The Mercies of Technology



As I shared in an earlier post, Priscilla’s computer crashed in August 2011 and God provided funds in a remarkable way to replace it.  This “forced upgrade” turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  As Priscilla’s disease progressed, the new computer’s updated hardware and software offered her much assistance that wouldn’t have been available with the old one.

For example, it came with a finger-tracking bluetooth mouse, instead of one that she had to lift and move by hand and that was tethered to the computer by a cord, limiting the distance at which it could be used. Once we got the power wheelchair, we found that it didn’t fit under her desk the way the manual chair had. But she could still sit close enough to the desk, with the bluetooth mouse on a mousepad on her lap, to use the computer much as she always had. Even when she could no longer have lifted and moved the old mouse, the finger-tracking feature of the new one kept her in business.

Apple also built an enhanced dictation feature into its newer operating systems. This allowed Priscilla to dictate rather than type most of the material in her emails. When the feature didn’t quite hear her correctly, she could use the mouse to select the misspelled word and fix it using an on-screen keyboard.

By the fall of 2014, Priscilla’s voice was becoming fainter because of lung weakness, and the dictation feature was having increasing difficulty understanding her. So we looked around for a good external microphone that we could connect to the computer via a USB port. We identified a studio-quality one that we thought would work well and we ordered it. The next day, we received an unexpected gift for almost exactly the price we’d paid.

When the microphone arrived, Priscilla tried it out and exclaimed, “It didn’t make any mistakes!” We were encouraged to think that God still had a purpose for her to offer her support and counsel to friends literally around the world via email, well into her disease progression.  (These days I sit at the same desk and use the same microphone that Priscilla used to dictate her emails to record the audio versions of these posts.)

Our 2014 Christmas letter included this picture of Priscilla's desktop, with seasonal arrangement and external microphone.
Our 2014 Christmas letter included this picture of Priscilla’s desktop, with a seasonal arrangement sent by friends and the external microphone for dictation at the computer.

But I wanted to see whether I could help her keep using the computer for more than email. I got myself up to speed on Apple Script and was able to write a short program to get Firefox (our preferred browser, which was not from Apple and so not automatically “speakable”) to take her, upon spoken command, to Google. Now Priscilla could do Internet searches by dictating the search terms.

So what about Facebook? Priscilla liked keeping up with people’s lives that way. One night I had a conceptual breakthrough. I realized how I might generate a URL that would take me to the Facebook login page with the email already filled in.  All I had to do was “hack into” the 400-character prefabricated URL they often sent me as a link, for example, to view a follow-up comment on a thread I’d posted to. I was able to pull out the right 100 or so of these characters and create the desired URL. I plugged it into an Apple Script program that would tab to the next field and type in the password upon the spoken command “Log In to Facebook.” Priscilla loved having such commands at her disposal. Technology was mercifully enriching her quality of life.  And though I was doing only the most rudimentary kind of programming, I still felt like a mad scientist.

Amy Carmichael writes in Rose From Brier that sometimes a person who’s an invalid simply wants relief from their situation, and that “there is nothing that can so quickly give this release as a book that takes me out of my own life into the lives of others.” Priscilla found this to be true and was an avid reader throughout her illness.

At first she’d hold a book on her lap and turn the pages herself. When her arms and hands became too weak to do this, she switched to listening to audio books on CD. She had a small CD player that she used with earphones. When she could no longer open and close the player to change CDs, she started using a tablet, the gift of a friend, to listen to MP3 audios with apps such as Audible, Hoopla, and LibriVox. And when she could no longer use this tablet, I would cue up the book for her on the Internet site of one of those services and run a long “mini-to-mini” cord from the computer’s line-out port across the room to her “day bed” and plug it in to her headphones.

In these various ways she read, or listened to, at least one book a week, often more, during the last three years of her illness, meaning at least 150 in all. Some of these were more “popular” works such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  But since I’d been a literature major in college, she also asked me to recommend some classics for her to catch up on. She listened to works by authors such as Dumas, Hugo, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and James Fenimore Cooper.  When she found an author she liked, she’d listen to everything they’d written that was available to her on audio.  (All five of The Leatherstocking Tales, for example—four more than I’ve read!)  Thanks once again to merciful technology, she was able to keep pursuing her education even when she could barely move.

One thought on “The Mercies of Technology”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: