Buying a computer system/Voice to Text email


My mom is 94 (born 1920!), and has been using a PC since the '80s. Now she's arthritic and typing with one finger.  Until recently she's been emailing myself and my sister every morning to let us know she's okay, but that's getting painful.
  So, I'm looking for a netbook or other cheap piece of hardware to let her see, create and answer email in her bedroom without getting up and crossing the house to her office/den where the PC resides.
   And, if it ran a good Text-to-Speech app that would be terrific.  Looking for bargain basement with okay screen.  She can use a stylus to type if the keys are average size but not tiny.
   SUMMARY:  Need hardware and software for mom doing email by voice if possible -- she has ATT U-verse as her IP, internet/TV.  Her WiFi would presumably work across the house to her bedroom.

Some initial questions I have regarding this:

- Does your mom have a television in her room that could be used as a large display? Ideally I'm envisioning a 30"+ HDTV for this role - it would produce a very big image and should be easily viewed across the room.

- Can the PC itself be moved from the office?

Regarding the netbook, I'd probably not suggest that - they can be obnoxious to type on for experienced professionals (most folks I've worked with over the years, including myself, despise the tiny keyboards for serious composition or code-writing), and while the screens can be decent in terms of color and sharpness, they're relatively small both in terms of physical size and resolution, meaning you won't get much displayed (and some accessibility software may have issues with the low resolution, as it can't draw everything it needs/wants to draw). I wouldn't imagine such a combination to be beneficial for someone who has trouble typing on a conventional keyboard; if you're set on the netbook, my advice would be to find a store that allows you to demo such a system, and see what your mom thinks of the small screen and keyboard.

If you're going after a new PC, I'd probably look for a more conventional 15-17" laptop - they can be had fairly cheap, and the biggest trade-offs for the cheap ones are poor battery life (but this system is being used indoors, so it can stay hooked up to AC power and the battery becomes a non issue), and relatively meagre 3D graphics capabilities (an issue if the system needs to run intensive 3D applications like CAD or Call of Duty). It will give you a bigger screen, with a likely higher pixel pitch (so everything will be "bigger"), and a bigger keyboard which should make typing easier.

Regarding applications for speech/text functionality on Windows, Windows actually has a screen reader application built-in (known as "Narrator" in Windows 7), however if you need a true accessibility aid JAWS is still the standard (it is explicitly designed for users with visual impairments); note that JAWS will likely cost more than the hardware it runs on in most situations (it can cost upwards of $1000/seat). Depending on what your mom needs, it may be practical to simply employ a large display that presents a relatively large pixel pitch (so everything will be "big") - adjusting the DPI higher on a conventional display may also achieve the desired effect.

Something else to consider regarding text input, would be something like Dragon Naturally Speaking (a speech-to-text application), which will allow voice dictation of emails and other commands to the system, and can eliminate a large amount of typing from a user's daily life.

Another option would be to look at the iPad - there are a variety of accessibility and text/speech translation apps (and my advice would just be to look and try until you find one that you specifically like in terms of features and usability), and it would also connect over WiFi. It would also be more physically easy to handle (it's smaller, lighter, and one piece as opposed to a folding laptop), and if drops/damage are a concern you can get an Otter case to protect the device (I wouldn't expect an OtterBox to stop a bullet or survive a 40' freefall, but for average slips and spills they do a good job). The only limitation is that it doesn't have a traditional keyboard, but if a stylus is a usable option, you can get a capacitive stylus that will work with the iPad (and many other modern touchscreen devices). Such stylii aren't terribly expensive either.


Buying a computer system

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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner.


I have been an enthusiast of PC's for many years, and can answer questions about the purchase/use of a new computer or the purchase, installation, and use of upgrades for existing computers. There probably isn't a whole lot related to the home computer that I haven't seen over the years.

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