The Access Project. [TAP]

Creating Accessible Computer Controls

The Access Project’s objective is to find, review and test hardware and software tools and equipment specifically to enable control of computer equipment for adults who have computing needs not met by current resources. Tools we choose often follow principals of “universal design” by making access to online and everyday worlds easier (and often more fun) for everyone.

No one gets through life without bruises and cracks. Amazing people live with challenges of broken or uncooperative bodies or minds. Net Learning Center believes that nobody should be considered a “write-off”, as we all have something to contribute. Just like every part in an object like a car, and every thread in a tapestry, is a vital part of the complete and whole item. This is also true within our human family, if we are all connected on this earth.

How DO you control your computer if you can’t move any part of your body?

Think about it! Now, think about this. What if you can’t TALK either? For some people who are quadraplegic, this is true. These people are the “Untalkables”.

The “I Need a word” song by Dave Matthews and Grover for Sesame Street could easily be their theme song.

The “A-Team” is working on ways to help people get the words!

A-Team Project for the “Untalkables” -Adapt the computer to YOU!

Believe it or not, there are a number of tricky tools that can allow you to control a computer with just your very smallest wiggle. If your eyes can focus, you can gaze at a spot on the screen. If you can grip a button, you can click a mouse that moves across the screen highlighting choices for you. Or you can puff on a straw, move your head, even stick out your tongue to push a switch. Human ingenuity is the only limit.

Everything in the world of the Untalkables takes lots of work, lots of time and help from many people, ranging from medical and educational professionals, to therapists, caregivers, family and friends. But official services do have limits. Turning TV sets on and off, playing games, sending email and posting on social media may not be official “activities of daily living”, but they certainly ARE activities that make it worth living!

That’s where the A-Team comes in! Our job is to find tools that help with communication and in that gain control over the computer to open up a small room to the wider world. The Access Project was initiated because we discovered that there were very few fun computer activities available to people who do not have full use of their hands.

Priscilla in her hospital-style bed with purple sheets and pillow. She sports a trach tube to supply oxygen. Behind her bed is A-Team member Kathy holding a black sign with a yin-yang symbol and the words "Get Control".

The “Face” of the A-Team is Priscilla Valdez, who became quadriplegic in 2012, and who inspired the project. For two years she was unable to move anything except perhaps her eyes, but her vision was very hard to assess. She could not talk, although she certainly could communicate with eyes, smile and determined spirit. In her 3rd year of quadriplegia, after many hours of work with a speech therapist, she regained limited use of her voice. But putting together sentences was slow and very tiring. Then, with perhaps another year of mobility and range-of-motion exercises, Priscilla become able to move one hand in a limited way (think “Royal Wave”). This gave hope that she might be able to move and control a mouse. Thus began the A-Team’s testing process.

What have we been up to so far?

As our A-Team official tester, Priscilla has tried out a wide variety of computer access tools and applications. Through a GoFundMe campaign, she has raised money for new equipment and software. The campaign was required because medical insurance funding is capricious for adults with long-time paralysis. We will be posting updates as we go along.

How can you help with the project?

TAP’s pages aim to feature online learning services and classes that are accessible, useful to everyone in a practical sense. We are especially interested in activities that make learning fun and involve the user/student/learner in interacting with what is happening on the screen, not just passively watching or reading. Keep checking back. This is an active area!

Net Learning Center began this project about two years ago. The Access Project was initiated because we discovered that there were very few fun computer activities available to people who do not have full use of their hands. They also had a huge gap to leap to control their computers and the other equipment that must be managed in order to perform what the medical world calls “activities of daily living”.

Photo of the A-Team: Michi, Kathy, Pat and Terry. They are standing in front of an iron fence that shows the brush in the back yard of Priscilla's house. Some of the brush burned during the Woolsey Fire in 2018.
The A-Team

JOIN US! DONATE IF YOU CAN!

Grants and other funding for improving accessibility for adults is hard to find, and yet the need is always increasing. Your donation can help make a difference. Even more important to us is active involvement in making the world more accessible for all of us. The day will come when we may be the ones who need to HELP to get into a building or fill out an online form.

A typical metal switch on a department store door. It's label reads "Press to Open".
Press to Open – if you have use of your arms…

– Pat Adams