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John, a secondary school student born with one hand.


John was born with an absent left hand. After having a number of tests carried out he was also diagnosed with hemiplegia on the right side of his body. This means he has very little control of his right arm and hand and experiences a great deal of involuntary movements on his right side. Sometimes his motor control is very poor and can, from time to time be very jerky. When he was 8 John was diagnosed with ocular apraxia which affects his eyesight particularly when he his reading and scanning information.

As a result of his difficulties John has fallen behind at school and is a year behind his peers.

He currently has a support teacher who helps with reading and writing skills. The school have tried different solutions to help John, for example, to help with writing they devised a writing grid with a pen strapped to Velcro around his left stump. Although this had some limited success, John found this to be very time consuming and tiring.

More recently however, he was given a laptop to try. The laptop itself presented John with some access problems, mainly because he was unable to use the laptop’s keyboard although he did have limited success with the laptop’s mouse pad.

After an ICT needs assessment John was began using a BigKeys keyboard with large, high contrast keys, to help with his vision and mobility. He was also recommended Penfriend and WordBar. Using the combination of these two programs John has progressed significantly over the past few months. He is more confident with his school work and is able to record accurately and independently. Moreover, his typing speed, mainly due to Penfriend’s ability to predict accurate word contexts, has increased dramatically.

Additionally, John is able to resize and customise Penfriend’s prediction window to best suit his needs. This has helped to overcome difficulties associated with his ocular apraxia as he can set the prediction window with a large non-serif font using high contrast colours (yellow on a black background) similar to his BigKeys keyboard.

Having auditory feedback has also helped John identify and recognise specific words – no more writing grids and Velcro for John!

Written by Craig Mill, and reproduced with permission.