10 frequently asked questions about how a computer can benefit people with Multiple Sclerosis

According to the MS Trust there are over 100,000 people in the UK with Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong condition which affects the central nervous system and the spinal cord. 

Symptoms can include fatigue, vision problems and sometimes people with the condition can have cognitive issues too. Famous people with the condition include Jack Osborne and Jim Sweeney (UK comedian.)

How can using a computer benefit someone with MS?

Based on calls to our helpline here are ten of the most common questions asked by people with the condition or their carers.

Question 1: I’m having difficulties using the keyboard and the mouse. What can I do?

If you have the condition and it causes tremors you might have lots of unwanted extra characters and there are many ways you can adapt your keyboard
to make it easier for you to use. Follow our easy to follow instructions to turn on Filter Keys on so that even
if you find it really hard to take your hand away from the keyboard you won't end up with lots of unwanted letters.

You may also want to look at one of the many adapted keyboards that are available.

If you are happy using a pointing device as opposed to a keyboard, you could use an on screen keyboard

If you decide that you want to try and mimise your use of the keyboard, and if your voice is good you could look at using Voice Recognition.  It is built into all current Mac and Windows computers and is also found on Android, iOS and Windows phones and tablets.

It might take a little bit of patience to get used to but can be a very effective way of working without using the keyboard. 

There are also a number of alternative pointing devices on the market and once again you can change the settings to suit your needs.
You can often get keyboards and pointing devices on a sale or return basis before you committ to buying one. 

Question 2: My eyesight isn't as good as it was. How can I make it easier for me to see the screen?

If you struggle to see the screen you can make the text easier to see, either by increasing the text size or changing the colours used on screenIf you have issues with not being able to see the different colours on your computer you can customise them to your own particular needs.  If you need to use Magnification  then basic software is built in to the system.                                          

Question 3: I'm fairly confident about changing settings on my computer. How do I customise my mobile device?

Technology is certainly a lot more mobile these days and all phones and tablets have accessibility options built in. Use My Computer My Way to identify your system and work out how to set up your mobile device to suit your needs.

Question 4: I've heard a lot about Smart Home Technology. Could this work for me?

AbilityNet is very excited about this new technology. both Amazon Echo and Google Home devices can be configured with many different skills to help you out.  Whilst there are no MS skills available at the moment, there are a lot of useful other ones available. These include the ability to set reminders on Alexa enabled devices.  You can ask Google Home devices to run routines too.  LIghts, doors and heating can all be linked to your smart home devices allowing you to be more independent. If you struggle to use the telephone you can even make calls between Echo devices or you can use Google Home to make calls between the device and landlines, or mobiles.   

Question 5: I used to enjoy reading. However I get fatigue now and can't seem to focus on reading. Can technology help me out?

Text to speech is an easy way of having information read out to you. This means that you don't need to be in front of the computer screen to have documents read out to you.  Aditionally if you have a smarthome device you can have books read out to you! 

Question 6: My MS causes me to have anxiety and other mental health issues.  Could technology help me out?

Mental health is important for everyone, and even more so for people with chronic conditios.  We've recently looked at lots of different apps that can help people who have mental health issues.

Question 7: I've heard about voice recognition but I don't think I can use it as my voice changes throughout the day.

Voice recognition does work for people have a speech difficulty, and as technology gets better so it means that more people can benefit from this way of inputting information.  Our advice is that people with conditions where the voice changes during the day should always create a couple of voice profiles. One for the morning, where the voice mght be at it's clearest and a voice profile for the afternoon where the voice might not be quite as clear.

Question 8: I use voice recognition on my laptop. Can I use it on my mobile?

Using your mobile device with your voice is fairly straightforward. We've got some useful information on our website. An example is that you can ask your device to send an email to a specific person or you can ask your mobile phone to call a specific contact.  You  can also link your mobile phone up to your smart home device which we mentioned earlier.

Question 9: I've heard about home shopping for groceries. Is it hard to set up? Can you suggest where I can go and get support to set it up?

Lots of different people use home shopping services. You certainly don't have to have a disability to use home shopping. People lead busy lives now and prefer to shop online. If you need support from one of our volunteers to help you get it set up on your system, please feel free to call us!

Question 10: I have to take lots of medication to control my MS.  Could technology help me out?

There are lots and lots of apps that can help you manage your medication.  It is really difficult to say one is better then another. However here's a report comparing a few apps.

Need more help?

There are plenty of other options that may be relevant to you. If you need more help just call our Helpline on 0800 269 545.

Case Study

Chung emailed us because his sister, Liu has MS and she likes to keep in touch with her friends and family all all over the world, using social networking sites. We suggested how she could tweak her mobile device to make it easier for her to stay in touch with her friends wherever she is. We even arranged for a volunteer to go out and support her.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.