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“How do I…?”

“I wonder if I can?”

These two doubts passed through my mind when I first started using a computer.

As a disabled computer user for almost 30 years, the doubts were natural. Back then, any resource telling me about any possibilities would have been invaluable.

There can be no doubt that there is no longer a clear distinction between the Internet and computers. I would guess that for many the idea of computing without using the Internet would not seem possible.

My main point —“virgin” users can achieve a lot using a computer without the Internet.

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For example, I first began using computers to once again make music (a lifelong passion).

I found that there are many alternatives to explore for those unable to use a normal mouse 6 Top Mouse Alternatives for Those Unable to Use a Normal Mouse 6 Top Mouse Alternatives for Those Unable to Use a Normal Mouse How do you operate a modern operating system if you can't use a mouse? Read More . Or even type & click without a mouse or keyboard How to Type & Click When You Can't Use a Mouse or Keyboard How to Type & Click When You Can't Use a Mouse or Keyboard How do you use a computer when you're unable to use a standard mouse or keyboard? Using specially-adapted software, of course! Read More . Despite having lost the use of my limbs, I could once again make music, write, draw, play, and much more…

Today, let’s look at how the computer-and-Internet combination can remove barriers for disabled users. Let’s see how they provide solutions to everyday tasks. Let’s take a glance at a better quality of life.

Regaining Financial Independence

Finance Management

Internet banking is an indispensable convenience for personal money management. As a disabled person, it has been a definite game changer for me.

Immediately after my spinal injury, the hospital social worker handled all my money matters. Even though, the person did his best to keep me apprised of my financial situation, it was far from ideal. On leaving the hospital, I was fortunate enough to form a strong friendship with my neighbor who kindly consented to taking on the role of financial assistant.

It was necessary to use the services of a lawyer so that my friend had the authority to sign checks on my behalf (being unable to sign them myself), and to access my bank account when necessary. On a weekly basis we would get together and go over bills that needed to be paid, settle care attendant wages, and any household or personal items that I might need. He would then go to the bank for me. For a number of years, it was a system that worked and I was lucky to find somebody prepared to do this for me.

With my growing computer abilities and the discovery of Internet banking, I was finally able to take over the tasks which I had previously relied on my friend to do. One day, I reached the stage where I took over control of my own finances completely.

Internet banking has eliminated the need for physical travel to my local branch. It has given me complete control over how I wish to use my own money. What many may consider a chore became for me a self-affirming and hugely rewarding return to normal life.

On the same note: as with any online activity, the danger of being hacked is very real Five Things Banks Will Never Ask You Online Five Things Banks Will Never Ask You Online Ever received an email from your bank conerning suspicious account activity? Such messages are almost always scams, so here are a few things your bank will never request online – but fraudsters will. Read More (having almost lost $40,000 myself), so it is imperative to have safeguards in place and change your passwords Put Your Passwords Through The Crack Test With These Five Password Strength Tools Put Your Passwords Through The Crack Test With These Five Password Strength Tools All of us have read a fair share of ‘how do I crack a password’ questions. It’s safe to say that most of them are for nefarious purposes rather than an inquisitive one. Breaching passwords... Read More regularly.

The Power of Online Shopping

Online Shopping with credit card

It would be a safe bet to say that 99% of the population between 18-45 years of age, has at least once engaged in shopping for a present, gift, or gadget online.

You can definitely include me in that demographic. Being able to browse and acquire stuff using my computer has turned the world into a shopping mall. Whatever I am looking for, I am almost certain to find it online. Being able to compare prices gives me the chance to get the best deal.

The ability to discover unusual and obscure items has secured my reputation among family and friends as one who always comes up with weird and wonderful gifts 6 Of The Best Shopping Sites For The Coolest Gadgets 6 Of The Best Shopping Sites For The Coolest Gadgets Read More .

So, what makes online shopping especially useful for the disabled?

Transport options for wheelchairs are constantly improving, and being able to get out and shop gets easier all the time (excuse me while I draw over the prospect of driverless cars). But for me, spending a lot of time in bed at times is a fact of life (having just come off a six-month stretch in hospital), and so online shopping often comes to the rescue!

