Using computers and the Internet

Being able to use a computer and having access to the Internet can be particularly helpful if you have Parkinson’s. The computer will enable you to access information that is stored electronically and can be a helpful tool for quick and easy communication with other people. The Internet is a gateway to a wealth of information and access to people, companies and services from wherever you choose.  

Many everyday tasks can be made easier by using a computer with access to the Internet. This is particularly true if you have limited mobility, your symptoms affect your movement, or you are unable to contact other people because they are difficult to reach or you do not have the time needed. The Internet allows you to do many things, for example find information, connect with people, groups and communities, as well as manage your finances or do your shopping online.

Accessibility

In computing and Internet use, accessibility describes whether a website, item of computing equipment or environment allows people with disabilities to gain access to it.

Legislation in many countries often defines a lack of accessibility as discrimination and provides guidelines to help companies design products, devices and services to be compliant.  All good websites should follow agreed accessibility guidelines which ensure that the content can be read without or without assistive technologies, for example, text styles, sizes and colours that are designed to legible even if have problems with your sight.

In computing, accessibility provides features that make the technology easier to use, for example larger keys on keyboards or screen-reading software for audible interpretation of what is presented on the screen. An occupational therapist may be able to advise on this and give you recommendations on where you can purchase suitable equipment or adapt existing equipment to suit your needs. He or she may suggest simple adjustments to your environment and usage habits, such as better posture, chair height, or changing the distance from your keyboard to your monitor, to make it easier to use a computer safely.

You may find it useful to talk to other people affected by Parkinson’s. They may tell you what equipment or websites they have they found helpful.

Keyboards

Keyboards can be adjusted to help meet your needs. Filter Keys or Slow Keys ‘tune’ your keyboard, so the length of time a key needs to be held down for before it appears or repeats on screen can be changed. Sticky Keys allow you to operate a combination of keys using just one finger. Keyboards are available that can be pre-programmed with combination keys and shortcuts.

You may find a key guard useful. This is a rigid plate with holes positioned over each key on your keyboard. The guard makes it impossible to press two keys at once. You can rest your hands and arms on the guard without pressing any keys.

You can also buy keyboards with larger keys or that are colour-coded, which can be useful if you find it difficult to accurately find or press keys on a standard keyboard.

Mouse or touchpad

The mouse or touchpad is the device typically used to control the pointer or cursor displayed on a computer screen.  You may find using a mouse or a touchpad difficult, particularly if you have tremor or stiffness.

It is possible to adjust the way your mouse or touchpad behaves by adjusting settings on the computer or by installing software specially designed to adapt the behaviour of the device to compensate for tremor. This includes changing the speed and/or sensitivity of your movements to give you more time when double clicking, slowing down the cursor on the screen or providing visual cues as to where the cursor is moving. In some cases, you might find it useful to replace your mouse with a ‘rollerball’ mouse. This is a static device with a large ball on top, which can be moved using your fingers, thumbs and palms, and can offer more control.

Today, touchscreen technology allows you to directly control your computer without using a mouse at all.

Voice recognition, dictation, and text to speech

Voice recognition or dictation software converts the words you say into text or commands. This can be useful if you have problems typing or using a mouse. You can dictate text, navigate around your computer and use the Internet using voice commands. Teaching the computer software to recognise your voice can take time and patience but once mastered this it can be very helpful.

Some people find using a combination of a keyboard, a mouse and voice recognition software for different tasks suits them best.

Increasingly, computer operating systems also have built-in text to speech capabilities which means that content can be read to you. This can be very helpful if you have difficulty reading or have problems with your sight. Many computers offer a variety of voices that are fluent in different languages.

Where can I find reliable Parkinson’s and health information online?

There is an enormous amount of information about Parkinson’s and other health-related issues on the Internet. It is worth remembering that anyone can set up a website or webpage on just about any subject you can think of. This means that not all websites will contain reliable or up-to-date information. There is of course much validated and excellent information and resources to be found, but there are no guarantees and search results can throw up an overwhelming amount of information that may be hard to follow or contradictory.

