Using a computer is a challenge for some people—and even more so for the handicapped. Special electronic aids have been devised to help compensate for extreme movement deficits or poor vision.
"Special devices can compensate for or at least mitigate many hurdles in operating a PC," says Christoph Jo Mueller from the German Association for Electronic Aids for the Handicapped (BEH) based in Hamm.
Extra large or small input devices are often needed or those with special functions like a keyboard delay, Mueller explains. An inability to read what's on the screen is no longer a real hurdle for the visually impaired or blind.
"Even with the best aids, you're not just as quick as a user who can see. But the blind can also work very well with the PC," explains Michael Lang, deputy chair of the Interest Group for Visually Impaired Computer Users (ISCB).
Tools like enlargement software are helpful. A simple magnifying glass for the monitor is included in Windows. Those with more extreme visual problems can be helped through screen or web readers.
"A programme reads text and links over the soundcard, or transfers signals to special Braille readings devices," says Lang.
The Internet is also helpful in tracking down the right product and retailer. The BEH search engine at www.beh-verband.de/suchen.htm can be used to find suitable providers. Tips for visually impaired users can be found at the ISCB website at www.iscb.de or at INCOBS, the Information Pool for Computer Aids for the Blind and Visually Impaired (http://www.incobs.de).
The project, supported by the German federal government, offers a market overview, product test, buying guides and other information.
"It's important for users to compare products, since the market for aids offers a great many different choices," says Heike Class, INCOBS project director at DIAS GmbH in Hamburg.
Good advice should be individualised and free. Customers should insist on trial phases and in-house orientations. Buyers should also check whether customer service is offered, Mueller adds.
The aids are generally very expensive because they are only manufactured in small batches. In some extreme cases, a handicapped-accessible PC can cost as much as a mid-sized car, Mueller says. A large-field keyboard with large keys can cost more than $100.
Screen readers sell for upto $1,500. A Braille reading device upto $16,000.
Those in need can apply for financial aid. "Depending on the particulars, there are various different potential sponsors," says Katja Kruse, a lawyer from the German Association of Physically and Multiple Handicaps (BVKM) in Duesseldorf.