Getting the most from being online
Whether you're new to computers and the internet, or you'd like to understand more about technology, there are devices that can make it easier - and organisations to help you.
Being able to use a computer and the internet can open up lots of opportunities. You can:
- handle day-to-day correspondence, which can be useful if you have problems with handwriting
- keep in touch with your friends and family through social media and video calling, such as Skype
- share experiences with other people affected by Parkinson's through online communities and social media
- search for information about Parkinson's and other subjects of interest
- manage your online banking and shopping, which can save time and may be helpful if you have limited mobility or live in a remote area
What do I need to get online?
The most basic set-up will involve one of the following:
- a computer - a desktop system with a monitor (screen), keyboard and mouse
- a portable computer, such as a laptop with a keyboard and screen
- a tablet that has a touchscreen
- a smartphone - many mobile phones allow you to access the internet on the go
If you're not sure where to start, speak to AbilityNet. This organisation aims to make computer technology available to people with disabilities.
Their free helpline 0800 269 545 offers expert advice and information to help disabled people use computers and the internet.
We hear from many people with Parkinson's that tablets, such as the Apple iPad, make it easier for them to get online.
Tablets are smaller and lighter than laptops, and the touchscreen can be simpler to use than a desktop computer's mouse and keyboard.
E-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, can also be useful for reading, especially if you find it difficult to turn newspaper pages or read a book.
Some of the latest versions of these can also be used to access the internet.
Smartphones can do many of the same things a computer does, such as access the internet and emails.
There are different types of smartphones with differing features so you may find it helpful to research which phone would best suit your needs before you buy one.
If you have problems with dexterity or have limited mobility, consider the weight of a phone, how easy it is to grip, the spacing between the keys and whether it has a touchscreen.
You can use a stylus pen to operate a touchscreen if using your fingers to operate it is too difficult.
Some stylus pens have a small, hard head. A capacitive stylus pen has a larger, soft rubber head, which may be helpful if you have a tremor.
DORO is a company that specialises in developing mobiles and smartphones for older people or people with disabilities.
You may find their devices easier and more practical to use. These products also come with software to help you set up and use your smartphone.
Most major mobile phone companies should have information about the accessibility of their products on their website or available in their store.
An app is a piece of software that can be used on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
Apps allow you to perform specific tasks like write a document or play a game.
There are several apps available for people with Parkinson's, which can provide information about the condition, allow you to track your symptoms or remind you to take your medication.
Search for Parkinson's apps in a search engine like Google to find out what's available.
Accessibility describes if a website or other product can be used by people of all abilities and disabilities.
An occupational therapist can give you tips on using computer equipment.
Simple adjustments, such as better posture, appropriate chair height, or changing the distance from your keyboard or monitor, can also make it easier to use a computer.
Your keyboard can be altered to help meet your needs.
Accessibility features such as Filter Keys or Slow Keys tune your keyboard, so the length of time a key needs to be held down for can be changed.
Sticky Keys allow you to operate a combination of several keys using just one finger.
You may find a keyguard useful. This is a rigid plate with holes that are positioned over each key on your keyboard. The guard makes it impossible to press 2 keys at once.
You can also rest your hands and arms on the guard without pressing any keys.
Small and compact keyboards may be more suitable for single-handed users.
You can also buy specially designed ergonomically curved or 2-part keyboards, and ones with larger keys.
It is possible to adjust the way your mouse behaves. This includes changing the sensitivity or speed of your mouse and how much time you need for 'double clicking'.
You can also use the number pad on your keyboard to move the cursor around using Mouse Keys.
If you use a computer that has the Windows operating system installed, most mouse functions can be performed using different keyboard shortcuts.
If your movement is mostly affected on one side of your body, you may find it useful to use your other hand to hold the mouse, to reduce the strain on your affected hand.
You can buy a left or right-handed mouse, and you can also swap over the button settings of your mouse to suit the hand you use.
In some cases, you might find it useful to replace your mouse with a 'rollerball' mouse.
This is a static device with a large ball on top, which can be moved using your fingers, thumbs and palms, and can offer more control.
This kind of mouse can be used with a laptop via a wireless USB connector or via a lead.
You can easily alter the background colour, letter colour, or the font type on a monitor.
These adjustments can make it more comfortable to look at the screen (like using sunglasses on a bright day) and help to make text clearer.
Monitors also come in a variety of sizes. Larger screens can give you a clearer view of images.
If you have sight problems, you could use a screen reader – a device that will read web pages.
Websites have accessibility guidelines to make using the site and accessing information easier.
The basic requirements are that text styles, sizes and colours are easy to read and images have 'alternative text', so they can be understood by equipment such as a screen reader.
Our website has extra features for people affected by Parkinson's including large clickable areas and buttons to make scrolling easier.
It also has features for keyboard accessibility, so that you can navigate through and select items using just your keyboard (pressing the TAB key and ENTER when you land on an element you want to activate).