In comparison to gift buying or gadget shopping, the area of essential food purchases may be overshadowed. But as an essential service it has huge importance. With the Internet, the facility to save and shop on household groceries How to Use Technology to Spend Less on Your Groceries How to Use Technology to Spend Less on Your Groceries There are tons of places you can save money, and the grocery store might be the most important. Here are a variety of ways to save at the supermarket. Read More is easier.

It removes the need for me to rely on outside assistance. When getting out is difficult, travelling to the local supermarket is not necessary, as the goods can be delivered straight to my door.

Watch out waistline — online food orders make grabbing a take-away easier than ever, particularly for those with access issues. This is great when I have friends over for a movie night, gaming marathon, or to watch a big game — it gives me back the feeling of being a true host.

Pizza anyone?

It’s Good to Talk

Communication

When thinking of communication with essential services, I like to focus on technologies that increase safety and the ability to reach out when assistance may be necessary.

SMS or text messaging How to Send a Free SMS Text Message from Your Windows PC How to Send a Free SMS Text Message from Your Windows PC Do you avoid sending text messages from your phone? How much more convenient would it be to send them from your computer? We have compiled the best desktop tools to send text messages for free. Read More  is the simplest way to make contact. For disabled users this can be hugely important not just in friendly exchanges, but in emergency situations where urgent assistance is required. There have been many occasions that I have needed help quickly and being able to text someone made all the difference.

Email is a valuable method for organizing other essential aspects such as medical appointments, meetings, social occasions. I email my local chemist with my medication requirements and have them delivered is brilliant. Convenient!

When you do, never forget the vital tips to order medicines online Buying Medicines Online? 7 Safety Tips You Shouldn't Ignore Buying Medicines Online? 7 Safety Tips You Shouldn't Ignore Prescription drugs can be shockingly expensive. So what about buying online? It's certainly cheaper, but is it safe? And how can you make sure you don't get burned? Read More .

Online communication makes possible something just as important as help when needed: the ability for social interaction.

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit… there is a positive side to being part of online communities The Positive Impact Of Social Networking Sites On Society [Opinion] The Positive Impact Of Social Networking Sites On Society [Opinion] Social networking isn't for everyone, but it's now such a massive part of all our lives, whether we embrace or reject the notion, that it can no longer be ignored. But are social networking sites... Read More . The ability to find old friends, make new ones, keep in touch, share thoughts, chat face-to-face and even find romance 4 Tools For Easier & Safer Online Dating [Google Chrome] 4 Tools For Easier & Safer Online Dating [Google Chrome] Dating has gone digital. Once considered a realm inhabited only by the socially awkward, online dating is now just another tool in the toolbox, no matter whether you’re looking for a hook-up or your soulmate.... Read More is delightful (to the point of addiction for some!) for many.

After my injury I came to live in a new town, and lost touch with many longtime buddies. Through the Internet I have been able to make contact again and bring back a special part of my life before the wheelchair. Meeting fellow disabled from all over the world with similar problems provides an unparalleled information resource. Who better to ask than someone in the same situation.

Sharing has given me answers that I would not have found anywhere else. Most outstanding of all was meeting my partner and the lady of my life 15 years ago. For the disabled, especially those confined to one room, the social Internet is an incredible way to break through the boundaries of their physical world.

When It’s Time to Relax

Entertainment

We all need to relax and unwind. As the Internet has exploded, the disabled have taken to the many on-demand services available.

Services such as Netflix or Hulu How Netflix and On-Demand is Changing TV Forever How Netflix and On-Demand is Changing TV Forever Read More allow access to huge libraries of the latest TV shows & movies. Being a movie buff and disliking commercial television makes these services a godsend for me, particularly as physical access to a video store (remember those?) can be a barrier.

The Internet also provides a dizzying selection of music Which Internet Radio Sites Have the Best User Experience in the Browser? Which Internet Radio Sites Have the Best User Experience in the Browser? Exploring the web players for various Internet radio services to see which ones offer the best experience in the browser. What good is a great radio selection if the player is frustrating to use? Read More of every genre, spoken commentaries and news broadcasts, comedy shows, dramatic productions and more from every part of the globe.

