Me & My Macs – Assistive Technology and Ataxia

I got my first Mac off Ebay around 2001 I think. Think I paid about £200 for it. I didn’t have any co-ordination problems at this time so had no trouble with the keyboard and smaller track pad on the Clamshell iBook.

The older style iBook had keys closer together and small trackpad

As my ataxia started and progressed I struggled more to hit the right keys when trying to use all my fingers as I had been taught back at deaf school (many moons ago now!)

My desktop at this time was a regular HP desktop computer. My cheap solution was to get a BIGTRACK trackball and oversized keyboard and share it between them both. After getting fed up of my desktop always locking up and taking 15 minutes to start up I decided to look into accessibility options for computers before deciding which new machine to upgrade to.

Whilst Windows has a lot more free programs available, the spaced design of the iMac keyboard would mean I would be able to use a regular keyboard for longer with the help of word prediction and abbreviation-expansion. After searching for assistive programs for Mac I found the Assistive Ware site  ( and discovered Keystrokes.

I emailed them for advice on how much memory/hard drive space this program would take and if I needed others adding in the future then bought myself an iMac. I knew I wouldn’t be able to use the apple mouse that comes with it, but after seeing a young girl on the Assistive ware site who had much more pronounced difficulties with her arms and was using a Joystick Plus I decided to get one of these as it would allow for progression of my condition without having to keep changing hardware.

Although it was very expensive it comes with a selection of handles, I currently use the T-bar one most of the time but can switch to the ‘softknob’ which is a large yellow ball.

The joystick plus comes with a switch box so you can connect whatever  kind of switch you can manage to use for clicking or restricting direction of the cursor (up/down only or left/right only) you can also change the speed and how far it travels on one small or big movement.  This makes it easier to steer with the slightest nudge of any body part
you can manage to move!

My next issue was I cant sit for long periods without getting alot of pain and by evening I just really want to lie down but its also my only opportunity to chat to friends in far away places. My old iBook was now over 8 years old and struggling with the assistive programs on, it was down to snail pace despite running maintenance programs on it several times to try and speed it up and take off anything not essential.

As I needed a laptop to be able to chat in bed so I can lie down and rest my back I decided to look into the new Macbook’s that have the same spaced keyboard as my iMac.

They do tend to cost alot more than Windows laptops though I did not want to go back to Windows so once again returned to Ebay to try andfind myself a bargain on a Macbook. I managed to find one that came with a very snazzy case and sleeve to protect it!

Although Mac’s cost more I feel it has been worth it for me as it enables me to use my hands for as long as possible.

On a good day I can manage the Macbook on my lap whilst laid semi-reclined and arms fully supported with cushions. I also have an over bed table to put laptop on now and sometimesuse an external keyboard and trackball version of my joystick that i got cheap off ebay (couldn’t afford another £250 for another joystick plus!) The keyguard I share between the keyboards as it cost me about £100 to import it from US, so it was cheaper to get another external keyboard than get a keyguard for the Macbook also.

Either way, creating a flexible system seems to be the key to making Assistive Technology work for you through the many stages of progression that Ataxia will bring.

To see Keystrokes in more detail go to page called ‘Assistiveware for Mac’

7 thoughts on “Me & My Macs – Assistive Technology and Ataxia

  1. Hi
    I am a 55 yr old Canadian (of Indian origin), now living in Toronto. You seem to have successfully tackled many of the computer issues facing ataxians. It would be great to keep in touch with you and pick your brains.


  2. i need to get a replacement for my eeepc which ive worn out. i have a mac mini g 4 .

    i have a choice to make ipad 2 or macbook air
    after sittin ing my power chair my back goes after a while so i
    go bed. now sometimes i cant move anything sometimes i can type. i use a light writer sl40 connect an have switch for when i cant press the keys on yje lightwriter.

    im new to having use assistive hardware’ switch etc.
    i could do with some advice . after reading ur blog i fond keystroes work for me and im gettin a hand held trak ball

    but what do u advise for my computer time in bed

    it needs be light weight and bash proof
    need to held up some how
    and poss switch assessable
    any ideas

    • I didn’t know the Lightwriter connect had a switch/scan option!

      I would go on eBay or Mac Warehouse if it was me and try and find an older/reconditioned Macbook for cheaper just to use in bed, you can put it on an overbed table, which can be positioned in front of you when you can type or you could add Switch XS and have a switch situated somewhere on bed.. as you said you can’t move sometimes?

      You could probably get the first iPad cheaper and put a text to speech program on. Assistive chat doesn’t have any switch options. You’d need to go Therapy Box and look at their iPad app which does have switch scanning so you can type when you can and scan when you can’t. Though don’t forget.. at present time you would ONLY be able to access that app with switch scanning not the entire iPad, so you’d still need to learn to use a mouthstick or head stylus or something to turn it on and get to that app.

      This way you can probably get an entire package for the price of an brand new Macbook Air or iPad2.

      At the time of writing Proloquo2go does not yet have switch access, but I believe it will be coming in future updates.


      • It really for usa only as they made a rule that switch clicking has to be included some one told me some time ago which is why there are ports 1 & 2 on the side it isnt great as u keep having press do after each letter but it does help

        For some reason other countries ask for an switch option your best bet is two micro switches or something with a 3.5 headphone type jack.

        I am currenty writing this on my iphone 3gs . I tried a view sonice tablet. looks like an ipad but it wont do what i want how i need it done. The viewsonice 7 is to awkard for me as to use it while in bed it had to be resting on its edge, and held up too even though the case is also. A stand it kept falling over. my ebooks wouldnt work either i have around 300 and only 2 would load into the kindle book app. So i wasnt impressed. i had to tell my partner who bought it in september it just wasnt doing what i wanted he took it well thankfully

  3. My daughter has ataxia from a brain injury. Thank you for your posts. We got her an IPAD for Christmas and looking forward to it being a game changer for her.

    Becky Vickers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s