Vivek Haldar

Use Accessibility Technologies Before You Have To

All you touch typists out there, spending 10 hours a day at your keyboard – listen up. Repetitive stress injuries will catch up with you sooner or later, it’s just a question of when. You’re probably already feeling slight tinges of pain at the end of the workday, and ignoring it, because it always goes away the next morning. Don’t do that! Start thinking right now about what you can do and what tools you can use to ease strain.

Here are some of the tools and techniques that have greatly reduced the strain on my wrists:

1. Voice to text software: I’ve used Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows, and now I’m using MacSpeech Dictate on the Mac. I use it for pretty much all my text input that is not coding. The technology still has a long way to go before it can handle the fine-grained text surgery required for coding, but for scenarios where you want to transfer a large number of words from your head onto the screen, it works amazingly well. If you are not a touch typist, it will certainly be much faster. If you are a pretty good touch typist already, it will probably be about the same speed, maybe a little slower at first, but that sacrifice is worth it for how much typing it saves you. (I’m composing this blog post purely by dictating.)

2. Mouseclick: this is a nifty little tool that does just one thing – when you stop moving the mouse, it delivers a click. This means that the usual routine of moving the mouse somewhere on the screen, and then clicking is reduced to simply moving the mouse to the desired point. This has two effects. Obviously, it saves you a lot of clicking. But because of the automatic clicks, it also makes you much more conscious of how you use the mouse, which in turn makes you only use the mouse when absolutely necessary.

3. Sticky Keys: this is a setting hidden away somewhere in either the keyboard or the accessibility preferences of your OS. What it does is let you enter key combinations one key at a time as opposed to holding down all the keys simultaneously. It’s amazing how much easier it is to press the combination Ctrl-Meta-x by first pressing Ctrl, then pressing Meta, and finally pressing x, than to have to hold down all those three keys at once. Again, it takes a bit of getting used to, but greatly reduces the awkward positions you need to twist your fingers into. Emacs users will know exactly what I’m talking about.

So take a break, sit back, and think about it. These are just some of the tools and techniques that I’ve found useful, but I’m sure there are many more out there. Give your wrists a break.