ALS From Both Sides, ALS Patient Care
ALS From Both Sides
Care of an ALS Patient
By Diane Huberty, Retired RN, Certified Neuro Nurse
...and ALS Patient

Low Cost Ways to Keep Computing

Being able to use a computer has been such a positive aspect of my life with ALS that I want to share the tricks and tools I use to keep computing.

Step One: The Right Computer Desk

The first thought in computer access for the disabled is usually about finding hardware and software, but accessibility has to begin with even more basic problem solving; finding a desk that will allow you to use your computer!

Over the years I have been through any number of rigged up computer setups as I fought to keep ahead of my ever-increasing weakness. Every setup turned out to be temporary—and looked it! I finally had enough of crappy looking desks and set out to find a workable, adaptable, computer work center that looked like furniture. The desk I came up with is made from Sauder furniture and is the one I should have started out with because it is adaptable through many stages of disability. I was already in a power wheelchair when I came up with the idea for the desk so it was built to wheelchair height, but could be made at standard desk height and elevated later using leftover, matching wood to maintain its good looks.


The first requirement of a desk is support for weak arms. It amazes me that very, very few computer desks for wheelchair users have this feature! My arm support is cheap, easy to make, uncomplicated, and roomy. I use a piece of plywood with a deep cutout so that it wraps around my waist and extends far enough back to support my elbows. This tray slides out from under the desktop and rests on my wheelchair armrests, providing support at just the right height for shoulder comfort. At the time I designed this desk, I was still able to reach the tray and pull it out, as well as use the keyboard. I can't do either of those things now, but the pull out tray is easy for my caregivers. (I have to rotate the joystick for my wheelchair a bit to fit under the tray.)


For diagrams and building information, go to Computer Desk

I also have a portable tray made exactly like my desk tray. It is held onto my chair with two short bungee cords (the blue straps) that hook through two small holes drilled into the back edge of the tray and then down to hook on the wheelchair frame. It is a really inexpensive, quick to set up, roomy solution for computing anywhere I go, but requires assistance to set up even if you have arm strength.

portable tray

Arm supports recommended by Occupational Therapists are from medical/rehabilitation suppliers and are very expensive and industrial looking. They attach to the wheelchair which can be a real nuisance for transfers. The one advantage of this type is that they are available with springs or large rubber bands to help you raise your arms to feed yourself. This feature isn't needed for computer access though.

arm support device

Commercial arm support devices available with the most affordable types found on web sites selling ergonomic devices for computer users. Besides being inexpensive, they are generally made to clamp onto the desk and have a finished look. Some combine the arm support with an attached mouse pad support. Perhaps the most affordable desk to use with arm supports is an adjustable height drafting table. These can be found for as low as $110. In addition to being inexpensive, they are small enough for cramped quarters, require minimal assembly, and adapt to any wheelchair height. The downside is that they have no space for a printer and other peripherals.

arm support desk
Step Two: Tame the Mouse

Before making the switch from mouse to some type of eye gaze cursor controller, there are some things that can be done to prolong your mousing ability:

Step Three: Ditch the Keyboard

You don't need to be able to use a keyboard to use your computer, and you don't need to buy any software! The software programs you need are free. Before you assume that purchased programs would be better, consider the fact that this website is done using these freebies. I also do photo editing and have a website for that, Free Photo Fix Magic

So what are these great programs?

Step Four: Move the Monitor

monitor standEven the slightest amount of neck weakness can make using the computer an effort. Neck muscles tire quickly if not supported, but leaning back to use a headrest changes the angle of view, causing eye strain. I thought I needed new glasses when I couldn't read anything but the largest type. Then I discovered that all I needed was a booster seat for the monitor! By raising my desktop monitor up about 5 inches, I can rest my head and still see the screen at the right angle. I expect that at some point I will have to find a way to compensate for a more reclined position by both raising the monitor and tilting it forward. But for now, my monitor is on a sturdy plastic tool case awaiting the day when someone gets around to building a nice shelf for it. My laptop required a much higher boost to bring it up to a comfortable eye level and a collapsible, completely adjustable for both height and angle monitor stand has been terrific. Easy to adjust, more and taller heights possible, stable without clamps or bolts, and the laptop doesn't need to be attached to it. Several brands are available. Here is a link to one online seller. monitor stand

The End Result...

Me, happily at my computer, surrounded by my adaptive equipment!


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