortcuts.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2006

I assume you have already found the "Text Size" settings in View | Preferences | [General tab] ?
posted by misterbrandt at 3:28 PM on August 18, 2006

Also, if you're on a PC, Accessibility options (Control Panel | Accessibility) offer some system-wide high-contrast display options (which I would hope iTunes' non-standard UI would abide by)
posted by misterbrandt at 3:30 PM on August 18, 2006

On my PC iTunes version the Keyboard Shortcuts can be found at Help -> Keyboard Shortcuts.

For the Mac a shortcut list can be found here: (most of these will work for PC if you replace option and command keys with Control and Alt)
posted by rlef98 at 3:39 PM on August 18, 2006

misterbrandt's suggestion is a good one. Mac equivalent is Universal Access control panel. I believe both work by just modifying the video output, so software compliance shouldn't be an issue.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:42 PM on August 18, 2006

You neglected to say whether this was mac or pc. Either way, why not try another music player? Winamp, for example, can be double-sized and has all kinds of skins, some of which are high contrast and may be easier to use.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:48 PM on August 18, 2006

On a Mac, ctrl-alt-apple-8 switches to a high-contrast mode. Kind of ugly, but it shouldn't be too hard to either map that to a shorter key combo or a visual button on the screen, so he can switch back and forth as necessary.

For DVDs and other video files, I would guess that VLC is the way to go - it has a much less cluttered interface than iTunes, and tends to skip less.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:27 PM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: I'm sorry for neglecting to say it's a PC. He has a monitor on a stand next to the bed and its difficult for him to use iTunes because the contrast of the lines between the songs is so subtle. I've tried a number of skins but none of them change that part of the interface.

I have changed the text size in iTunes, but it still is hard for him to see from a distance.

Nothing I change in the Windows settings (e.g. accesibility options) impacts how iTunes looks.

The thing I like about iTunes for him is that he's easily able to sign up for podcasts and the interface works well. In general, moving the mouse cursor is extremely difficult. He has a reflective dot on his face and then a camera that tracks the dot, but it's a real struggle to get it where he wants. For example, it's almost impossible for him to get to the edges of the screen (e.g., the task bar, menus).

Thanks for the suggestions and I'll try to be more specific next time. Anything anyone can think of is appreciated.
posted by orsonet at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2006

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