Book worm or casual reader, eBooks provide a huge catalogue of available reading material Want An All-You-Can-Read Buffet? 3 Places To Find Free Ebooks Online Want An All-You-Can-Read Buffet? 3 Places To Find Free Ebooks Online It's a great idea to devote some time to the joys of reading and utilize the interesting selection of books available for free at our fingertips. Here are three interesting places you can visit. Read More  without having to leave the house. As an avid reader, being unable to physically hold a book was one of the things I felt the loss of most. I tried a number of “reading machines” but on general they were difficult to set up and not one possessed the ability to go back a single page.

I then tried a different method where the book was placed in a stand and I used a stick in my mouth to turn the pages. I read as much as I could, but it became extremely exhausting after a time. My first time reading an e-book was like magic, being able to turn the page just by clicking the mouse!

Computer and video games are for many the ultimate expression of fun and enjoyment. With the ease of Steam Steam Games Management and Online Store Gets A Redesign Steam Games Management and Online Store Gets A Redesign Read More , playing computer games is a dream come true for disabled gamers. Software solutions that eliminate the need for a physical joystick Turn Your Mouse Into A Joystick For PC Gaming Turn Your Mouse Into A Joystick For PC Gaming With the ability to plug in a huge variety of controllers, the mouse would seem an unlikely choice as your steering control. However, gamers come in all shapes and sizes and individual preferences can vary. Read More , and voice control make the gaming world fully available. I have shown how disabled gamers can play any video game This Is How Disabled Gamers Can Play Anything! This Is How Disabled Gamers Can Play Anything! Okay, let's get something clear immediately, there is a prevalent train of thought that if you have a physical disability, you are condemned to floundering in the wasteland of computer gaming. Not true. Read More .

Chris Hepburn has even remapped the buttons in Skyrim to help a disabled player go on an adventure with one-hand. He has uploaded the configuration to Steam. 

Although many would hardly give it a thought, one of the best things about digital downloads for me is not requiring someone to put the physical game disc in. It makes me shiver when I remember when games came on 6 floppy discs.

I’m not much of an online gamer — the few occasions I’ve tried I thought it was a neat way to meet people from other parts of the world. With my luck, I usually get shot before the conversation gets very far.

Rejoining The Workforce

Employment

The venerable art of setting down words using pen and paper has in our modern times been almost completely replaced by computer technology. Whether it be keeping a simple diary, producing a newsletter, or authoring the next bestselling novel, the ability to write using your computer is open to all.

The Internet is the first-choice platform to share and publish your written work How To Write and Publish Your First iBook Using iBooks Author How To Write and Publish Your First iBook Using iBooks Author Thinking about producing your own e-book? Apple's iBooks Author is a free, user-friendly tool for producing interactive publications that can reach a large audience of iPad, iPhone & Mac users. Read More , whether it be a blog 5 Sites to Easily Start Your Blog Using Evernote, Trello or WordPress 5 Sites to Easily Start Your Blog Using Evernote, Trello or WordPress Blogger and WordPress are arguably the easiest two platforms for starting your own blog. But we wanted to know if there was anything easier out there. We weren't disappointed with the options we found. Read More , instructional manual or a fictional masterpiece.

I have kept a diary since age 11. Computers allowed me to both preserve all I had written and to continue journaling. Thanks to the Internet, this became the foundation for blogging. I have been able to share some instructional pieces for fellow disabled computer users and I’m even able to consider publishing an autobiography which I have been working on using the Internet.

Often, opportunities for resuming or finding work have been extremely difficult for the severely disabled. Now, there has been an enormous shift towards people working from home. This has made it possible for many homebound individuals hungry for employment to rejoin the workforce.

To lean on a relevant example, I would not have my present position here at MakeUseOf without the ability to submit articles written at home, easily through the Internet.

Life-Changing Technology

If I could use an analogy in which my life in a wheelchair is a house, then I would describe my discovery of computers as the main doorway, and the Internet as the many rooms within.

Believe me, it is a mansion to which I am always adding new rooms.