This feature is available on many websites and can be helpful if you find it difficult to use a mouse.
Use your voice
Some mobile phones, computers or tablet devices can be operated by speaking.
Speech recognition software can analyse your voice to carry out tasks like creating and editing documents or emails, opening files and controlling your mouse.
This can be useful if you have problems typing or using a mouse.
Newer versions of both Windows and Apple operating systems provide ready-to-use voice recognition technology.
There are voice recognition apps available for tablet devices, such as the iPad, and smartphones.
Siri is a free app available on the Apple operating system. Using your voice, you can dictate text messages, take notes, make calls and schedule meetings.
Vokul is a downloadable app that works in a similar way to Siri (for Apple) or Cortana (for Microsoft).
You can also buy voice recognition programs, which range in price. Programs normally come with a software CD, a microphone headset and user manual.
Where can I find reliable Parkinson's and health information online?
There is a lot of material about Parkinson's and other health-related issues on the internet.
It's worth remembering that anyone can set up a website on any subject.
This means that not all websites will contain reliable, up-to-date information.
If you want to know whether a health information website is reliable, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who has produced the content? Is it owned or sponsored by a reputable organisation? Most sites will have an 'About us' or 'About this site' section where you can get more information about the site and who has set it up.
- Are contact details available for the website owners? Be wary if there is no way of contacting them.
- Is the health information consistent with other material you have read?
- Does the website give information about both the benefits and risks of potential treatments?
- Is the information current?
- Is there a review process for content? And is that process explained anywhere on the website?
- Is the organisation a member of the Information Standard? If they are, they will display the Information Standard logo on their online information. Organisations that have the Standard have been assessed to check that the information they produce is clear, accurate, balanced, evidence-based and up to date.
The following websites contain health information or are about Parkinson's, and may be useful as a starting point:
Our website is packed with trustworthy information about Parkinson's.
You can find out more about the condition and what it's like to live with it, as well as keeping up-to-date with the latest Parkinson's research.
You can also find contact details for all of our information and support services, including your nearest Parkinson's local adviser and local group.
The website also makes it easier to find information relevant to your experience of Parkinson's – so whether you're newly diagnosed, a carer, or have been living with Parkinson's for some time, you’ll be able to find the information that's right for you.
The website also features a lot of films of people with Parkinson's talking about living with the condition, research and fundraising events, and many more.
They feature information and news about Parkinson's, and often have webinars, podcasts, blogs and e-newsletters you can watch or sign up to.
NHS Choices is the UK's biggest health website.
It contains articles, videos and interactive tools about different health conditions, including Parkinson's.
It can also help you to find, compare and use NHS services in England. The website is certified by the Information Standard.
In Scotland, NHS Inform offers similar services to the NHS Choices website.
Patient.co.uk is an independent health website.
It contains thousands of health information leaflets and discussion forums about different conditions, including Parkinson's.
The website is certified by the Information Standard.
Our online communities
Our online forum is a great place to share tips and experiences about ways to get online and make using computers easier for people with Parkinson's.
Facebook and Twitter
Your local public library or adult education college may offer computer courses.
Details of these can often be found in local libraries, or by contacting your local authority's education office.
If you have a basic knowledge of computers, you can build these skills using tutorials available online, or via e-learning courses.
For instance, learndirect offers a variety of IT and other courses for people with internet access that can be completed at home or at a variety of local learndirect centres.
You can contact learndirect on 0800 101 901.
- AbilityNet - Offers information to disabled people on how to use computers and the internet (0800 269 545).
- Age UK - This charity runs taster sessions where older people can learn to use computers and the internet (0800 169 6565).
- Barclays Bank Digital Eagles – Free online courses to teach you about technology, internet safety and other digital tips.
- BBC Webwise - Has useful guides to social media, computer basics and a selection of online courses.
- Digital Unite - Home tuition and campaigns to promote the benefits of being online to older people (0800 228 9272).
- Disabled Living Foundation – Offer help on daily living equipment and assistive technology (0300 999 0004).
- Learn My Way - This organisation offers online courses on using a computer and basic internet skills.
- UCanDoIT - A charity providing free computer tutorials, tailored to your needs, delivered in your own home. They offer services for people with physical disabilities, age impairments, sensory impairments or communication difficulties. The service is not available in all areas of the UK but employs 65 freelance tutors working in Greater London, South Wales, parts of Scotland, Merseyside, Manchester, Birmingham, Sussex and Kent (020 8673 3300).
- UK Online Centres - These centres offer various online resources and community groups (0800 771 234).
- Which - This organisation offers independent buying advice on computer equipment and internet service providers.
Download this information
We know lots of people would rather have something in their hands to read rather than look at a screen, so you can order printed copies of our information by post, phone or email.
Find someone who understands
Our online forum is a space for you to chat to people who know what you're going through.