Tag Archives: Accessibility

Who types in a pineapple under the sea?

Spongebob Keyboard (left side)The Best Keyboard We’ve Found (so far)

A SpongeBob SquarePants keyboard will initially sound like an odd choice. We’ve been told that it’s a little bit insulting to give a 90-year-old a keyboard that screams from the top-left, “I Love Bubbles!”. The surface features SpongeBob looking gleefully at the bubbles, Patrick the starfish lazily blowing bubbles, Plankton trapped in a bubble, and Squidward fuming under the right control key.

But it’s perfect in many ways that other keyboards fall short. It’s visually simple; it uses the standard keyboard layout; and it leaves out extraneous keys. The keys themselves are also nice and sturdy — and they require enough weight to press that they’re not easily pressed by mistake. We’ll address keyboard springiness, squishiness, and all general tactile issues in a later entry.

Visually Simple

Notice what’s missing? F1 through F12. The numeric keypad. Scroll Lock, Pause|Break, Home, End. Stuff you might use but a computer novice would not. Surprisingly frequently, users may press ‘F4’ rather than ‘4’, with very confusing results. ‘Home’ could reasonably be expected to take you to your desktop, but it doesn’t, nor does ‘End’ log you out. They’ve done an admirable job of including just what’s needed. And they’ve made it high contrast while highlighting the difference between functional keys, letter keys, and number keys with different colors.

SpongeBob Keyboard

Keyboard Layout

Similarly, the layout itself is exceptionally well-thought-out. I used it as my only keyboard for two weeks, and aside from getting used to the ‘backspace’ key being a row down, it was a very pleasant layout. The keys are exactly the size of those on a standard keyboard — the only difference being that they’re rounded. At first, this made touch-typing odd, but I got used to it quickly. And whether intentional or not, it serves a purpose other than just matching with the “bubble” theme of the keyboard — it makes accidentally hitting two keys MUCH less likely (especially at what would be the corners). Finally, the keys are offset from a grid, just like they are on a regular keyboard. Many seniors have lost some dexterity but could touch-type like mad back in the day. For them (and for those of us who use seniors’ computers), it’s maddening when the Q is DIRECTLY over the A key, and Z is DIRECTLY below S. It’s not the way your fingers naturally move if you’re trying to do anything beyond hunt-and-peck.

Problems

There has to be a catch to this heaven-sent keyboard. There is, and it’s not just the danger of being insulting by giving someone an “I love bubbles” keyboard. It’s that it seems to be no longer in production. On the plus side, it’s also no longer advertised, therefore no longer in demand, and thus somewhat available. But it undoubtedly won’t be forever. Check around. It was originally made by KidzMouse (who has no contact information on their web site — I tried to get in touch with them to find out more). It would be great to see another run of these.

Conclusion

I doubt we’ll find a keyboard that is better suited to the needs of the users of PawPawMail. And I love having a SpongeBob keyboard. As Spongebob sings (spelling “FUN”), “F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me… N is for anywhere or any time at all, down here in the deep blue sea…”

We’re back to blogging about seniors, e-mail, and accessible technology in general!

We’ve been gone a while from this blog, but we’ve been hard at work. There should be many more updates on PawPawMail, and maybe even some time to share them, in the coming weeks.

To keep it simple, we’ve been listening to a lot of requests for new features. We’re rolling them out very slowly to make sure that we don’t sacrifice simplicity in any way. We’ve been adding languages, streamlining workflow a bit, and making the setup process even easier.

We’ve also been getting a lot of requests for more general information about computer configuration for seniors. So we’ve gotten together most of the advice we have and created a few documents, which we’ll be releasing soon. Some are PawPawMail guides — quick references for using our e-mail service for seniors, both for the seniors themselves and for the managers. But our next post will talk about the guide we created to help caregivers of any sort set up the computer hardware and software to make the whole system easier to use for seniors (more “accessible”), regardless of whether they’re using our system.

So ask us your questions about seniors, computers, accessibility, and the internet, and give us your advice. We’ll be sure to aggregate it all in what we hope will be some useful and ever-growing reference materials.

PawPawMail — The Easiest Email for Seniors

Welcome to PawPawMail — Simple Email for Seniors. We’ve created what we think is the easiest possible way for Senior Citizens to access e-mail.

Without needing to know e-mail addresses, menus, links, or even how to click the back button on a browser, your elderly relative — or anyone new to computers — can use simple e-mail and view photos added by family members and friends. It’s a system managed by you (a younger relative, perhaps a remote caregiver), which allows the system to remain even simpler for the Senior user.

It’s all web-based, so there’s nothing to install, and you can be going in minutes. All the user needs is a computer with internet access — we’ll even show you how to set it up so that it starts directly into PawPawMail, and they never have to do anything but use the simplest e-mail available.

Thanks! Please don’t hesitate to check out the PawPawMail website: Easy Email for Seniors, Elderly Parents, learn how we got started, and see just how easy it is to use. We’re happy to answer any questions you have, and we always appreciate feedback about how to make PawPawMail even easier for the user and even more convenient for the caregiver. We’ll keep writing here about our experiences developing PawPawMail further.