With the Internet I have been able to go beyond my already opened world and discover an amazing degree of independence which I would not have thought possible. From vital daily tasks to indulging in my creative passions. From touching base with friends both old and new. From discovering new interests to finally re-entering the workforce, I have the Internet superhighway to thank for.

Perhaps some of the areas I have looked at may be helpful to you or someone you know? Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. Do leave a comment below.

Image Credit: successful disabled entrepreneur by Creativa Images via Shutterstock

  1. Denise
    December 2, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    The internet is one of the best things to have happened to me as well. I am bipolar, living in a state in which I have very few friends and my family cares very little what happens to me. I live alone, which is hard even on an introvert like me. I know many disabled adults who almost live on the internet. Yes, it is pitiful that some people do that, but it is even more pitiful when they have no other choice. The internet opens all kinds of possibilities for the disabled, and denying it to them is cruel. I say that because those who are in bad enough shape to require a guardian in this town are denied internet access or computers by the county employees who administer public guardianship. We need a lot more articles like this one. We need a lot of people to speak out and defend getting something this useful to the disabled. For us, it is not a luxury. I pay all my bills online because I do not have transportation. That is a big deal. I went to school online and earned my master's degree. I stay in touch with friends I grew up with online. I shop online. I bank online. I write on my computer. I could not live very well without it. That is why I always have a spare one available. We need to let the world know that the disabled often need computers and internet access. It is far more important to us than it is to others.

    • David O'Connor
      December 3, 2015 at 1:16 am

      Hi Denise

      You raise good points, thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Emily
    December 2, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Absolutely - the company is Control Bionics, our website is http://www.controlbionics.com

    • David O'Connor
      December 3, 2015 at 1:05 am

      Many thanks,

      Fantastic technology indeed.

  3. Emily
    December 1, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    David-

    Looking forward to your findings!

    SGDs are speech generating devices- and that's not quite doing our product (or others on the market) justice. We work with profoundly disabled invidiuals that have lost their ability to speak- so our device allows them generate speech, surf the web and on and on utilizing many of the devices you've featured. Hence the positive thoughts on all your posts - product reviews and opinions are invaluable!

    All the best!

    • David O'Connor
      December 1, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Hey Emily,

      Sounds fascinating!

      I immediately thought of a friend who is in exactly that position. He has cerebral Palsy and is unable to speak, because of bad spasticity he has been unable to successfully use my head pointing devices with any accuracy. Have long been on the lookout for a successful computing solution for him.

      Does your company have a website with info on their SDG's?

      Cheers!

  4. Akshata Shanbhag
    December 1, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Great post, David. It's easy to use the Internet without realizing how far reaching its impact is. Well written, and eye-opening too!

    • David O'Connor
      December 1, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Akshata,

      appreciate your positive feedback! really encouraging from a fellow member of the MUO team.

      Cheers!

  5. Kam
    December 1, 2015 at 12:23 am

    I found the Internet the window to the world. Being a power wheelchair user who will mobility over time, my mouse is my best friend :)

    • David O'Connor
      December 3, 2015 at 1:08 am

      Hi Kam,

      l know exactly what you mean. Thanks for your comment

  6. Emily
    November 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Hi David,

    I think you have a great series of posts and would love to hear your review of Apple's Switch Control. It seems this new accessibility upgrade from Apple is hugely powerful yet there's not a lot of information out there (much less reviews from people that actually use it). It seems it has the capabilities to allow full access to all the things mentioned above, and it's ease of use... well that's TBD.

    I promise I'm not an Apple employee digging for feedback! I work with a company that creates SGDs and we are interested in the new advancements. I have followed your posts for months and find your insight invaluable - would love to hear your opinion.

    Thanks and I hope to hear back from you. In the meantime keep up the great posts!

    • David O'Connor
      December 1, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      Hi Emily!

      Thanks for your positive thoughts on my posts, a real warm fuzzy! To be honest, until reading your comment I had never heard of Apple’s Switch Control.

      Had a quick look at what it is on Youtube, very impressive indeed. And definitely worthy of an in-depth look. Appreciate you bringing it to my attention. Will investigate further!

      By the way, enlighten me, what are SGDs?

      kindest regards

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