Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Monday, 29 October 2012

From my Internet Travels…

I know, I'm behind on my posts.For the last two weeks or so, I have started to realize that I do in fact have need for more home automation. Especially because winter is coming. So for the last while I've been directing my efforts to researching some of my needs. I will post more about this a little later. Suffice to say I found some interesting stuff ;-)

That said, I've come across two very interesting pieces of software that I feel are worth mention.

Alternative Voice Recognition.

I've been using Dragon dictate software quite a bit over the last few months and I discussed my usage of it here: Dragon gamer post . for the most part I find it works extremely well. It's dictation functionality is far superior to the speech recognition that comes with Windows7.

One of the reasons that helps me decide to buy it is that there was an option to purchase a gamer pack which would give you voice access to various games. My particular interest was World of Warcraft. This gamer pack was provided by a company called Vox enable and up until recently it work really quite well. However with the latest war craft expansion pack, I seem to have lost my voice functionality from Vox enable. I've tried numerous times to a hold of some support from the website, reinstalling and updating Vox enable. But to no avail.

From what I can tell, the version of Vox enable that I purchased his version 6 and with the WoW expansion they patched it to version 7. This seems to indicate to me that I will have to repurchase Vox enable to maintain the plug-in to war craft. In other words this will cost me another €20.

Needless to say I'm not terribly happy about this, nor am I pleased with the customer support. I have had zero responses to date.

This is led me on a bit of the quest to try and find some alternatives for voice integration to war craft.

I've tried playing around with the windows speech macros on my own to get some idea as to what I could do. I've had some success with it, but only really just gotten started…

But a piece of free software I found it seems to work very well is by a group called killers software (don't let the icon fool you). It seems to work very well but does require you to create your own templates. Once are provided are kind of tailored to their own characters. That said creating your own template is pretty easy.

I've only used it a little bit so far, but it does work really quite well and seems to be more responsive than a Vox enable. It also has a whole bunch of additional functionality for other games and software such as iTunes.

All in all, for the price of a free this software seems to be very good and well worth a try.

Camera Mouse.

Now, this piece of software I've not actually tried and then kind of hoping to not need to try it in the near future world for that matter… Nonetheless, dealing with ALS means that I might have to consider it at some point.

This free software offers you an alternative to using your mouse through the use of the WebCam.

By moving your head around, tipping it left or right or up and down, the camera mouse translates these movements into mouse action. To send a mouseclick this is done with a supporting program (also available through this website for free) called dwell click.

All that's required to get this working is your PC, a web cam and the free camera mouse software.

Now, I do realize that this software will not work for everybody with ALS as all our symptoms progression's are somewhat different. However if your situation is similar to mine and you seem to be losing the use of your hands first but still retain control of your head and neck (no bulbar symptoms really) software like this may just help you stay active for that much longer.

And like I said, it's free. So what you have to lose?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Finding a good Shillelagh

It turns out that finding a good walking stick or cane is not easy as you might think.

When I first started using a cane I was having only slight balance issues, but my psychologists suggested that I start using one more as a social signal to people around me rather than an actual mobility aid as at the time I was just starting to have enough difficulty to make me feel uncomfortable. But not enough for the people around me to realize there was in fact something wrong and I wasn't just drunk or stoned.

So on his advice I went out and bought an MS Society cane that I thought would be good for me. You know the type, you see a lot of elderly people using base. Cast aluminum tube, formed handle and a wide foot. This is probably the most common type of cane you will find houses sold in just about every drugstore. Consequently these are also contains you will most likely be suggested to start using…

I started with the one shown in the image. It only cost about $25, and for the price it worked okay. I did find it a bit heavy and awkward to control. This is also largely to do with the fact I was starting to have quite a bit of atrophy in my arms and hands.

So, not being terribly happy with this cane and actually starting to need it more at this point. I started to look around for alternatives. What I really needed was something that was light, well-balanced and within T-shaped handle.

I found very little that would work for me in handicap retail stores or that was actually being offered to me through my rehabilitation facility. So I decided to start looking at trekking poles. Thus when I stumbled across the wanderfreund-speed-lock by LEKI. I only found this particular model for sale in one retail store here in Montréal. It seems to be a less popular version and consequently not many people have stock. However for my needs this cane was perfect.

This cane was very light and easy for me to manipulate. The best thing about it places the balance point was much higher making it easier for me to keep away from my foot. The other MS canes tended to be heavier out at the end which would cause me to occasionally kick them as I walked. Needless to say this is kind of dangerous.

