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Page Turners – The Alternative

pageturner

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Reading books can be an enjoyable pastime and one enjoyed by most people. Though what happens if you can’t physically turn the pages due to your disability? This article explains how this can be achieved as well as cutting the huge costs by using computer technology.

A history lesson

For some years now, there have been mechanical page turners, intricately designed mechanical devices that turn the page forward and back so that you can progress through your favourite tome.

These mechanical page turners activate through pressing 2 switches, one for turning a page forward and another for turning back a page. They use either rollers (similar to a page feed in a printer) or an air sucking method to grab a single page and once grabbed, an arm will swipe back or forth to turn the page with clamps to re-secure the pages.

They are nifty looking devices that wouldn’t look out-of-place on a miniature car manufacturing assembly line. However, the price is a hefty one. Prices start from £2,390 (£2,868 including VAT) to a bold £4,500 (£5,400 including VAT). As these devices are aimed at the disability market, individuals buying these devices should be able to buy them without paying the VAT, however, the price is almost that of science fiction.

Is there a cheaper alternative?

We like to bring you good news and here it is – technology has come to the rescue.

You may see people travelling around with thin, handheld devices that go under the heading of eBook readers, such as the Kindle. These are devices that store books electronically and allow you to read the pages of the book on their screen, as well as making the screen sepia in appearance to help give the screen a paper-like appearance. So far, so good, however, this doesn’t give us a solution as these devices have buttons on them that are probably not very accessible to most with fine and gross motor difficulties and the screens tend to be the size of a standard paperback page.

The answer to the solution comes closer with the eBook software being openly available (for free) for the PC as a download. Now the way you turn a page is transferred to the pressing of a key or key combination on the keyboard.

Now, if we bring in our switches (the same type of switches used with the mechanical page turners) at around £30 each, plug them into a switch interface that are priced between £50 to £95 (depending on the number of switches supported) and assign the switch actions to the key presses and keyboard combinations within the switch interface software we are there.

Too much information?

OK, that last paragraph may seem a bit on the heavy side, so I shall translate it into English. When you buy a switch interface (a box that you plug your switches into, that then plugs into your computer, into one of its USB sockets), a program will be included that allows you to set what the pressing of the switch emulates. An example would be setting the one switch to emulate the space bar being pressed so that when you press the switch, the computer thinks you have pressed the space bar on your keyboard and acts accordingly.

So, let’s take the Kindle software as an example. The Kindle software uses the following keyboard keys:

Turn a page forward = Right Arrow Key

Turn a page back = Left Arrow Key

From within the software that came with the switch interface, assign switch 1 (let’s say it is a red coloured switch) to emulate the Right Arrow Key and switch 2 (let’s say a yellow coloured switch) to Left Arrow Key.

Start the Kindle program on the PC and open a book that has been downloaded and you can now turn a page forward by pressing the red switch and turn a back a page by pressing the yellow switch.

Having more independence

We now have an eBook reader that can be used with switches, though you may have noticed something in the last paragraph, the part where I mentioned start the Kindle software and open the book? Many switch interfaces support more than 2 switches, for example, the Crick switch interface supports up to 4 switches and the Inclusive Multi-switch supporting up to 6 switches. So why stop at just turning pages as the page turners do? Let’s go one step beyond.

Why not bring in a third and fourth switch and assign switch 3 (let’s say a blue switch) to emulate the Enter key on the keyboard and switch number 4 (let’s say a green switch) to emulate the keyboard combination Ctrl and W, remember me mentioning that keyboard combinations are possible as well?

The Kindle software has 2 main screens that you will see, one screen showing your library of books that you have downloaded and the other screen showing the book’s pages for reading the book itself. Whilst in the Library screen, you can toggle between your books using the right and left arrow keys on your keyboard and then open the selected book by pressing the Enter key. When you are viewing the reading window, you can close the book and return to the library page by pressing Ctrl and W keys.

We now have a better solution than that offered by using a page turner, as a page turner device can only turn pages, it can’t select another book and mount it within itself ready to read.

How do I get hold of the books in the first place?

If you have an Internet connection, you can download the books from the Amazon site (for the Kindle). If the book is over 70 years old after the year of the author’s death, then the book is deemed to be out of copyright. Books out of copyright can be downloaded for free. This includes many famous titles from authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen (I have just finished reading A Tale Of Two Cities on my Kindle software and it cost me nothing).

Other books that are in copyright are often priced lower than the printed version as there are no printing costs involved.

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