What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Keyboarding Thoughts and Resources

This posting includes thoughts and resources regarding:
  1. Keyboarding Skills
  2. Teaching Strategies
  3. Ideas to Generate More Writing
  4. Language-based Approach
  5. Single Hand Typing
  6. Keyboard alternatives
  7. Keyboard Considerations

Let’s Talk About Keyboarding Skills
© 1997 Miriam Struck, MA, OTR/L

"I am often asked for recommendations for software to teach keyboarding skills or when to start. The questions seem to center on the what to use rather than the why. The reason to have basic keyboarding skills is to have a means of communication and basic computer operating skills. Literacy skills are necessary for participation in our society. Keyboarding skills can be an effective tool to both teach literacy skills and to learn it. It is important to differentiate between touch typing and keyboarding. These terms are used interchangeably but mean different things.

Those of you who took typing in high school back in the days of typewriters may remember the emphasis on not looking at the keyboard, but keeping your eyes on the text you were copying, and finger placement on the home row keys. This was called touch typing. Business classes did not place much emphasis on composing text on the typewriter. Keyboarding skills for operating a computer keyboard and can include touch typing, but for most of our clients with disabilities, it means functional use and does not have to be as sophisticated and refined. Keyboarding requires attention, motivation, motor speed and accuracy, visual discrimination and processing, and basic academic skills in letter recognition, the potential for or basic level of spelling skills, and potential or basic level of written language skills.

In my experience, motivation is often the key to success. The individual who is excited about using the keyboard to generate text will become a successful user of the computer. These are the same skills needed for handwriting. From a motor standpoint, the two require different movement patterns. Keyboarding may simplify the motor process for some individuals making it easier to generate text. Functional keyboarding can take the form of one hand, one finger, two hands one finger or more, or adaptations such as a mouth stick, head pointer, and software modifications. Keyboarding can be taught from a mechanical basis or literacy basis. It is the latter, in my experience, that works best.

Using the keyboard becomes more meaningful when it is tied to making words. While traditional drill and practice materials using home row keys eventually move on to words, it takes a long time in the view of many students with disabilities I have worked with over the years.

I typically evaluate students for keyboarding skills by calling out letters and observing their response. Can they find the key by scanning? Do they have some notion where the key is? Which hand and finger(s) did they tend to use? I also ask students to type the alphabet from memory and then some words at their reading level. As students are able to generate text that is meaningful to them and relates to the curriculum, the proficiency, and ease of keyboarding increases.

Students can begin learning to type by copying words on cards. Every attempt is made to use spelling words or words at their reading level. From single words, students move on to sentences and paragraphs again using curriculum materials as much as possible. Carry over of skills in all situations and teaming with teachers is so important. It may mean some changes attitudes and beliefs to assure that the student gets to use the skill within the context of his her academic day.

It is expected that the student will hand write during certain tasks. Why can’t he or she exchange handwriting for keyboarding? Sometimes the student is limited to using the computer by the way it is used in the classroom. Some teachers still view the computer as a copier of text. So the student may be expected to hand write a draft, check the spelling using the dictionary and red pen to correct, edit, and then type it on a computer. For students with disabilities, it is critical to eliminate all these steps and go straight to composing on the computer. Having functional keyboarding skills will allow students to show what they know."

According to Wikipedia regarding typing speed:
"In one study of average computer users in 1998, the average rate for transcription was 33 words per minute and 19 words per minute for composition.[2] In the same study, when the group was divided into "fast," "moderate," and "slow" groups, the average speeds were 40 wpm, 35 wpm, and 23 wpm, respectively.[3] An average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm, while some positions can require 80 to 95 (usually the minimum required for dispatch positions and other time-sensitive typing jobs), and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm.[4] Two-finger typists, sometimes also referred to as "hunt and peck" typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorized text and 27 wpm when copying text, but in bursts may be able to reach speeds of 60 to 70 wpm.[3] From the 1920s through the 1970s, typing speed (along with shorthand speed) was an important secretarial qualification and typing contests were popular and often publicized by typewriter companies as promotional tools." and, "The average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute for memorized text and 22 words per minute while copying.[18]"

