ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 1, July 2002) -

*Alone In A Crowd*


Jim Jackson
University of Exeter, UK.

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt really alone, or as if you felt people were totally unaware of your presence?

I would like to return to a subject, which Associates has previously covered and look at a few new developments. I am pleased that society, and education in particular, is moving to a more open approach to people with disabilities. Even the ‘D’ word is no longer a badge of shame. Of course, one of the main reasons for this is the wealth of legislation that has been passed by various governments. There is a huge amount of information available about legislation in your part of the world. For starters try for American legislation and for the UK or for Australia try

One of the main objections to making changes to machines and services in general has been the cost of making such changes. Buildings are a difficult problem and are not something we can discuss here. But computers are now part of everyday life and have a number of built in accessibility options. The more up-to-date versions of MS Windows have an accessibility options setting in the control panel while MS XP has an even wider collection of options.

If you are having problems reading the text on your browser you can make it bigger and reduce eyestrain. If you are using Internet Explorer go to View – Select size – Select larger. With a scroll wheel mouse, if you press and hold CTRL and then use the scroll wheel, you can make the text bigger or smaller. While IE6 may be the latest browser for PCs, it does lack a few good things which IE5 had. Go to, which includes an image, zoom function you can download. Once installed just right click on a web page and choose zoom in or out. Sadly, this was withdrawn from IE6. Users of Netscape 6 are allowed to choose the size of the font. Go to View – Select text size – Select size. If you want to try an alternative to both of these, you could try a web browser called ‘Opera’ which can be found at, which has a wider range of options.

A final thought on magnifying text is to install a piece of software that acts like a magnifying glass. Virtual Magnifying for Windows is free to download from Scroll down the page, read the license agreement and then click the link for full-featured set version. Once downloaded, double click on the file and follow the instructions that appear on screen. A new icon will appear on your desktop and you double click this to launch it. To increase or decrease the magnifications, use the plus and minus keys on your numeric pad on your keyboard. Remember that Windows XP comes with its own built in software, which is similar so you will not need this.

I don’t think that we have reached a time when all computers will have a full voice control built in, but we are getting closer. There are dozens of voice recognition systems on the market from respected companies like IBM which produces Via Voice 8. Also see Dragon Naturally Speaking at There are also several much smaller, less complex programmes which allow you 14-day trials before you have to pay. Try programmes such as Voice Mate which you can download from Go to downloads in the My Software section, double click on the downloaded file and follow the installation instructions. Then, on the penultimate screen, click on View Manual html. The advantage here is that if you find after a week you do not like or cannot manage this type of software you have not lost anything.

Away from all this software is a book I can recommend called Accessible Curricula: Good Practice for All by Carol Doyle and Karen Robson. What makes this an even better book in some respects is that you can download a PDF copy from This is a collection of a vast amount of resources for educationalists and for web designers. In its appendices there is an excellent collection of legislation and a number of case studies as examples of teaching strategy. It’s well worth looking at or keeping for use as a reference collection.

One of the great difficulties for everyone concerned with this topic is the fact that all aspects of office and educational life are now included in legislation. The layout of offices in particular is very important, as is the design of a library. There is no point in having a modern library packed with books and journals if the user can not get into the building or use it once inside. The width of isle between book stacks can determine two things: the number of books held in that area and wither a wheel chair user can get down between the stacks. The UK Building Regulations set minimum standards for design and construction of domestic, commercial and industrial buildings. But as far as I know there is no British Standard ( BS ) for the width of book stacks.

A recent article in Health and Safety Bulletin (May 2002 page 308) is about using data input alternatives to get round DSE (display screen equipment) difficulties. Almost all computers transmit their data via display screen equipment (DSE). Upper limb pain and dysfunction are usually caused by repetitive work, and have been know about for about 300 years, with early causes including telegraphy. It was only in the 1970’s that dramatic increases in musculoskeletal conditions were reported worldwide. One of the best ways of combating this is via an ergonomic approach to the design of work areas. The charity AbilityNet ( ) lists the following as alternatives that should be considered.

  1. Ergonomically designed keyboards
  2. Small, light standard layout keyboards
  3. Alternatives to use of a mouse
  4. Alternative key input devices with radically different designs
  5. Voice input technology

For the more modern PC or Mac are two ideas that I think are really good and well worth any extra costs involved. A trackball can be substituted for a standard mouse where the track ball moves while the base remains static. There are versions of these that are big enough to be operated by a person's feet. Another idea is touch sliding a finger across a pad to operate the cursor, usually seen on laptops. Clicking is achieved by tapping the pad's surface or buttons. With infrared technology these can by placed anywhere, without the need to be attached to a PC.

I hope that I have shown that there are a number of ways of assisting people who have different ‘talents’ from yours, and that these don’t always have to cost a fortune. Developments in the next 5 to 10 years will see great advances in all our technologies. The best way of dealing with problems is to ask people who will be affected most by changes, rather than just designers and accountants.

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