Communicating Over the Internet

Disabled people communicate over the Internet much like most people.

If typing is possible then e-mail (Hotmail, Gmail etc.), Instant messaging (Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Chat, Facebook etc.) and options like Tweeting are all excellent and well known options.
If typing is not possible then alternative mouse and keyboard solutions may be helpful. Please see the Hands free computing section elsewhere on this AbilityNet site. Hands free computing uses 3 main mouse replacement tools:
1) head-trackers,
2) dwell-and-click software and
3) virtual on-screen keyboards
Writing E-mails and chatting is possible, albeit very slow using these tools.
Another possible solution is to communicate with another person on a computer by speaking directly to them. Many modern laptops have built-in microphones, webcams and speakers which make voice and video calling possible. Desktop computers can be inexpensively equipped with Webcams/Microphones and external speakers.
Voice Communication over the Internet
The 2 main products that allow you to speak to other people on the Internet are Windows Live Messenger and Skype. In order to speak to another person:
1) both parties must have a suitably configured Personal Computer
2) both parties must be online at the same time (with Skype it is possible to communicate on a time delay basis via short voice mail messages)
3) both parties must use the same product. Skype to Skype or Messenger to Messenger.
Both Messenger and Skype are free products. All computer to computer voice and Webcam communications are free anywhere in the world.
Voice Communication from a computer to a telephone
In addition to free computer to computer calls both Messenger and Skype allow you to speak to people who do not have a computer. They make it possible to call out to a standard telephone but this is typically an extra charge option. You can either pay by the minute or sign up for 3 months to a year. Charges are very reasonable: Skype's Skypeout feature costs only $2.95/month for unlimited calls within Canada and the USA. Please check Messenger and Skype for the rates in your particular country Signing a contract for a year is often cheaper than monthly rates.
Emergency Calling
Talking to friends instead of typing messages back and forth can make communications much easier for people with disability issues. Convenience is one thing but where computer to telephone calling is really worth its weight in gold is in emergencies. Calls can be made to neighbours and friends to obtain help. In more serious cases calls can be made to obtain medical or emergency services. Please note 911 emergency calls are not possible therefore the full telephone number of the local police or fire department should be stored in the Messenger or Skype phone-book for quick and easy emergency dialing.
Calls to a person on a computer from a telephone
Skype offers a service called SkypeIn which registers a telephone number in any of 25 countries around the world. An online number(SkypeIn™) is perfect if you have friends, family or business colleagues who don't use Skype. Anyone can dial your online number from any phone or mobile and your Skype PC rings and you pick up the call – wherever you are in the world. This is an extra cost feature which can be potentially significantly more cost effective than long distance rates.
To clarify please consider the following example. Let's say that you live in California, USA and you have family and friends living in Great Britain. You could register a SkypeIn number close to your family in the UK. They can then make a low cost local call in the UK and your Skype equipped PC in California (or wherever you happen to be signed in to Skype anywhere in the world) will ring.
Summary
The ability to communicate computer to computer by voice or text AND via outbound telephone or inbound telephone calls can enrich a disabled persons life but more importantly can also provide life saving access to emergency services. Messenger or Skype can be started and calls can be made or accepted independently by the user by using head-tracker/dwell-and-click software or voice recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking) for a comprehensive hands free communications solution for many disabled people.

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