If you want to know whether a health information website is reliable, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who has produced the content? Is it owned or sponsored by a reputable organisation? Most sites will have an ‘About us’ or ‘About this site’ section where you can get more information about the site and who has set it up.
  • Are contact details available for the website owners? Be wary if there is no way of contacting them.
  • Is the health information consistent with other material you have read?
  • Does the website give information about both the benefits and risks of potential treatments?
  • Is the information recent?
  • Is there a review process for content? And is that process explained anywhere on the website?

In general, look for sites that specialise in the kind of information you are looking for, preferably with content written by experts.  Be aware that commercial websites or sites run by businesses may present biased content even if the information is accurate.

When looking for information, a good place to start is the website of the Parkinson’s association in your country as this will be in your own language. For contacts in Europe see www.epda.eu.com/members and for international organisations see www.epda.eu.com/intl-pd-orgs.  Your doctor or other healthcare professional may also be able to advise or direct you to further reliable information. 

The following websites may be useful:   

Some websites have webinars, podcasts, blogs and e-newsletters you can watch or sign up to.

Please note, the EPDA is not responsible for the content of any external sites, and the links provided here are for information purposes only.

How can I talk to people online?

Social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be a good way of meeting new people affected by Parkinson’s and sharing news and experiences.

Social media

Social media allows you to connect with people you may already know and make new friends. You can post comments and share news and information. Most social media websites are free to join and easy to sign up to.

The EPDA has a page on Facebook where people discuss and share Parkinson’s news and events. It is also on Twitter (@euparkinsons) and posts details of relevant news stories, events and shares the experiences of people affected by Parkinson’s.

To find out more about how to use these sites the following links may be helpful:

Facebook - help pages 

Twitter - support pages 

Internet forums 

Internet forums are online discussion sites. You can hold conversations with other members of the forum by posting messages. Discussions are often organised by topic. You can ask other members a question and invite responses, comment on another member’s post, or simply share your experiences on a certain issue with others.

Glossary of terms

Apps – self contained software programs that can be used on electronic devices such as computers, smart phones and tablets etc., and that perform specific tasks or functions such as taking a photo, listening to music, playing a game etc.

Apple – a US technology company that designs and sells consumer electronics, computer software and online services including the Mac personal computer, iPhone, iPad and Safari web browser.

Blog – an informal and often conversational website in which content is posted online as discrete entries usually listed in chronological order.

Data – information stored in a digital format, such as documents, music and video files

Download – saving data from the Internet onto your computer.

e-learning – learning conducted via electronic media and typically accessed over the internet.  

e-reader – an electronic device such as a tablet or smartphone designed to let you read e-books.

Homepage – the main landing page of a website.

Internet – a global network of interconnected computer systems that contains vast amounts of information presented as text, video, audio or picture formats.

Internet service provider (ISP) – a company that provides access to an Internet connection.   

Microsoft – a US technology company that designs and sells consumer electronics, computer software and online services including the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office software and Internet Explorer. 

Operating system – this is the software that supports your computer’s basic functions. The two most popular systems are Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS.

Podcast – a digital audio or video media file, that is made available for download over the Internet.

Router – a device that routes information to and from your computer to another computer over the Internet.

Social media – online communication channels in which people interact with other people in online communities and networks.

Smart phone – a mobile phone capable of running apps such as music players, camera, games, e-mail, internet browser etc.

Software – a generic name for programs and applications used by a computer or electronic device.

Tablet – a touchscreen computer that you can navigate using your fingers.

USB – a type of standard connection used for connecting devices and peripherals together via a USB cable or connector.

Web – a shorthand term for ‘world wide web’ or www – an interconnected network of computers storing files that can be accessed using a web browser

Webcam – A small video camera used for talking to people over the Internet.

Webinar – an online seminar. You are often able to watch them live over the Internet.

Webpage – a file that can be accessed using a web browser and which may contain text, images, video, animation and sound.

Website – a collection of web pages.

Acknowledgement

Our thanks to Parkinson's UK for permission to use the following source(s) in compiling this information:

Using computers and the Internet

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