2008-11-26 / Seniors

Tips For Aging Computer Users

Dear Savvy Senior

What computer resources are available that can help seniors with diminished eyesight and dexterity problems? My grandparents love the Internet and e-mail, but both have upclose vision problems and grandpa struggles with hand tremors.

Web Surfers

Dear Surfers:

There are lots of simple computer adjustments you can make as well as devices and software you can buy to help keep your grandparents online. Here's what you should know.

Getting Started

The first place to start is with the computer's operating system. Both Microsoft and Apple offer a variety of built-in accessibility features that make it easy to resolve most agerelated computing problems without downloading or purchasing anything.

Microsoft

If your grandparents use Windows, there are a number of things you can do to customize their computer to make it easier to see, hear and use. Depending on their operating system (Windows 98, Me, 2000, XP or Vista), here are a few examples of what you can do:

Make the screen easier to see. If seeing the computer screen is difficult, you can adjust their settings to increase the text and icon size, change colors and add contrast. Also, you can enable the Microsoft Magnifier, which opens a floating window that enlarges different parts of the screen, just like a magnifying glass. If their vision is at the point where magnification isn't enough, there's the Narrator feature (available in XP and Vista) that will convert text and captions into speech. In addition, you can also make the Web easier to read with a variety of options offered through Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5, 6 and 7.

Make the computer easier to hear. If older people are having trouble hearing e-mail alerts and other audible notifications, you can adjust the sounds to tones that are easier to hear or enable the Sound Sentry feature, which makes parts of the screen flash whenever a system sound occurs.

• Make the computer easier to operate. If mild hand tremors or stiff fingers are causing typos and other keyboard errors, the Filter Keys feature can give the equivalent of a steady hand by enabling a computer to ignore brief or repeated keystrokes that were made accidentally. If stiff joints or other dexterity issues are slowing them down, the Speech Recognition in Windows Vista gives them the ability to talk to their computer using voice commands to dictate text, send e-mail and more. They'll need a PC microphone to execute this feature.

For details, instructions and tutorials on these and many other Windows accessibility features, see www.microsoft.com/enable.

Mac Users

Apple also offers a wide variety of features that can help older computer users and those with disabilities. If they use the Mac OS X operating system, visit www.apple.com/accessibility for a list of what they provide, along with instructions of how to make the adjustments.

Web Boosting

Another option that can enhance your grandparents' Internet viewing is a free new software program that can be downloaded at www.lowbrowse.org. Created by Lighthouse International, this software will let users customize and increase the size of the Web to make it easier for older people to see. It can even read text aloud. This software is compatible with Windows, MacOS and Linux, but requires the Firefox browser, which you can also download for free. If this doesn't do the trick, there's software you can purchase, like WebEyes (www.ionwebeyes.com) or ZoomText (www.aisquared.com).

Other Gear

If seeing the keyboard itself is a problem, older computer users can buy keyboards with extra large letters, numbers and symbols starting at around $40 (www.visikey.net). If they don't want to purchase a new keyboard, they can also buy large-print peel-and-stick labels at www.goldviolin.com for $10 that they can attach to their existing board. Another option is "big key" keyboards (www.bigkeys.com, $159) where the keys are four times larger than on regular keyboards.

If carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis pain in the hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders is causing problems, there are many different types of ergonomic mice, keyboards and computer accessories that can help make operating a computer easier and more comfortable. Most of these items cost under $200 and can be found online at Web sites like www.enablemart.com, www.kinesis-ergo.com and www.ergokey.com. Another handy device for anyone with hand tremors is the Assistive Mouse Adapter (www.montrosesecam.com, $184) that plugs in between the computer and mouse to filter out shaky movements and eliminate multiple clicks.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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