Quick note: Wireless/Bluetooth Kensington Expert trackball

Someone asked about typing on a tablet with a trackball. Until dwell clicking gets the bugs worked out (Therapy Box’s Mouse Trak) or doesn’t require specialized purchases (Unique Perspectives’ Dwell Click), your best bet is something like a switch-adapted L-trac or a trackball in conjunction with a click switch (for which you’d possibly need a hub port). For Android, anyway–I think iPads are ahead in accessibility options.

While it’s possible to use a trackball with a tablet, one drawback is that (depending on the tablet) it can’t be used while the tablet is charging. Bluetooth connection would be ideal, but despite several wireless models, trackballs don’t appear to be common enough to warrant Bluetooth versions. So when Kensington released a Bluetooth-capable version of the Expert I already use, I tried it–and promptly sent it back.

To be fair, it worked when it worked, but that was only for about ten minutes on both my laptop and a Galaxy Tab 4. To pair it properly, you need to install TrackballWorks on your PC. You can’t install it on Android, but I got lucky (once) and it was recognized anyway… until the connection dropped and I couldn’t get it back on either the tablet or PC despite repeated reinstallments. Perhaps that was a fluke. But here’s the major problem: To pair it, you have to hold down all four trackball buttons at once. This was very awkward for me–especially since I had to do that A LOT trying to reconnect. It got painful. Considering that Kensington once mentioned how their wired Expert can benefit people with hand problems, this is a bit disappointing. A less agile pairing method would be great.

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Mobility aid review: MTip crutch tip

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve come to think of crutch tips as shoes, since the stick parallels the leg; this is particularly true for people who use two crutches and/or swing through. But while it’s easier to find shoes according to purpose or terrain, the variety in crutch tips is a bit smaller. So when I was offered Moterum’s MTips to try, I was interested to see how it compared to the Tornado. My setup:

One Millennial forearm crutch (anatomical handle, spring-loaded leg, 3″ cuff) with MTip
Bionic multitask arthritis glove with padded fingers and silicone palm

The first thing you notice is the shape; instead of being round, it’s long and curved at the bottom. It’s a bit sneaker-like. You can have it facing one of two ways: with the longer end facing away from your handle or parallel to it. I put a lot of emphasis on my heel when I walk, and since I walk with most of my weight on my right side, I’m hard on the heels of my shoes. This includes my stick, so I put the tip on with the longer end facing away so I’d have more heel surface. NOTE: Be aware that you might have to stomp your stick a few times to secure the tip; otherwise it will flop around a little. Also, if you want to remove the tip and try a different orientation, the shape could make that a little harder if you have problems with your hands. And speaking of hands…

Reducing impact against the ground remains critical to keeping my hand functioning, hence my multiple anti-shock methods. Fortunately, the MTip doesn’t interfere with the working of the spring. Unfortunately, and unlike round tips, you need to strike the ground at the center of the tip for the spring to compress.

Compared to the Tornado, the impact is a little harder and my stick clacks a little louder. But here’s where the shape comes in. Since the tip is curved, it forces a heel-toe motion; it rocks forward when it hits the ground, and your arm follows that motion at the shoulder. So the impact is mitigated somewhat, because you’re literally rolling with it. (Again, though, how well it works depends on the nature of your swing.) If you can talk about ergonomic crutch tips like ergonomic keyboards, you could call the MTip one. It reminds me of how Sidestix sells rotating attachments for their crutches for that reason, but the MTip could give some of that motion to any crutch that fits, which could be a nice compromise for people who can’t afford or can’t use Sidestix.

NOTE: I personally would not attempt stairs with this, so I can’t tell you how that works. I can go down the stairs in my apartment fine with the Tornado one step at a time, but I wasn’t sure about placing the MTip because of its shape and, more importantly, the momentum that the rocking motion might create. I’m not adventurous that way. Also, I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to use it in snow or slush (which the Tornado handles as well as possible) for the same reason.

Unfortunately, talking about impact and budget leads me to a caution. My Tornado Rain tips can last me six months to a year each, especially if I turn them periodically so the tread wears evenly. (Another way one handedness is handy–spares.) The tread does wear, of course, but it takes months. The last two Vs of tread on the MTip’s heel were gone in two days; the rubber is softer, I think. I do walk quite a bit on concrete. This may not be a problem depending on how you distribute your weight, but if you’re hard on your shoes like I am, the possibility of more frequent replacement might be a concern.

If you wanted to stretch the MTips longer, perhaps you could think of them as shoes. Tornado tips are like boots; perhaps MTips are more like sneakers. If they work for you, perhaps they could last longer if, like shoes, they were alternated according to purpose rather than being the everyday shoe. (This would, however, require having multiple shoes, which may be hard on the budget also.)

I’d been worried the MTip would be gimmicky–a lot of mobility aid proposals are–but walking with it felt interesting and surprisingly painless (after an initial soreness due to different impact levels and occasionallly missing the “spring spot”). If durability isn’t a concern, they might be worth checking out.

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Stop mouse settings from reverting in Windows 10: X Mouse Button Control

When I’m not using speech recognition, I’m using my trackball. My trackball drives everything, including my on-screen keyboard. Also, some of Dragon’s mouse commands rely on the Windows mouse settings. Therefore, I was rather peeved when I discovered that a bug in either Windows 10 or Synaptics resets the mouse settings–from pointer speed to scroll length–every time the computer reboots. Besides updating the drivers, I tried running regedit and setting HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Synaptics\SynTP\Install\DeleteUserSettingsOnUpgrade to 0 and setting HKEY_CURRENT USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WheelScrollLines to a different number, but neither worked for me, so if they don’t work for you either, you have a couple of third-party program options that can bypass the bug.

