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A good friend of mine is a long-time programmer, but he has Parkinson's disease and his motor control is suffering. He's no longer working, is getting the medical attention that he needs. But even so, I was at his house earlier and it was painful to watch him try and type and use the mouse.

I was wondering if there is hardware and/or software that might make computer use easier on him, or perhaps any settings or techniques. His computer is running Windows XP and he has a standard keyboard and mouse.

Currently he is mentally at 100% and needless to say, this is very frustrating to him. I thought if he could keep on programming, it'd probably give him a bit more purpose in life.

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Probably simple things like wrist rests for keyboard and mouse would help a lot, if he doesn't already have them. And he might benefit from using a touch pad instead of a mouse. You might want to find the "Parkinson's Foundation" or whatever and see if they have some advice online. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 24 '13 at 2:24
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He might profit from replacing the mouse with a trackball, he doesn't have to move it around and his hand can rest, making it easier for him to navigate the mouse pointer. –  Sascha Kaupp Feb 24 '13 at 3:54
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one of my users benefited from reduced mouse sensitivity. not a ton, but enough that small shakes didn't move the mouse pointer. –  Frank Thomas Feb 24 '13 at 5:25
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something like this might help with lack of motor control amazon.com/Crayola-USB-EZ-Type-Keyboard/dp/B00167ZYMK BIG keys and pretty obviously coloured. –  Journeyman Geek Feb 24 '13 at 5:43
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I dont have an answer, just want to commend you for your act of caring. –  crosenblum Feb 28 '13 at 2:48
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11 Answers

Maybe your friend can try some kind of eye-tracking device in place of the mouse? https://www.google.com/search?q=eye+tracking+disability+computer

Update:

After reading the comments, and after doing some more research I've found some web pages that report links to various free/low cost eye tracking and head tracking software that mostly use webcam (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6)
So I copy/pasted and reformatted various links from these web pages.

Eye Tracking Software

  • ITU Gaze Tracker free Windows software works with a webcam or videocamera with nightvision and infrared illumination.
  • myEYE is a free eye tracking program for use on Windows with a high resolution webcam
  • Open Gazer is free eye gaze software for Linux that works with a webcam
  • EyeWriter low-cost eye-tracking apparatus & custom open-source software that allows graffiti writers and artists with paralysis to draw using only their eyes.
  • OpenEyes open-source open-hardware toolkit for low-cost real-time eye tracking See also the Windows version by Joel Clemens.
  • TrackEye Real-Time Tracking Of Human Eyes Using a Webcam. Implemented in C++ using the OpenCV library.

Options to Click

  • Dwell Clicker free software to allow hovering over an item to trigger a click
  • Point and Click free software for dwell and auto clicking
  • Metaclick MetaClick does mouse clicks for you when you're unable to click

Head tracking software

  • Cam Space free Windows software
  • Facial Mouse Open Source Version free Windows software
  • Free Track free, opensource for any Windows compatible video device
  • HeadDev free Windows software that uses a webcam (Spanish version)
  • iTracker for Mac, uses webcam
  • Camera Mouse free Windows software for XP, Vista and 7, uses a webcam and is free
  • HeadMouse3 uses any webcam for free to do head tracking
  • Open Gazer Head Tracking Version free head tracking software using a webcam
  • CameraMouse Camera Mouse is a free program that enables you to control the mouse pointer on your computer screen just by moving your head
  • MouseTrap is a standalone GNOME application that allows users with physical impairments to move a mouse cursor
  • Enable Viacam is a mouse replacement software that moves the pointer as you move your head

DIY Head Trackers

Useful links

  • Very big wiki list of Low-cost eye tracking, Eye Trackers, Open source gaze tracking and freeware eye tracking
  • COGAIN - Communication by Gaze Interaction It is a network which joins people who share a common goal. The members in the network are researchers, eye tracker developers and people who work directly with users with disabilities in user centers and hospitals.
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Looked into this a bit... the commercial ones available are way too expensive, though I'd love a month or two off work to build one. –  emgee Mar 7 '13 at 5:31
    
@emgee I've done some more research, and I've updated my answer with various links to free/low cost software for eye tracking using webcam. I hope this can help :-) –  Max Mar 7 '13 at 9:10
    
I just joined superuser to give you a +1 for helping disabled people. –  RJD22 Feb 23 at 11:30
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How about collaborative (so called, "extreme") programming? Some of my most enjoyable and productive programming has been with a partner, where we shared keyboard duties according to whoever had "the flow" at any particular time. Here, the able bodied partner could take dictation when your friend was driving the process.

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Might make for an interesting internship. –  Louis Mar 7 '13 at 4:27
    
That's not a bad idea at all. –  emgee Mar 7 '13 at 5:31
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The guy who got me started on programming was nearly a quadriplegic--he had reasonable control of his arms but basically none of his hands. He could still tell you what to do, though. –  Loren Pechtel Mar 7 '13 at 5:41
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If you have not already done so, enlarging the buttons, menu bars and icons will make them easier to access. Pointer smoothing may help too though I think it may already by active by default. A trackball may help greatly as the hand can rest steadily on a solid surface. There are also keyboards with extra large keys which may be of use.

Most of all I would recommend setting up many keyboard shortcuts to minimise mouse work. Where possible you could use a midi controller (there are a very diverse range available) to set certain things (I use a guitarist's pedal board to control various parameters in GIMP, especially the undo function). Apologies if any of this seems impractical for your situation.

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Actually, these are very interesting suggestions, especially the midi controller. –  emgee Mar 7 '13 at 5:20
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Well there is Dragon. It allows him to type using his voice so he doesn't have to use the keyboard and mouse. The only problem is I don't believe it's very good with the rigorous formatting it takes to program. I don't even want to imagine him attempting to code in python.

