The month of July – part 1

Calendar entries highlighted in yellow

2nd July 2009 – Computer assessment

Mike from AbilityNet called this morning to do an assessment of my computer needs based on my current level of disability which in my case is upper limb. I was therefore looking for help and guidance on software and hardware solutions for hands free computing. Because I use a variety of software packages ranging from text to graphics I suspected that no one single solution would do. We started by looking at the basic needs i.e. text entry and surfing the Internet and for this I’d already been playing around with Windows Vista’s own speech recognition with varying degrees of success. Predictably he recommended switching to Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 Preferred which is recognised as a standard, and using a noise cancelling desktop microphone as opposed to the bezel mounted microphones built into the laptop computer for greater sensitivity. I didn’t get a chance to test these things but he has already placed an order for me which is funded by the MND Association in a partnership between them and AbilityNet. They will also provide a series of training sessions.

We then turned our attention to looking at ways of controlling the mouse which is needed for graphics applications. First up was the IntegraMouse, a rather strange looking mouse controlled by sip and puff clicking and gentle movements of the head. I found it to be a bit of a strain on my breathing system with all the repeated sip and puff actions necessary to replicate mouse clicks. More useful and quicker to use was something called the Tech KidTrack Trackball , a foot mouse with a trackball and a separate wired switch. With this setup it was possible to use my right foot to move the cursor whilst clicking with my left. As I still have good use of my feet I was able to perform quite subtle movements so we have settled on this solution which AbilityNet will once again provide.

Lastly we looked at ways of controlling my media centre, a dedicated computer linked into a hi-def flatscreen TV which holds my music, photo & video library. All I needed was a way of controlling a mouse from the comfort of the sofa. I’d already had in mind a foot control so it was no real surprise to be offered a wireless trackball mouse that would eliminate dangerous leads trailing across the floor. Sorted!

7th July 2009 – Finger splints / Environment assessment

I had a visit from Chris, my NHS PCT OT, this morning to look at suitable solutions for supporting the index and middle fingers of my right hand. These are the fingers I use for typing and lately I’ve been having problems with them curling inwards towards the palm of the hand when they get tired. I then need to let them rest a while before I have the strength to hold them out straight again.

Shortly after midday I had a call from Ronnie, an OT with the Wheelchair Service. She’d been sent along to do an environmental assessment to determine suitability for an indoor powered wheelchair. I felt that it was rather premature as I’ve only just started using a transit wheelchair and even then only when I’m out for more than about 30 minutes. I’m perfectly fine walking around the house where I normally only have a need to move from the dining area to the lounge area or climb the stairs to the bathroom. The problem with modern houses is that they are not exactly very big so there’s very limited space for a powered wheelchair to move around in. Excluding the kitchen which I have no need to visit now, there is only the through lounge/dinner so everything is close to hand anyway. Ronnie could also see that I had enough mobility at this time so we’ve left it at that for now. She did say though that because my arms are paralysing it would require special adaptations to control the wheelchair and to allow a couple of months to sort things out.

9th July 2009 – Another breathing test

It was back to the Basingstoke & North Hants hospital this morning for my 4-monthly lung function test ahead of my appointment with the Neurologist later in the month. I’ve come to dread these tests for fear of getting a poor set of results and their implications. Certainly my breathing out hard feels very week compared to my ability to suck air in rapidly.

A sure sign of my legs being weaker than last time was when I tried (and failed) to get up from a chair in the waiting room. I ended up needing two people to haul me to my feet.

14th July 2009 – This and that

I’ve been feeling rather bloated all day thanks to the lovely cooked breakfast that Ann kindly made for me. Not something I have every day but occasionally treat myself to. It brought back fond memories of the delicious breakfasts we had in the staff restaurant at Eli LILLY. There’s something about the smell of bacon, eggs, fried bread…stop it, I’m making myself hungry again, hehe.

My neck muscles have now weakened to the point where I’m starting to have difficulty lifting my head off the pillow when I’m laying in bed. It’s also getting harder actually getting off the bed and into an upright standing position – a real concern if I have a need to visit the bathroom, especially as there is no one around to assist me. Oh yes, my walking feels a bit strange lately too, like my balancing isn’t quite right.

I’ve been playing around a bit more with Vista’s built in speech recognition software today. I had about 70 or so files that needed renaming so I thought I would see how useful the software was at hands free file management. Actually, once I’d learnt and remembered the sequence of verbal commands it worked reasonably well. Trouble is it becomes terribly repetitive repeating the same words 70 times, by the end of which my mouth was really dry.


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