The easiest option is to install any enhancement software that came with your pointing device. I’m not fond of Trackball Works for my Expert, though, because no matter what I do to the pointer speed, it feels to my hand like it’s floating around. Also, it doesn’t offer scrolling by page. So I looked for universal mouse enhancement programs and found X Mouse Button Control, which is a mouse hotkey programmer that also handles the standard mouse functions and then some. Most importantly, X Mouse runs at boot up and overrides the standard driver, so whatever you set remains. (However, if you don’t want it to run on booting, you can disable it in msconfig.exe.)

Mainly, I wanted to keep the mouse speed and thresholds I’d set in the registry and the scroll steps I’d set in the Mouse options in Control Panel. (To increase your mouse speed beyond what the control panel offers, go to regedit.exe and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT USER\Control Panel\Mouse. Set MouseSpeed to 2 and both thresholds to 0 for maximum speed.) To adjust your pointer speed settings, double-click the X Mouse tray icon, then click the Settings button and set the speed slider to wherever you choose. You also have several wheel  options here, such as scrolling the window under the cursor or activating the window with the scroll wheel. Under the Advanced tab, there are several useful accessibility options, such as ignoring repeated scroll motions or setting the repeat rate.

To set your scrolling speed or amount, use the Scrolling and Navigation tab in the main window. You have the option of scrolling a page at a time or setting the number of lines, as well as locking your axes via modifier keys. (To set your modifier keys, click the Settings button, then the Modifier Keys tab.)

Finally, you have your standard hotkey and macro options for the scroll wheel and up tp 5 buttons, which can be global or program specific. Note: If you use dwell clicking software, your button actions will apply to dwell click buttons as well. While working native drivers would be nice, this isn’t a bad alternative.

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“Touch typing” with an on-screen keyboard: Virtual Keyboard meets Window Eyes

Note: The following will not work for typing in scan mode–only for a pointing device and a switch assigned to clicking. However, if your pointing device emulates a mouse using switches, that will work.

I posted before that I had a hell of a time getting Virtual Keyboard to work with screen readers without having the text output mangled. Fortunately, GW Micro has offered the Window Eyes screen reader to people with licensed versions of Microsoft Office, including Starter. Window Eyes appears to be the only screen reader that doesn’t screw up my text. So, enter the possibility of  “touch typing” on an onscreen keyboard.

1. Turn off dwell clicking in your onscreen keyboard.

2. Turn on Window Eyes. Bring it up by pressing Control Backslash and select Help, then select Show Advanced Options.

3. Expand the Mouse side menu and select Voice.

4. From the dropdown on the right, select one of the On options.

5. Mouse over the keyboard slowly to hear the letters and words and get a feel for the distance between them. Then accept your letter or word by clicking the switch.

6. If you’re using word prediction, it might speed things up if you turn off the learning function. That way, you’ll have a more consistent idea of when your words will show up so you don’t have to wander your cursor around more than you have to. Setting up shorthand expansions in AutoHotkey or your word processor might also be helpful.

Note: Window Eyes will interact with your other programs, too, not just Office. (Jarte Plus will automatically start in Screen Reader Mode, in fact.) However, there are glitches. For instance, I couldn’t type into the Tags field of this post; Window Eyes couldn’t tell the text cursor was in a text field and took letters for shortcut keys. Tumblr seems to break text fields sometimes as well. Also, it doesn’t always read Dragon’s correction menus even with the accessible menus option turned on.

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Fire IE: trick Dragon and websites into thinking you’re using Internet Explorer (sometimes)

I noticed recently that some sites I used at work didn’t display properly in Firefox, whether I had Flash enabled or not. At home, I couldn’t read the comments on sites that used the Disqus commenting system. They worked fine in Internet Explorer, though, and I’m really not fond of switching browsers for switching tasks. So I remembered something I tried a long time ago and discarded because of the bugs: one of those add-ons that tricks Firefox into believing you’re using IE. Fortunately for me, the bugs appear to be worked out in the add-on I’m currently using: Fire IE. Extremely fortunately, there are side effects: Dragon usually thinks I’m using IE too, and sometimes I can watch content requiring Flash while the Firefox Flash plug-in is disabled. And so Dragon doesn’t crash!

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Reviews: SpeechWare TravelMike and SpeechWare 3-in-1 TableMike

I was having one problem after another recently with the Andrea Superbeam microphone and its drivers. So, even though my budget kind of hurt for it, I bought a SpeechWare 3-in-1 TableMike.

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Online resources for lipreading/speechreading

Something struck me the other day–for all that deaf and hard of hearing people are encouraged to lipread/speechread, there aren’t a lot of classes offered for it around here. You can always practice with DVDs with captions on, or–now that Amazon and Netflix have gotten it together somewhat–streaming video. (There seems to be a glitch between Firefox and Silverlight at the moment, though, so that might not be so helpful.)

However, there are some starting places online. YouTube, once you filter out NFL and Bad Lipreading, comes up with a few things. A series of about 30 lessons offers unvoiced sentences which appear neutrally US accented and are followed by captions after a pause. Sometimes the captions are mismatched, and once the woman clearly swears. 🙂 But it’s usually pretty obvious when the sentence doesn’t match, and it keeps you on your toes. There are also a few videos in a British accent, and what appears to be an explanation of lipreading Spanish for hearing people.

If you want to go a little more polished, lipreading.org offers practice videos for vowels, initial consonants, numbers, names, and guessing missing words. The multiple choice games are useful to a point, but particularly helpful might be the lipreading alphabet at the bottom of the page. There are not only pictures, but verbal descriptions of how the vowels and consonants are formed.

If you want practice with concentrating or hearing in noise, LACE has a demo that asks you to recognize one of two competing voices–male, female, or child.

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