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Right Hand Click - Itís all in the Mouse

When I first started coaching at SeniorNet in Kingston, NY, I saw an older woman whose palsied hand could not simultaneously keep the mouse pointer on an icon and double click it, to start the program. The mouse in her right hand kept slipping off the mouse pad. Double clicking icons is how people usually start programs under Microsoft Windows. This woman had almost completed the eight week introductory course and she still couldnít use a mouse.

I went home and thought about the basic computer setup, a keyboard sitting right in front of the monitor. Most individuals learning computers hardly touch the keyboard at first, while they use the mouse constantly. Why alot so much space to the keyboard at the center of computer operations?

I pushed the keyboard aside, moved the mouse pad dead center in front of the screen, then started clicking two handed, left hand on the left mouse button, right hand on the right. I used both hands to aim at specific icons. This seemed easier to manipulate and much easier double clicking.

To test the theory, I called Ten Broeck Commons, a nursing facility in Kingston, NY. I asked if anyone there needed help with a computer. The activities director referred me to Harold Schumann, a 55 year old man partially paralyzed since being in a traffic accident at the age of 19. Heíd recently gotten a used computer for his room.

Harold is a remarkable individual, engaging and bright, with a positive outlook on life. But he was terribly frustrated trying to use the computer. He received occasional help from the staff at Ten Broeck, and also read a computer guide. This was of little help.

Harold immediately took to the two hand method. It was easier for him to move around the Windows desktop, and much easier to double click and open programs.

But Harold added an essential element. In passing I had shown him how clicking the right mouse button brings up menu options. Generally at the top of the menu is "open", to open or start the program. (The same thing accomplished by quickly double clicking the left mouse button). Most computer users arenít aware of this, that right clicking almost any place on the screen brings up a menu of one sort or another.

Next time I returned to Ten Broeck Common I found Harold working on his own, using the right mouse button exclusively in this manner. Then I began to use it myself. Working long hours on my computer, it felt less fatiguing. Now I seldom double click. New users could be taught to right click from the beginning. And not just to start programs.

When a program/window has been opened or started, a small rectangular box appears on the taskbar. That box represents the program. Clicking it maximizes the window. Once the window is maximized users click small icons in the upper right corner to minimize, resize, or close the window completely. But right clicking the taskbar box itself also opens a popup menu where one can maximize, minimize, or close the window.

New learners often donít grasp the basic concept that the taskbar represents a list of all open programs. They will start the same program over and over again, until the computer runs out of memory and freezes. But right clicking is a constant reminder of the logical connection between the taskbar and open programs, reinforcing this connection in ways which using the minimize, maximize, and close buttons cannot.

Another essential function in Windows is copying/cutting text, then pasting it somewhere else in a document. The procedure always begins by marking text with the mouse. From there you can click Ďedití on the menu bar at the top of the window, select Ďcutí or Ďcopyí, then move the cursor to the insertion point, click Ďedití again, and this time select Ďpasteí.

But if you right click immediately on marking the text, a popup menu appears with the same options. Because of the spatial connection between text and popup menu, this seems more logically consistent than either moving the mouse pointer to click an icon on a toolbar or using Ďedití on the view menu

By logically consistent, I mean two things. First, that the action you are taking is directly tied to the object (icon, line of text) you are taking it on. But also, once you learn the procedure you can use that procedure essentially unchanged with most Windows programs.

Iím convinced that rightclicking is fundamentally a better way of teaching new computer users. Although individuals with excellent reflexes can easily double click to open programs, people with arthritis or small motor problems cannot. Which includes the very young as well as older people. For new learners, right clicking slows things down just enough to make computers more comprehensible. As for the rest of us, maybe we can all benefit from slowing down the world by one click of the mouse.

Harold Schumann and Alan

Harold Schumann and Alan Silverman

Mouse or Keyboard?

Recently at Ten Broeck Commons Nursing Home I saw a woman pushing herself along in a wheel chair. Pushing themselves helps residents maintain their physical strength, mobility, and independence. But this woman seemed so distressed, I stopped and began pushing her toward where she was going.

Ten Broeck is a large facility with half a dozen separate residential wings. I had no idea which room was hers. I could have found one of the nurses. But they are very busy. I didnít want to impose upon them if I didnít need to.

The woman's voice was so weak she could hardly talk. But she could gesture. Which is how we got there. She pointed with one finger from one hallway to the next, until we reached her room.

Now think about handing this woman a keypad and asking her to type out directions to her room.

No demographic group in this country can benefit more from computers then the elderly. Statistics show that seniors are already the largest group on the Internet. But "senior" is defined as any individual over the age of 50 years old, while in percentile terms the largest growth is among seniors 70 years old and older.

The elderly do not lack important and valuable things to say. But expressing them simply becomes too exhausting. Voice recognition software is of little use.

I have used my keyboard and word processor almost every day for the past 20 years, a typewriter 20 years before that. But I never type anything I donít have to. Programs already exist for filling out forms on the Web. You either point and drag or just click on a word or phrase and that information is copied to the next open field on the form.

Itís a short stretch from this type of application to more sophisticated programs, making it possible to write notes by clicking on words or phrases, necessitating no keyboard at all. These types of programs will certainly gain in both ease of use and function. One could write entire articles or even a novel, without touching an individual key.

For better or worse, the keyboard will not be the primary interface between humans and computers in the future. Though I have used a keyboard most of my life, some day I will possess neither the energy nor coordination for typing. But I will be able to use a pointing device, especially as they are certain to evolve.

Aside from standard mice we already have touch pads, track balls, and optical mice. But pointing devices are simple to build. They could be designed to specific userís requirements, glove type mice, mice with inset clickers, super sensitive mice one can move or click almost by breathing on them.

I would like to see mice incorporate important keypad functions, insert, delete, page up and down, backspace, etc. With just a bit more heft, pointing devices would feel much more natural worked two handed before the monitor. Then limit keyboards mainly to letters and numbers. With a bit less heft, they could easily be moved back and forth when needed.

But switching from keyboard to mouse isnít only for the disabled and elderly. I went to Ten Broeck in response to difficulties I saw students having in introductory classes. I knew if I could develop a system which disabled people could use with ease, I could take this knowledge back to the classroom.

What I came up with was simply to replace the keyboard with the mouse in front of the monitor, have students use the mouse with both hands, and finally, instead of double clicking, always use the right clicker to open programs.

I mostly work with individuals forty years of age and older, so I donít know about young people. But almost everyone I teach, of any age, seems disoriented when learning to use computers. Many never lose these feelings

Most students arenít good keyboarders to begin with. Their concentration is broken between trying to learn keyboarding and learning how computers work. Separating these functions, keyboarding from base computer knowledge, would lessen their disorientation and the accompanying intimidation they often feel.

My personal model for growing old is the brilliant astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking. Dr. Hawking continues to develop his theory of black holes while incapacitated by the degenerative neurological disorder called Lou Gehrigís Disease. From his wheel chair he not only develops, but continues to communicate these theories to the academic world

To me computers represent the ability to maintain personal and professional connections long past a time in my life when I am mobile. As for the young, the young donít really need the Internet. They can walk.


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