The Accessible Setup

What do people with disabilities use to get stuff done?

Blake Watson

Blake Watson

Web designer/developer

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Blake Watson. I make websites, including this one. I have spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and I blog about life with a disability. I am constantly involved in a project, a side project, or even a side-side project. I have a BBA in Information Systems and an MBA, both from Mississippi State University. I'd like to think I'm not so arrogant that I would interview myself for this site, but I really want to share my accessible setup because I spent a good amount of time developing it. So here goes.

What hardware are you using?

I use a 17" MacBook Pro (late 2009) connected to a 24" Apple Cinema Display. The idea behind this setup is that I wanted a "mobile desktop" that had speed, power, and a large screen but that I could disconnect and take with me if needed. It works out alright, but the screen resolution is a bit too high when using the built-in screen (I don't want to lower the resolution because I don't want to lose sharpness). I think the 15" model would have been a better choice. I have a little trouble using the trackpad (two-finger scrolling is hard for me) so I primarily control my Mac with the Apple Magic Mouse. It eats batteries, though, so I only use Energizer Ultimate Lithiums as they last a while. I just upgraded from an iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4S. I don't use the improved camera much, but Siri does make some tasks easier for me. I also use my iPhone for some typing on my Mac, but I'll discuss that under software.

Since I love music I try to have good speakers and headphones. Audiophiles will laugh at me but I have a pair of Altec-Lansing Expressionist Bass speakers connected to the Mac. I'm scared of bugging folks in the house with my "weird" music so increasingly often I find myself jamming out using my Klipsh S4i in-ear headphones. They were made for iPhone so they have a mic and phone controls on board. I also do a fair amount of video/voice chatting and I like to pretend that I can make podcasts, so I bought a crappy, generic mic from RadioShack which uses 3 adapters that eventually end up in a USB port. Suprisingly, it sounds pretty good.

I have a Western Digital 1TB hard drive, which holds Time Machine backups, connected to the Mac.

And what software?

The Mac is running Lion. Since I make websites I spend a fair amount of time in a text editor. I've been a Coda user for two years but I recently tried TextMate and Sublime Text 2. I like Sublime Text, but I'm mainly just waiting for Coda 2. For FTP I use Transmit. For creating graphics I use Adobe Photoshop CS3. It's a love/hate relationship. I could almost switch to DrawIt, and I might consider that if CS3 quits working on new OS X releases. Other web design related apps: iTerm 2 for command line access, MAMP for local development, and the Firefox extension Firebug for debugging CSS.

For web browsing I've mostly moved into Chrome. I like to develop in Firefox, but it had a few unstable versions that made normal usage sluggish for me. I also test sites in Safari. I use Gmail via the Mac app, Sparrow. I bookmark links on Pinboard. I use Twitterific (Mac and iPhone) for Twitter and I occasionally save interesting reads I find there to Instapaper. The Twitter/Pinboard/Instapaper combo effectively replaces RSS reading for me.

My task management is all over the place. I use Things for project management. That works well. For personal tasks I switch between TaskPaper, TeuxDeux, and now the Reminders app on my iPhone (which seems to be the most practical because I forget to look at my to-do list). I keep notes in the excellent Notational Velocity. These notes are synced to WriteRoom on my iPhone via DropBox.

I blog using a self-hosted WordPress installation on NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. I draft blog posts in iA Writer or WriteRoom (Mac). I also pretend to write novels during NaNoWriMo, at which time I use Scrivener to keep track of the madness and keep my chapters and scenes organized.

For fun I listen to music in iTunes, MOG, and Pandora. I watch a few select TV shows in Hulu Desktop. And I play a few strategy games from SillySoft, namely Lux Delux and Castle Vox. My gaming drug, however, is Galcon for iPhone. I can't get enough. It's unhealthy.

Loose ends: Clippy for clipboard history, TextExpander for, um, text expansion, Alfred for quick app launching, Skype for web chatting, and the usual Mac suspects (iCal, Address Book, iPhoto). Oh, and Calculator for CSS math.

Lastly, I think the most underrated and overlooked built-in Mac app is Preview. That thing is a workhorse.

What assistive technology equipment are you using?

I use two pieces of software that are absolutely essential. For keyboard access, I use an onscreen keyboard called KeyStrokes. It has word prediction and TextExpander-esque shortcuts, which is how I write CSS code. Pointing and clicking an onscreen keyboard isn't ideal for long form writing (like this) so, in those instances, I turn to HippoRemote on my iPhone. This sucker turns my iPhone into a tiny, zero-force touchscreen keyboard for my Mac. It also acts as my trackpad should my Magic Mouse batteries die while no one is around to change them for me. If you're interested, I wrote a review of it.

I also have an Invacare power chair that cost more than my Mom's new Honda Accord, an Open Sesame door opener, a ceiling lift, a pressure-reliving air mattress, a converted 1999 Ford Essex with an EZ Lock system.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd like fast wifi everywhere. A 27" iMac for the desk and an 11" MacBook Air for everywhere else. A Kindle with a remote for turning pages would be nice. And I want Siri to be activated by voice and allow me to say things like: "Turn on the lights," "Open the door," "If anyone calls, tell them I'm in church," and maybe "Help," which would activate some kind of pre-determined emergency plan. Basically, fast Internet and Siri as a HAL9000 that won't refuse to open the door and won't try to murder me.