Not sure how much this will help due to the fact that they seem to use other motor skills but I found this article today a few days ago and finnaly have gotten around to posting it on here.

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The link to the software nuance.com/dragon/index.htm –  Griffin Feb 24 '13 at 5:34
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You can edit your answer to include the link. –  Seth Feb 24 '13 at 5:37
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Unfortunately, I imagine pretty much any programming language would be rough for voice recognition... –  emgee Feb 24 '13 at 6:23
    
Yes. It takes to much organization. –  Griffin Mar 3 '13 at 14:21
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Speech problems often accompany PD. –  walrii Mar 5 '13 at 2:43
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I am a programmer with stage 2 PD, using XP at work. Most of my motor issues are on my dominant side. When I found out I had PD 6 years ago, I began investigating many of the free alternative input options you have found, and a few of the others. I found many of them just as frustrating as the PD symptoms in their own right. They can make you functional, but extremely slow, and error prone. Errors are slow to correct. At work, the biggest help has been in reducing the input as much as possible, by using text expansion software (e.g. AutoHotkey, PhraseExpress), eschewing all formatting, and reducing all my non-code keyboarding to nearly-cryptic texting-like lingo. Dragon failed to give me good recognition in a noisy cube farm with my diminished speech capacity.

At home, I have found much greater keyboarding relief by using a 7-inch Android tablet and one of the swiping keyboards (e.g. SlideIT, Swype, FlexT9) with predictive text. Maintaining a single finger firmly pressed on the screen and sliding it around provides much more stable motion (I think it has to do with the reduced number of muscles that must be coordinated, and reduced bradykinesia resulting from cueing) and reduced tremor, and the predictive text reduces input substantially. These keyboards are also forgiving in your targeting accuracy, allowing you to get away with just getting near the right key. Some even take voice input. I'm currently investigating options for using the Android tablet as a keyboard and touchpad for the PC.

Because of my good experience with the tablet, I have seriously considered a small plug and play touchscreen as a secondary monitor, like a 7-inch Mimo or Lilliput, or a full-size touchscreen or touchscreen overlay.

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SteadyMouse is free software designed to assist people with the hand tremors that commonly go along with Parkinson's disease, Multiple sclerosis, etc.

I don't know if the project is still going on, but apparently version 1.3 is working :)

Major Features:

  • Anti-tremor mouse filtering
  • Removal of accidental mouse clicks
  • Assistive "Icon Targeting" system
  • Quick enable/disable using the scroll lock key
  • Simple design for easy configuration

You might also find some ideas in this article: Improving Computer Interaction for People with Parkinson's Disease. Fortunately, there are some things going on that might make it easier for your friend and people with similar needs to use the computer.

Another approach is to use a mouse ‘filter’ ('material' one) which filters out tremors. An Assistive Mouse Adapter (for example this one) is a tremor supressing filter which electronically filters out tremors. The controls can be adjusted to suit the magnitude and frequency of the tremor, with the ability to adjust it during the course of the day. Well worth a try!

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Good call, will try installing this –  emgee Mar 7 '13 at 5:21
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Interesting reading : PC-users with Parkinson's disease? – Tips for appropriate adaptations.

Trembling

We recommend trying a trackball mouse where tremours related to mouse control are the main challenge.

Also, arm supporters seem to work well as an aid for those struggling with trembling.

The filter for trembling/shaking connected to the mouse (Parkinson mouse) is perceived as useful for some, perhaps especially to increase drawing and precision control, and generally receives a lukewarm positive rating. Often, medication is used to remove the main shaking of the hands/arms, and this is a possible cause of why the filter does not play a more important role in increasing mouse control.

It seems that finding the appropriate computer mouse for an individueal has greatest effect on solving the challenges related to trembling.

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I would imagine that the larger a trackball is, the more easily it can be manipulated effectively by people with motor control issues. Is/are there utilities that allow you to switch between fast and slow mouse speeds at the touch of a hot button to ease changes between large sweeping movements (moving the mouse all the way across several screens) and small movements (navigating a menu, or working in a tight interface? –  music2myear Apr 8 '13 at 15:58
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There are big keyboards, for example http://www.enablemart.com/bigkeys-plus that can reduce the need for accuracy (although this model does not have punctuations). You can try doing a google search for these.

Also, if your friend isn't against it, he should try taking dopamine agonists. His coordination will be pretty good with constant dosage.

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I've been looking for an oversized keyboard but they seem to cut out too much other stuff. –  emgee Mar 7 '13 at 5:22
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If speech recognition is at all an option (first, try the base edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking for non-code dictation to see how well it works), there are a few places you can look for help: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/VoiceCoder/ http://www.speechcomputing.com/

There's also a project for programming by voice called VoiceCode, which supports python, and I think C++ and Java http://sourceforge.net/projects/voicecode/

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There are some more affordable commercial eye tracking systems that will be available soon.

Nuia Eyecharm, coming out in August (just finished kickstarter, but will open pre-orders, email kickstarter@4tiitoo.com). Cost would be $100 for a used xbox kinect, < $100 for the eye tracking addon http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/4tiitoo/nuia-eyecharm-kinect-to-eye-tracking

Eye Tribe (http://theeyetribe.com/) is supposed have something coming out this year, no word yet on when

Tobii (http://www.tobii.com/) might be moving in this direction as well.

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Possibly a large touchpad like a Wacom could help. They come in several sizes. They can be used with or without a stylus, and the settings can be adjusted for sensitivity, so trembling wouldn't have such a serious effect. You can configure them to use with multiple finger gestures, flicks and possibly figure out some workable patterns your friend could use. They have wireless extensions and large controls so that would be helpful as well.

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