Open Source Assistive Technology Software.

Age Concern Exeter: Next steps for new computer users

You can also read these notes on the web at 'fullmeasure.co.uk/AgeConcernExeter/NextSteps.htm' where you can follow the links to more information.

The course you attended at Age Concern Exeter provided an introduction to the basics of computing and the internet. You may now be looking for a reminder of something that was explained or perhaps are feeling a little overwhelmed by all those new concepts and skills. It often takes many repetitions before something 'clicks' and you feel confident. So to help you on your way to becoming an experienced computer user, we have provided a few ideas for further practice and learning.

Adjusting your computer for easy operation

Computers have many options available so you can 'tweak' them for the easiest and most comfortable use. If you are having difficulties clicking on small menu items for example, a little time spent experimenting with available options can make a big difference. Examples include icon or text size, double click speed or colours. Further Accessibility options are also provided on Windows, Linux and Macs such as magification and speech. A range of alternative keyboards and mice are available and more advanced Assistive Technology such as 'screen readers' speak the screen contents and allow keyboard only control. The BBC's 'my web, my way' www.bbc.co.uk/accessibility clearly explains the options. It expands on AbilityNet's 'my computer my way' website abilitynet.org.uk/myway.


Windows comes with 2 programs that are great for practicing basic mouse and keyboard skills. Solitaire is card game that uses click, double click and drag mouse operations and can be found under games in the start menu. Wordpad is a basic word processor available under Utilities which lets you practice typing and playing with text. It is also ideal for creating simple documents like letters or round robins. You can find out more about each program in their 'help' menu items.

1-on-1 sessions with a volunteer

You can book sessions with a volunteer who will be able to help refresh your memory or answer any questions you might have. Call Age Concern Exeter' on 01392 202092 for details.

Local Courses

Several providers run local courses at various levels. Some are subsidised and low cost. See the local paper for details.

Online Guides and Courses

Digital Unite have a range of mini guides which cover the basics of using mouse and keyboard and others are for more advanced skills. You can also send questions about the guides to their tutors.

Alison.com offer a wide range of free online courses that you can study at your own pace. The basics tutorial, e-Citizen and touch typing courses are a good place to start. You need only fill in a simple form and follow the clear instructions in order to register an account and start using these courses. You will need an email address.

If you attended the 'Continuing Beginners' where you were awarded a Level 2 Bronze Ingot certificate you may be interested in the additional learning resources available on The Ingots website in the Courses section.


There are a number of books written especially with the older computer and internet user in mind.

Free use of computers

Local libraries usually provide free access to the internet.

Getting advice on buying a computer

Look for impartial advice that you can trust and is not too technical. One possibility is Computing Which and your local Reference Library will keep copies. Some of the popular computing magazines have 'buyer's guides', both in the paper issues and on their web sites. These days a basic entry level machine is quite suitable for using documents, web, email, photos, music and videos. Many suppliers also offer Windows XP as an alternative to the newer Windows Vista.

A note on printers and ink

Printers can be bought for very little money these days but it is worth bearing in mind that the manufacturer's make a large part of their profits from the sale of ink. While the branded manufacturer's own ink can be very expensive it is possible to buy generic 'compatable' ink for a lot less. However compatible ink may not be available for all makes of printer and prices vary (as you can see on the MX2.co.uk website).

Free and Open Source software

There are a number of high quality and well established programs available for no cost, something that is useful when trying to make a pension stretch. Software that is called Open Source is created by communities of companies and volunteers who give the software away and make money from related services. Open Source offers several benefits over software that is just 'free' and by choosing well known programs you can be assured of quality and security as well as having access to the help and advice provided by the community. You can download these programs from the internet and are free to pass copies on to families and friends. You are positively encouraged to provide feed back or otherwise contribute.

Here are some of the most useful and best known Open Source programs:

Which now have some information about Open Source and free downloads on their website and TheOpenDisc.com is a collection of some of the best Open Source programs which can be downloaded and burned onto a CD (or you can get someone to do it for you). You can also easily create a USB Memory Stick full of programs with a download from EduApps.

Getting an email address

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who give you access to the Internet also provide free email facilities that include an email address. You can also use free web mail services like Google mail (mail.google.com), Yahoo mail (uk.mail.yahoo.com) and Hot Mail (hotmail.msn.com).

A note on Internet Security

As with 'real life' there are some people on the Internet who enjoy making the lives of others difficult. You may have to deal with junk email (called spam) and nasty programs called viruses or spyware. Spam can be dealt with by the filters' found in email programs. Viruses can be kept at bay, and often dispatched, with virus guard programs which can check emails and web pages as you visit them or hunt for viruses when you scan your system. Firefox 3 offers features that help keep you safe when browsing the web.

However the only sure protection is to be constantly vigilant and never click on anything suspicous or open something from someone you don't know or trust. Banks never ask you to re-enter details of your account (except for a username and password for log on). Such a request is certainly someone trying to get your bank account details out of you (so called Phishing).

There are a number of free protection programs available such as AVG, Avast and online scanners like Trend's HouseCall.


The notes and suggestions here are the personal opionions of Steve Lee and do not necessarily reflect those of Age Concern Exeter or others involved in the course. We take no responsibility for the consequences of error or for any loss or damage suffered by users of any of the information.
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Age Concern Next Steps for beginners by Steve Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.