I often find myself describing the stuff I use to get things done (or just to play around), particularly assistive technology—something I make extensive use of as a person with spinal muscular atrophy. So I thought I would make a page with some stuff I use should it be of use to anyone. I’ll do my best to keep this page up to date.
I’ll put links to lesser known items where appropriate.
- iMac 27-inch. It’s beginning to show its age now but my main daily driver is a late-2015 model 5k iMac. I’m pretty heavily entrenched in the Apple ecosystem and, as I will discuss in the Software section, I make heavy use of macOS features for accessibility. I’m planning to update this machine when the Apple Silicon equivalent is released.
- My secondary machine is a 2021 MacBook Pro 16-inch with the M1 Max chip. Yes it runs circles around my primary machine. I spend a decent amount of time laying down to rest my legs (increasingly more often) so I wanted a machine powerful enough to let me work from bed if needed. More about this in the software section. You can check out my laptop setup for bed here.
- I use a Logitech M535 Bluetooth mouse. It’s compact enough for me to handle, although I have to dial up the sensitivity to 11. I modified it with a little bit of Sugru so that I can grip it more easily.
- Micro Light Switch. I’m mostly unable to click the mouse buttons on my Logitech mouse so I use a separate external switch that requires very little activation force.
- iPhone 11. I mostly don’t use my phone directly (more on this in Software) but when I do need to, the combination of Voice Control and FaceID is super useful.
- I have the original HomePod (the big one) and it is useful for controlling my light, space heater, and making calls/sending texts in a pinch (ie, when I am not using a computer).
- Mousepads from SteelSeries. I discovered gaming mousepads a few years ago and they are great. They are specifically designed to be low-friction and non-sticky so you get good control with minimal effort. Perfect for an SMAer.
- Honeywell HeatBud Ceramic Space Heater. I’m including this as hardware because it’s so critical to my setup. Folks with SMA know this well: cold hands are weak hands. Because of this, I have this little guy sitting on my desk pointed right at my hands. It’s plugged into a smart outlet so I can turn it on and off from any computer or smart device.
- A stamp of my signature. I have no idea how legally binding it is but I had the foresight to write my signature while I still could (I’m unable to now) and digitize it. For like $10 or so you can get your signature (or anything?) made into a stamp. So that’s pretty neat. I’d love to dig up samples of my handwriting and make a font out of it—just as a way of preserving it and expressing myself in it since I can no longer produce it. Tech is amazing.
It’s hard to separate assistive tech from, well, any tech. I’m not really attempting to stay within any given definition of assistive tech. I’m just covering what I use and what I use it for.
- macOS. This is my everyday bread and butter. Honestly it’s startling how much I use this software and how critical it is to the quality of my life. I’m not even exaggerating.
- macOS Accessibility Keyboard. This is the onscreen keyboard I use everyday. I’m completely unable to use a physical keyboard of any kind so my method of key input is this keyboard and speech recognition (more on this below). The MAK, let’s call it, is extremely customizable and I use a very custom layout which I have written about previously. It far surpasses Windows’ built-in OSK. It has come a long way, that’s for sure.
- Messages and FaceTime. A really cool feature of macOS is that you can text and call anyone (even folks without Apple devices) directly from your Mac if you have an iPhone. Almost all calls I make or messages I send originate from a Mac—and the integration is frictionless (mostly1). For me this is incredibly freeing and a big reason I stick with Apple.
- Talon. This is software for hands-free input. When I’m not using an onscreen keyboard I am using Talon’s voice recognition capabilities to control my Mac. I’ve written about Talon and in May 2021 I gave a conference talk about it. It’s kind of like the speech recognition you have heard of (or maybe used) but way, way better and easier to control. Talon also supports eye-tracking and noise input so I’ve really only scratched the surface.
- USB Overdrive. I use this to crank up the sensitivity of my mouse. I have only a little bit of motion in my hand so I gotta make it count.
- 1Password. I never want to fill in a login form manually ever again. Plain and simple. A password manager is a must-have assistive tech tool for me.
- Alfred. This is an app launcher and so much more. With very few keystrokes I can summon apps, access my clipboard history, turn my space heater on, and perform a number of other tasks.
- Dropbox. I switch computers throughout the day as a matter of necessity, based on whether I’m laying down or at my desk in my wheelchair.2 Dropbox helps ensure my files are where I need them.3 I don’t need to worry about which machine I’m on. You can sub in whatever cloud solution you want here.
- I seem to switch note-taking apps often so I won’t even bother mentioning one here. The important thing is that you have a way to write things down and something that takes as much friction out of writing as possible. Writing can be slow and tedious when you have SMA but writing, I believe, has numerous benefits (creative outlet, method of thinking, social connection, building reputation, etc, etc). So I do what I can to make writing of all kinds as easy and as enjoyable as possible. Markdown is pretty neat.
- TextExpander. Expandable text snippets. For example, if I type
§bit will immediately expand into my email address.4 It can do so much more than that. Snippets are great for any kind of routine input.
- Discord, Telegram, Slack, Google Meet, Zoom. It may be silly to think of these as assistive tech but when much of your life happens on an internet-connected computer these apps become windows to social connections. I can look my coworkers in the face when talking to them despite being miles away. I can join group calls for adults with SMA and see all of them even though we all struggle to travel (or move our bodies at all). Maybe this bullet point should really be called the internet—perhaps grandiose but it’s a truly amazing development for people with disabilities that I don’t take for granted.
- Well, it’s kind of hard to follow up the internet so I guess I’ll end it here. Most of the other software I use gets into my line of work as a software engineer. Still, even there, I make choices based on ease of access.
Every tool has to pass the “does this fit into my SMA-friendly workflow?” test. Sadly, many cool things don’t pass that test. Tools come and go. I always keep one eye on the future. What will my capabilities be like in 5 to 10 years? What tech will exist then to help me compensate for decreasing strength and motor function? So far there has always been an answer. We live in a truly wondrous time, my friends.
If you have questions about this or anything else just hit me up. Also, if you have a page like this on your website, please send it to me and let me know if you are okay with me sharing it. 🙂
- Ok sometimes my Mac will drop a call so it’s not always perfect. But phone calls can be glitchy in general anyway so this is a wash in my opinion. ↩
- I realize I could use a laptop only and merely use it standalone or with a docking setup, depending on whether I’m laying down or sitting at my desk. But because my job and much of my personal life is dependent on my computer, I like to have two machines for redundancy. ↩
- For added security I don’t use Dropbox to sync my work files. I have a direct Mac-to-Mac process for that. ↩
I use the section sign (
§) as a trigger because it’s not commonly used in writing but is easy for me to type since I have a customizable onscreen keyboard. :-) ↩