AbilityNet Factsheet - August 2019

Multiple Sclerosis and Computing

The NHS defines Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm of leg movement, sensation or balance.

There are three main types of MS; “Relapsing remitting MS”, “Primary progressive MS” and “Secondary progressive MS”.

This factsheet offers a summary of the difficulties people with MS may experience using their computers, along with information about adjustments that can make their devices easier to use.

Last updated: August 2019

1. What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

In the UK, more than 100,000 people have MS. According to the MS Society, people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties, but the first symptoms often start years earlier. It affects almost three times as many women as men.

The NHS describe MS as an autoimmune condition. This is when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body – in this case, the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system.

In MS, the immune system attacks the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves called the myelin sheath.

This damages and scars the sheath, and potentially the underlying nerves, meaning that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted.

Symptoms can include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, difficulties with bladder control, numbness or tingling in different parts of the body, muscle stiffness and spasms, problems with balance and co-ordination, problems with thinking, learning and planning.

The types of MS

There are three main types of MS:

  • Relapsing Remitting MS – This is the most common diagnosis affecting around 85% of those diagnosed. New or worsening symptoms can flare up (a relapse) followed by periods of recovery (remission). The time between relapses as well as their severity can vary.
  • Primary Progressive MS – This diagnosis of MS affects between 10 and 15% of those diagnosed, disability increases over time and relapses are rare.
  • Secondary Progressive MS – This diagnosis of MS follows a diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS when a person experiences fewer or no relapses and their disability increases over time.

2. How can tech help?

Technology such as computers, tablets and smartphones offer a great deal to help people with MS:

  • Use of voice control on smart devices or tablets and smartphones allows communication but also can be set up to control lights, plugs, heating and many more devices.
  • Dictation or ‘speech-to-text’ software allows the user to get ideas onto the page quickly, much quicker than typing and also allows the user to control a computer using their voice.
  • Alternative keyboards and mice are available that can make it easier to control the computer. These allow you to hold your hands and arms in different positions that may be more steady than standard versions.
  • Wrist and arm supports are available to help keep arms comfortable and steady whilst using the computer.
  • In-built ‘text-to-speech’ or additional software is available in most smartphones and tablets and on laptops and browsers. This can help where fatigue affects the ability to concentrate or with memory.
  • Similarly, audiobooks can be used to aid with fatigue, but also where holding a book steady is difficult or impossible.
  • Mental health and emotions may be affected and there are many useful apps available that can help with anxiety, stress and mindfulness.
  • There are several reminder apps available to help with organisation and most technology providers (Google, Apple, Microsoft etc) have apps that can combine to sync calendar appointments, reminders, notes and other items so these are accessible across platforms. This reduces the amount of ‘input’ required.

3. Useful Contacts

4. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.


Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Was this content helpful?