The  wanderfreund-speed-lock length is very easily adjustable as wherewith the MS Cains I would have to have someone do it for me. Not to mention it is designed to be collapsible, which is really handy for when you're out saith the movie or show and you don't want it sticking out into the aisle. You can collapse it down to a length of about 65 cm.

Not shown in the image is actually was under the rubber foot, which is a carbide tipped. The rubber foot is actually just a You can place over it to use or generally. Living in a city where the weather can be pretty cold and crappy for part of the year, this is really handy. If things are slippery hiking use the carbide tip to guarantee that I will bite into whatever surface I stick it on to.

so that's where my cane went…
I really liked this cane and wish I could continue to use it. Unfortunately my hands have degraded to the point right can't really hold it anymore without some sort of help. For a long time I was using a wrist wrap to attach myself to the cane, however the attending short in my right hand has made this no longer a viable option as it is a bit painful to do so.

For the cost of about $70, I got a lot of miles on this cane. The one thing to be concerned of is that the foot is substantially smaller than the MS cane and if you're not careful can easily fit through things like the gap at the elevator door or a sewer grate.

As I felt I still needed the use of a cane, hyped this to my rehabilitation people. Explain to them the problems with the grip and that I would need something to help me grasp the cane. Unfortunately the solution was less than satisfactory. They came back to me with another team that was very much like those from the MS Society mentioned above, only with a custom grip to which they riveted some neoprene and some Velcro so I can wrap it to my hand.

This only sort of worked as now I'm considerably weaker than I was and this cane although a little more comfortable hold was far too heavy. Despite requests to remove the handle from this new came and adding it to my LEKI one, they would not.

Needless to say, this would not do for me. So it's a little bit of help from my social worker, we chopped the ends off of my LEKI and the new right hand cane and using a little bit of epoxy we glued the right-hand grip on to the LEKI. For a time this worked out quite well, with the continued atrophy even this modification has started to become less useful. But nonetheless I managed to get a few more miles out of it…

The next option I considered was the  Side Stix crutches. These are more ergonomically designed for obtains are made of carbon fiber and are extremely light. they even have a shock absorbing spring the shaft. They are quite expensive, costing between $600 and $800 for a pair. But they will sell them as individuals for half the price.

When I was back in Vancouver, I tried one out for a bit and they are far superior to the regular forearm canes. Sadly, given the atrophy in my hand I still have the same grip problems and would require myself to be attached to the cane, both at the hand and forearm. For forearm canes this is quite dangerous, should I happen to fall I could probably severely hurt myself and possibly even break my forearm. This is quite a disappointment to me as I did find these canes to be very good. Even with my limited dexterity I was able to maintain far more control over the cane than any of the others I had tried to date.
Sadly the side stix canes did not work for me, but if you have the budget they could well work for you. Definitely check them out…

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Alternative to the Sticky Mouse

Windows 7 has a very large number of accessibility settings to help people with disabilities use their computers.but sometimes the settings you're looking for might not be where you would think. For example when I started to need the use of a sticky mouse function I looked through easy access settings under "change how your mouse works"and found a couple of interesting settings, but none really useful to me. So I went about creating this sticky mouse auto hotkey script.

Then, the other day I was having a conversation with the tech person for my rehabilitation facility and begun to talking about my sticky mouse script. She was very impressed with it and thought it worked very well. But she also pointed out that window 7 already had a similar function built-in which I did not know about. It is called "click lock" which you can find under the mouse settings. This surprised me because I really expected this type of function to be under "ease of access".

When you open those properties, you'll find it under the activities tab. Just turn on the little check box. Let's click lock is enabled, you will be able to modify the timing before click lock activates the settings tab. It's controlled by little slider, in the same way that the sticky mouse auto hotkey script is. There is however one key difference and that is click lock does not give you any cute to indicate that it has locked your click. It is however more closely integrated into the Windows 7 operating system, consequently I would expect that it may have additional functionality/support that sticky mouse auto hotkey script does not.

Admittedly, I'm probably a little biased to my sticky mouse script but there's one thing that I very much prefer. I don't need the sticky mouse functionality 100% of the time, therefore it's very easy for me to click off from the taskbar. Simply right-click, exit script. If I were to try and disable click lock, well I have to navigate through the space control panel down to mouse properties every time I would want to turn it on or off. I know this is minor, but there are more steps involved and thus making it a bit more inconvenient.

In any case, it's well worth trying…