Paralysed and using an Amateur Radio
I am pretty much paralysed from the neck down. I say pretty much as I just able to rotate my left wrist just enough to press a microswitch. I was hoping this was enough to be able to operate an Amateur Radio.
For those that don’t know an Amateur Radio is one you can transmit with, thus allowing you to speak to other people. Similar to the Citizens since Band Radio but with far more capabilities. Such as being able to speak to people hundreds of miles away. I have also found because of the exam requirement there are far less idiots on the air. I have made that comment because conversations I’ve heard on Citizens Band have been rather unsavoury.
HAM radio as it is also known requires that the user be licensed. To get this licence you need to pass an exam. Don’t worry it is nothing major, it’s well worth the effort.
In the UK the exam consists of a couple of practical tasks and a multiple choice exam. As I’ve mentioned above I’m paralysed so unable to attempt the practical stuff. I must admit at first I was worried about this. I contacted my local amateur radio group via email. I explained my situation to a really friendly guy called John. He contacted the powers that be and told me that I did not need to do the practical exams.
Due to my disability I do not leave the house very often. This meant that attending the local radio club wasn’t very easy. So the examiners even came to my house so that I could take the exam. To say that I was happy was a bit of an understatement.
After a week or two revising I passed the Foundation Exam. There is loads of free information out there to help you do this. All you need to do is do is search on your favourite search engine. I would recommend starting with your local amateur radio club.
The next challenge was to be able to physically control the radio. If you have read my other posts you will know that I control my PC via voice. I Then researched which amateur radios could be used via software. After a lot of reading I selected the Yaesu 857D. This radio is also referred to as a shack in a box. This is because it is a fully featured radio covering most of the bands (frequencies) and modes (AM, FM, Digital and SSB).
There are a few applications out there that allow you to use this radio via your PC.
I control the computer with my voice using the software Dragon NaturallySpeaking, also known as DragonDictate. It has honestly liberated my life as I can now use a PC the same as anybody else.
After a lot of testing I selected the HAM Radio Deluxe software to control my radio. There is a free version and a paid-for version. I liked it so much that I actually purchased the software. This has the advantage of more features and better support.
So what can I do on my radio?
As the heading suggests I can have a conversation with someone. Depending on the frequency and propagation that person could be 2 miles away or 5000 miles away. It can get quite addictive trying to see how many countries and how far you can actually get. At the time of writing this, I have spoken to over 30 countries and covered thousands of miles. I’ve made quite a few good friends, some down the road and some on other continents.
Depending on your radio it also opens up a whole new world of listening. For instance, I listen to the security guards at my local shopping centre. This can be a source of great entertainment! I also listen to various marine traffic in the Northsea. There are many websites dedicated to what is out there to tune into.
This mode enables you to send text or pictures to other people. It is kind of like text messaging but again with far more bells and whistles. This mode is fantastic for me as I can get all my messages ready in advance. For example, if a person is in Italy I send them a nice message in Italian. I’ve been to Italy many times and really like the country. I also can’t resist mentioning Formula One to them.
There is a new digital mode called F8 and it has become the most popular way to communicate. I love it because it’s easy to use and enables you to be heard thousands of miles away. I am in the UK and I’ve had a chat with someone in Australia. That’s more than 10,000 miles using the power of a 40 Watt light bulb. Which is pretty awesome!
I have already taken my second exam and now have an intermediate licence. This gives me more transmit power, think of it as going to volume 11 🙂 However, this isn’t really required as the first licence gives you plenty of capabilities.
I would like to encourage other disabled people to get involved with amateur radio. It is a great way of liberating yourself from the shackles of your environment!
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