General Summary
Computability I.W.

Computability I.W. a part of the IW PC User Group
CO-ORDINATOR: 527208; OUTREACH: 521566; TECHNICAL: 291673; FIELD: 883642
RESOURCES: Roger Skidmore, 47 Quay Street, NEWPORT, IW, PO30 5BA. Tel: 01983 822900

9th January 2003

A computer can best be regarded as a brain extension - it doesn't do anything, on its own, but it can aid and abet our mental processes, thoughts and communications. If you've got a disability and maybe can't get around so much mental life takes on a more important role and these brain extensions called computers can become really handy. They cost money and that can be a real problem, especially if you're not sure you'd get on with one.

This is where the Computability wing of the Isle of Wight PC Users' Group comes in. Members of this group enjoy playing with PCs, and enjoy helping other people with their PCs. A person with a disability can now acquire or borrow a computer through Computability IW, start to learn about how it can become an asset in his or her life and get a measure of technical support all at no cost. If it proves to be of no value then that in itself has been a worthwhile learning process, and the computer is available for someone else.

Computability has a number of discrete activities. One is making approaches to industry and other computer users in order to acquire the necessary hardware, check it out and ensure its safety and functionality. This also involves the purchase of additional hardware, e.g. CDROM drives, modems and special needs hardware. Also we assemble software packages gleaned from cover disks and other legitimate sources. In some cases we purchase specific registered software for special needs. This equipment then needs to be catalogued and stored safely. We also need to make ourselves known to possible end users through the various disability resources and by word of mouth. This involves "networking", posters in libraries and similar places, communications with Social Services, Isle of Wight Blind Society and various disability organisations.

We interview each new client to establish his or her needs and ensure that he or she has somewhere suitable for the equipment. We also need to work out how the computer will be supported - ideally software support and learning are best sourced locally to the client in order not to overtax our volunteer resources, while hardware support has to remain with us. We then need to assemble a computer package ensuring that the specification is relevant to and not excessive for that client, considering such things as Internet access, desired printing quality etc. When the computer package is assembled and tested the client is contacted and an appointment made for delivery and initial instructions.

Follow-up procedures tax our limited volunteer resources within the group, so we always offer guidance on computer training and local support (e.g. friends and neighbours). We do run an audit scheme to establish just how well the client is doing and give us feedback on our effectiveness in the disabled community.

To date we have already helped over 130 people. This is not always in supplying a computer - sometimes we are able to help with technical support or simple repair work. Where a client finds that they simply cannot manage with a computer that also becomes a relative success in that we have sorted out their expectations in that direction.

We do find that most of our work is with people whose disability results in mobility restrictions. There is another area where the disability requires computer facilities beyond what you or I may have at our workstation, typically visual or hand restrictions. Where this is of a minor nature Microsoft offers simple options within Windows such as different screen sizes, keyboard or mouse attributes (Accessibility section). Further enhancements are available in the form of special keyboards, mice and specialist software. Voice software, screen readers, head mice and other disability devices generally require more powerful computers and of course can cost a lot of money.

Most of the "cast-offs" which come our way are always behind the power requirements of the latest disability facilities, which is why we are always on the look-out for higher end machines. In fact today we simply cannot accept anything less than a Pentium system - which sounds positively ungrateful but is a sign of the times. We also require printers, monitors and modems. Many of you will have an IT section in your organisation which will almost certainly be upgraded at some time. Please may we have your cast-offs? If any readers are at all interested in helping our group then your time could be even more valuable.

We do have a government grant application in the pipeline for a selection of more expensive, specialist disability equipment and software. Otherwise funding is either in a limited way from the club account or direct from those most involved. We do not yet have charitable status.

If you have equipment to donate or, like us, enjoy playing with computers and helping people, we'd be delighted to hear from you. (Telephone 822900 or 527208)

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