Call our free helpline0808 808 3555
Call our free helpline
0808 808 3555
Computers are everywhere in our lives: home, school, work and
play. Children with hemiplegia may seem to start at a disadvantage,
but learning to use computers effectively can help them keep up
more easily with classmates and workmates.
At school, for example, using a keyboard can:
On this page we look at how using a computer can be made easier
for people with hemiplegia, whether children or adults.
It is important to sit your child properly at the computer
before they get started.
If your child can only use one hand, they will find that there
are some key combinations that are difficult to achieve. Try
pressing "ctrl+alt+delete" with one hand and you will see the
Thankfully there is a "sticky keys" function that is built into
Windows. Sticky keys changes the behaviour of the modifier keys -
Shift, Control and Alt - so that they are "held down" until the
next key is pressed. This means it is possible to type a capital
"P" by pressing and releasing the shift key and then pressing the
"p" key. Or you can get % by pressing shift then 5.
The settings for sticky keys can be turned on by visiting the
"accessiblity options" in the control panel. (The control panel can
be found from the start menu).
If your child creates a document in a word processor, they will
generally find that the text on the screen consists of black
letters on a white background. The writing in the menus is
generally black on grey, and the title bar is blue. If these
colours are not the best for their eyes, you can change them and
adjust the size of the text in the menus.
To try this out, revisit control panel and select accessibility
options and then display (in Windows 2007 'pick a task', and the
accessibility wizard will take you through some of the operations
below). Choose the appearance tab and look under "scheme" - if you
scroll down through this list you will see a number of pre-defined
schemes that use different colour combinations - some of which are
available in a number of sizes. For example, high contrast schemes
are useful for anyone with a visual impairment.
Some fonts are clearer than others. 'Ariel' and 'Courier' are
considered easier to read than traditional fonts such as 'Times New
Roman', and children may like using a 'fun' font such as 'Comic
The mouse pointer can often be difficult to locate on the
screen. If so, then you can try making it bigger. If the screen has
a white background, try the "windows standard black (large)" - or
try a large white pointer if you have a high contrast black scheme.
You can select different "mouse schemes" through the "mouse" item
in control panel.
Controlling the mouse
The mouse tab also allows you to slow down the mouse speed if
it's too fast for your child. Enabling sound enables a
multi-sensory approach to typing - good for some learners but
frustrating for others.
While you are in the mouse properties, think about swapping the
buttons over if your child is left handed so that they can do all
their clicking with their index finger.
Keyboard options for single handed users
There are some specialist keyboards available for users who can
only use one hand. However, if your child learns to type on a
specialist keyboard they may need to use that keyboard on other
computers. Given that they will probably use a computer throughout
their life in all sorts of settings (school, work, home etc.), it
may be more practical to use a standard QWERTY keyboard from the
Many people find compact "laptop sized" keyboards easier to use
as they can be operated more easily with one hand. Turn the
keyboard over - most have two retractable legs. Flip these down so
that the keyboard has a gently downhill slope. It makes the letters
easier to see and gives some forearm support. Next, offset the
keyboard to whichever hand is typing, with the letters G and H in
the centre. For a right-hander, the keyboard is angled up to the
right, for a left-hander to the left.
There is a useful typing tutor called "Five Finger Typist" www.typeonehand.com that helps a
single-handed user to develop a touch-typing style based on the
keys "FGHJ" as "home keys". It is suitable for children. Another
is available from its website.
Most people with hemiplegia use their affected hand, if at all,
only for anchoring the keyboard. Some with left-sided hemiplegia
can learn to use the hand to access the keys on the left side of
the bottom row e.g. z,x,c,v,b.
If your child has a visual impairment, keyboard stickers can
make the letters clearer. Another thing you might want to try is
Dasher, a text entry interface that requires no keyboard. It is
free to download at www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/dasher/
If your child finds writing notes or doing written work in class
difficult, and finds typing easier, there are some very good
lightweight and portable note-taking devices that can be used as
"pen and paper substitutes", for example the Alphasmart Neo. This
is a battery-driven word processor (700 hours of operation on 3 AA
alkaline batteries) with the added advantage of an extra large
font. Work can then be easily uploaded onto a computer.
The standard mouse is quite a challenging device for many people
with reduced dexterity. Sometimes changing to a different shaped or
different sized device will help, though if your child is
left-handed, beware of anything labelled 'ergonomic' as it will be
designed for right-handed users. If a mouse does not suit then
there are large numbers of alternatives - rollerballs, touchpads,
joystick devices and so on.
However, as with a Qwerty keyboard, use of a standard mouse has
many benefits. Use of a Tiny mouse can be a useful initial step for
young or small children. Check that the mouse or alternative is
positioned correctly, on the side of the typing hand. There are
many activities that introduce and develop mouse control -
important skills to master are:
The following free sites available on the internet may be useful
for teaching mouse skills:
Magnification software and screen reading programs can be bought
to help users with significant visual impairments. Magnification
software magnifies the area around the cursor or mouse pointer.
Screen reading systems monitor the activity on the screen and speak
out the current menu options and the keys pressed, and give the
user the ability to interrogate the system.
This can be useful for those who have good speaking voices. The
systems take time to "train" to recognise the speaker, but are
improving and becoming cheaper all the time. The most widely used
programme is Dragon Naturally Speaking.
produced two useful software packages for introducing children to
computers. Its website also has an extensive range of downloadable
information and skill sheets that may be useful for older children
and adults. For example, its 'Dyslexia and Computing' sheet alone
has suggestions on software for planning work, word prediction,
speech to text and autocorrecting.
Abilitynet - www.abilitynet.org.uk - whose
motto is 'Adapting Technology - Changing Lives', works nationwide.
It provides assessments, equipment and training to help children
with additional needs get the most out of education. Its site has
factsheets, skillsheets and free downloadable software.
ACE Centre North - www.ace-north.org.uk - offers free
information and advice on Assistive Technology for people with
physical/ communication difficulties. The site also has links to
useful freely downloadable and open source software.
Cenmac - www.cenmac.com/index.php -
works only in London, providing assessments of children, loans of
equipment and training, but its website has lots of information,
equipment and software recommendations and links that are useful
wherever you live.
IT-Can-Help (ITCH) - www.itcanhelp.org.uk - is a
network of volunteers who offer free local computer assistance to
disabled people. They can diagnose and fix most computer related
problems, install and set up hardware, software, internet, email
and accessibility settings.