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What is an Adaptive Computer?

An adaptive computer is tailored to meet the unique needs of users with disabilities, enhancing accessibility through specialized hardware and software. By adjusting to individual abilities, it empowers users to navigate technology with greater ease and independence. How might these innovative systems transform daily life for those facing challenges? Join us as we examine the impact of adaptive computing.
John Lister
John Lister

An adaptive computer is one that has been modified to make it easier to use for people with disabilities. This can cover a range of physical impairments, most notably vision and hearing issues, and problems with hand and arm movements. Adaptive computer solutions can include such hardware modifications, changes to existing software, add-on software or special external devices.

Some of the best known adaptive computer systems are screen readers. These read out text which appears on screen to make it easier to use for people with limited or no vision. There are a wide range of such systems, from the built-in tools in Windows to dedicated applications. Many systems can also give audible cues as the user moves through the menu systems of a program.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

For people with spinal cord injuries who are unable to control a computer using their arms, adaptive computer technology includes devices which allow them to control the cursor through head movements. In many cases these devices will allow the user to “type” by speaking, with the system using voice recognition technology. Where the injury is limited to the arms rather than the entire body, the user may be able to use a foot-operated mouse.

Even people with severe physical disabilities can benefit from an adaptive computer tool. For example, some systems involve a pair of glasses with a tiny tracker which can detect eye movement. The user is then able to move a cursor with the eye movement. They can also type by moving the cursor to a spot on an on-screen keyboard and then holding it in position to "press" the key.

One lesser-known adaptive computer technology is the field of keyboards which have been adapted for users with only one hand. One option is a specially designed small keyboard which has the standard QWERTY layout, but is easier to reach with one hand without extensive arm movements. Another option is the half-QWERTY keyboard which is set-up so that the typist can use only one side of the keyboard. Hitting a key types the normal letter while holding space and hitting the key types the equivalent letter from the other side of the keyboard.

A third option is the DVORAK keyboard. This organizes the keyboard in a different manner so that the most commonly used letters are together in the middle. This greatly reduces the amount of hand movement needed to type. Of course, all three of these technologies will require some relearning, particularly for people who have suffered an accident and were previously able to type with both hands.

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      Man holding computer