Environmental Control for the Disabled

The following document has been developed to give disabled individuals an understanding of how they might control their environment. Many of the devices shown in this document have been developed by Mark, and his family and friends. Mark does not sell this equipment because of medical liability issues. However, there are many companies that specialize in developing assistive devices to help the disabled control their environment. An occupational therapist will have a knowledge of your disability and will be able to find available assistive devices that meet your requirements.

Using a Computer

Mark inputs information into a computer with a mouthstick. He has found this method to be the fastest and most efficient method to produce software. His masters' thesis in computer science revealed that voice recognition was a poor alternative for inputting text that requires unique variable names, copy and paste functionality, and detailed editing. However, Mark does see advantages to voice recognition in the areas for computer interface control and voice dictation.


The following picture shows two mouthsticks.

The blue mouthstick on the bottom has a mouth piece that was crafted by a dentist to fit Mark's mouth bite. The stick that attaches to the mouth piece is the shaft of an aluminum arrow. The tip of the aluminum stick is fitted with a rubber tip so that the mouth stick has a bounce off the keyboard. The black mouthstick on the top has been purchased from a company that makes disability equipment. The mouth piece is designed to heat up and bite down on to form a tooth imprint. Mark does not use this feature of the mouth piece because it reduces the rigidity of the mouth piece. The stick that attaches to the mouth piece is made of graphite and is very light. The tip of the graphite stick is fitted with an eraser tip. A weight is taped to the middle of the graphite stick, to increase the force at which the stick strikes the keyboard keys. The blue mouthstick is superior to the black one because the mouth piece and mouth stick are rigid and will not bend when pressing keyboard keys.

The length of the stick is also very important. If the stick is too long, the keyboard keys will be difficult to press. If the stick is too short, the keyboard keys will be difficult to reach. The best way to find the right stick length is to cut off small sections of the stick until the mouthstick is at a comfortable length.

Mouth Stick Holder

Mark uses a blob of molding clay and a large felt pen cap to create a mouthstick holder. The following is a picture of the holder.

This holder works well because the clay is heavy which makes the holder difficult to tip over. Also the pen cap can be easily positioned in the clay so that the moustick can be angled at a comfortable position.

Keyboard and Table Height

The work table and computer keyboard height are important factors when using a mouthstick to type on a computer. If the keyboard is too high, the keyboard keys will be difficult to press. If the keyboard is too low, the keyboard keys will be difficult to reach. The best way to find the right height is to get a work table that can be adjusted for height. Keep adjusting the table until all the keys on the keyboard can be reached. If your table cannot be adjusted and is too low, books can be put under the keyboard to raise it. Also, the table must be high enough so that the wheelchair can roll under the table.

Accessibility Software

Microsoft has accessibility software with every operating system they sell. This software can be setup to make the numeric keypad, on a keyboard, simulate a mouse. The software can also be setup to remember the key selections of the "control", "alt", and "shift" keys on a keyboard. This feature is useful when two keys must be pressed at one time. For instance, when Mark needs to type a capital letter such as "A", he presses the "shift" key and then the "a" key.

Reading a Book

Mark uses a book stand to hold his books up while he reads. The following is a picture of the bookstand.

Pages are turned using a mouthstick.

When a book is new, the pages will flip closed. To fix this, the book binding is opened wide or bent back until the pages lay flat.

Writing with a Mouthstick

Mark does most of his writing on a computer with an editor. A mouthstick is used to strike the keys on a keyboard.

Mark writes long hand with a mouthstick. A pen is attached to a mouthstick with a number 12 medium binder clip, as shown below.

The binder clip is heavy and is appropriate for signing documents. To write a long letter, Mark would tape a pen to the mouthstick because the mouthstick would be much lighter. When writing, the paper is positioned at an angle on a bookstand.

Switching Lights and Fans On and Off

Mark switches lights and fans on and off with a mouthstick as shown by the following picture.

Note the wall switches are large flat switches that can be easily flipped.

Setting Up Drinking Water

Mark uses a glass pitcher to hold his water. A filled pitcher is a little less than a half gallon of water which is enough water to last mark a half a day. Glass is used instead of plastic so that Mark can tell when the piture needs to be washed.

The straw Mark uses is air conditioned plastic tubing.

This tubing should be bought in bulk because it is much cheaper. Mark purchases the tubing in a 100 foot roll so that when one of his straws becomes dirty he can have a new tube cut. The plastic tubing must have a large enough internal diameter to comfortably draw water through it. If you get tubing that has a very small hole through it, sucking water through the straw will be nearly impossible.

Using a Phone

Mark uses a radio control switch activated through the tube of his sip and puff wheelchair. He dials his phone by holding sips on the tube of his sip and puff wheelchair. As a backup phone, Mark uses a speaker phone. Mark dials the phone by pressing the buttons of the phone with a mouthstick.

Having phone access from bed is very important. Mark occasionally has a catheter blockage while he is in bed. If this situation is not resolved in a timely manner, it can become very dangerous. Mark has a sip and puff radio control from his bed where he can dial a telephone and call a health care worker, roommate, or even 911. The following is a picture of his sip and puff radio controlled dialer.

Door Opener

As shown in the picture below, Mark uses a pneumatic cylinder to open and close his door.

The cylinder is actuated by a sip and puff radio transmitter that is attached to his wheelchair and bed.