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Savvy Senior: Gadgets, resources help with computers

Dear Savvy Senior: In your columns you list a lot of Web site resources that are very helpful, but for seniors who don’t have a home computer, what are they to do? Also, do you know of any computer gadgets that can help people who have vision impairment or arthritis? – Online Alice

Dear Alice: Unfortunately (to reduce costs), many agencies and organizations that provide services to older Americans offer their information “only” online – making it difficult for millions of seniors who don’t have a home computer to get help. Here are some alternative tips and resources that may help.

Computer resources



According to a recent study, 26 percent of Americans 65 and older are online today, compared with 67 percent of those age 50-64. If you don’t have a home computer, or don’t know how to use the Internet, there are resources available in most communities to assist you.

For example, almost all libraries around the country have free public Internet access, as do many senior or community centers. There are also various local organizations that offer low cost computer classes geared for older people that can help get you started.



Check with your public library, community college or area aging agency ((800) 677-1116).

Another good resource to look into is SeniorNet http://www.seniornet.org, (800) 747-6848, a national organization that helps people, age 50 and older, learn how to use the computer and maneuver the Internet.

For a $40 per year membership, SeniorNet offers a variety of basic online computer courses as well as instructor-led workshops at over 240 learning centers throughout the United States.

And, for those who have absolutely no interest in learning how to use a computer, you can still get information off the Web by asking someone (your kids, grandkids, friends or neighbors) who has Internet access to help you.

Savvy Tip: A less expensive option to get Internet access in your home (without a computer) is with MSN TV – a small box (with a wireless keyboard) that hooks up to your TV and into your existing phone line. Refurbished MSN TV 2 players cost $150 plus a $22 monthly service fee. See http://www.msntv.com or call (866) 466-7688.

Computer gadgets

If vision impairment, arthritis pain or hand tremors affect your ability to use your computer, there’s a variety of assistive devices and software that can make a big difference. For those with low vision, some products and tips to consider are:

n Large letter keyboards: Keyboards with extra large letters, numbers and symbols are much easier to see and cost only around $40 (see http://www.visikey.net). If you don’t want to purchase a new keyboard you can also buy large-print peel-and-stick labels at http://www.goldviolin.com for $9 that you can attach to your existing board. Another option is “big key” keyboards (www.bigkeys.com) where the keys are four times larger than normal. These cost around $170.

n Larger Web text: If you use Internet Explorer you can increase the words that appear on Web sites by simply going to your menu bar at the top of the page, clicking on “View,” then scroll down and click on “Text Size” and choose from five different sizes. Windows XP users should also see http://www.microsoft.com/enable.

n Web enhancing software: For Windows computers, IBM offers a free software program called Web Adaptation Technology (WAT) that gives you the ability to increase text size, change text or background colors, reduces clutter and animations and much more. To download WAT visit http://www.webadapt.org.

n WebEyes: A great software product ($24.95) that allows you to increase the type size up to 144 points. WebEyes can be used with Windows only. See http://www.webeyes.us.

If you suffer arthritis pain in the hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders, or have carpal tunnel syndrome, there are many different types of ergonomic mice, keyboards and computer accessories (arm supports, touch pads, trackballs, special mouse pads, gel-filled wrist supports and more) that can help make operating your computer easier and more comfortable.

Most of these items cost under $200 and can be found online at Web sites like http://www.enablemart.com, http://www.kinesis-ergo.com and http://www.ergokey.com.

Another handy device, for those who have hand tremors is the Assistive Mouse Adapter (www.montrosesecam.com) that plugs in between the computer and mouse to filter out shaky movements and eliminate multiple clicks.

– Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit http://www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


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