“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.
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. Or even type & click without a mouse or keyboard. 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
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 (having almost lost $40,000 myself), so it is imperative to have safeguards in place and change your passwords regularly.
The Power of Online Shopping
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.
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 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.
It’s Good to Talk
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 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.
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 ability to find old friends, make new ones, keep in touch, share thoughts, chat face-to-face and even find romance 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
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 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 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 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, playing computer games is a dream come true for disabled gamers. Software solutions that eliminate the need for a physical joystick, and voice control make the gaming world fully available. I have shown how disabled gamers can play any video game.
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
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.
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.
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