Free Software Helps People with Limited Dexterity Stay Connected
By Ellen Kampel & John M. Williams
For some people living with MS, limited dexterity or fatigue can make using a keyboard or mouse difficult, if not impossible. But with a relatively low-cost input device and free software offered by the Sue Center, people living with MS can communicate with one another on the computer without the use of their hands.
Sue Center developer Jon Bjornstad created the program in honor of his friend, Sue Simpson (after whom the program is named). In 2000, Sue’s computer communication device was failing and replacement devices were expensive and not appropriate for her specific needs. As a result, Jon and researcher Steve Jacobs created the Sue Center software, designed to offer a free solution for people like Sue looking to stay connected to friends, family and the outside world.
Sue Center users purchase a Smart Nav device, a hands-free ergonomic mouse that allows complete control of a computer through a reflective dot on the forehead that follows natural head movements. This device, in conjunction with Sue Center software, allows people to type by simply turning their head to select various letters or words on the Sue Center software interface.
For Lynne Snider, a resident of Columbus, Ohio, who has lived with multiple sclerosis for 20 years, Sue Center software allows her to use technology to stay connected despite the fact that she cannot operate a mouse or keyboard with her hands.
"Sue Center enables me to e-mail my friends and family, perform word processing tasks, read books, adjust my TV, play my CDs, make telephone calls via Skype and do other cool stuff," said Snider, who uses the technology for several hours nearly every day.
The Sue Center’s software is available for free on the company’s Web site. While users need to purchase a Smart Nav device to use the program, Sue Center helps cover the costs offering the hardware at an at-cost price of $99 (normal retail value is usually several hundred dollars).
Sue Center software is not for everyone, which is why there are other low-cost and even free solutions for people living with MS who may have difficulty using a keyboard or mouse. Speech recognition software is a great alternative that allows users to give commands and enter data using their voice as opposed to a mouse or keyboard. On many operating systems, this software is pre-installed when you purchase your computer and completely free to use.
Visit our Dexterity page for more information about products that can help people with MS who experience dexterity problems continue to use the computer.
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about assistive technology for 29 years. He coined the phrase assistive technology.