Touch Typing vs. Hunt-and-Peck (hnp):
People are really beginning to wonder if Touch Typing is needed. It is not being taught in schools any longer.  One reason is because students are being exposed to the keyboard at such a young age, they have already begun to develop their own typing strategies and that motor-planning has already been set. Some elementary teachers are still teaching their students' touch-typing skills and some elementary schools have site licenses for programs, but many teachers are finding that students may be using those skills when practicing on a program but are not carrying these strategies over to their day-to-day typing. AppsLab Blog has a great conversation going on about this. If you are interested, you may want to check it out.

Teaching Strategies:
Consider what the goal of the writing/keyboarding task is.  If the goal is getting the ideas on paper, the most efficient method can be used, not worrying about finger placement, looking at the keys, etc.  Do try to get your students to at least try to use the right hand on the right side and the left hand on the left, thumbs for the space bar. This will help to speed up the process. If the goal of the task is keyboard practice, the use of the correct fingers (providing there is adequate finger isolation) should be used.
  • Shared Keyboard Conversation - Double up on a computer with a friend and stop talking. No talking allowed. Use the keyboard and any word processing software to have a conversation on the screen. Make a few basic rules before you start: No talking, don’t worry about mistakes and fixing them, don’t write more than a few lines at a time, etc. It’s a great way to make clear the power of using voice as a generator for writing.
  • Shared Keyboard Conversation with portable word processors(PWP) - Try the same exercise as above except with PWPs. Change the rules to reflect the PWPs smaller screen: only type 1 line of text or slightly more at a time.
  • Round-Robin Story Writing (and reading) - On a computer or a PWP, have students start a story (anything they like). Give them anything from two to five minutes to work on it (depending on their writing and keyboarding abilities). Then, tell them to stop in mid-sentence and move one computer to the right (or left), read the story on that machine and continue it. Repeat this until the students are one short of a complete circuit. Then, have them finish the story in front of them. Have them return to their starting machine and read the entire story (to themselves). If appropriate, have a random student read the story on his/her machine aloud. Or, have each student read aloud. Warning: reading aloud is hard for some students; don’t make this a requirement.
  • Journal Writing - Encourage students to keep a journal which you will never look at. Give them some guidelines: there ought to be an entry for every day, even if it’s just: “I didn’t do anything today except watch TV and I watched (whatever).” Keeping a journal is a good way to get a bit of personal writing done every day that you actually keep for yourself. It’s also a good way to do some thinking about the hard questions without sharing with others.
  • E-mail, e-mail, and more e-mail - Kids love to talk, write notes, and socialize. Why not capitalize on it. It is always fun to get mail. Try some of the ePal websites to encourage writing through e-mail: www.epals.com

Education World has an article about Teaching Keyboarding, When? Why? How?  The Department of Education in Utah has an informative keyboarding website. It includes keyboarding standards for students at grade levels K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. Educators and Occupational Therapists worked together on the development of these as well as the keyboard assessment, parent information and other content on keyboarding at the site.

Other Ideas to Generate More Writing and/or Typing:
  1. Make whatever you are writing or your students are writing meaningful.
  2. Take the emphasis off of skills, put it on content.
  3. Write every day.
  4. Make writing incidental; write all the time, not just when you have a formal paper due.
  5. Make writing fun: choose writing tasks that are enjoyable.
  6. Experiment to find appropriate tools.
  7. Accept messes. Thinking and writing is a messy process and even when you’re good at it the messes never go away.

Language-Based Approach:
Another approach to consider is language based keyboard instruction. The quick basics of these methods are:
  • exaggerated tactile bumps on keys to facilitate maintaining 'home row' finger position
  • emphasis on the finger/key connections and patterns
  • letters taught alphabetically (less need for rote memorization)
  • real words or parts of words used (more reality-based, and again pattern-based)
3 language based curricula include:
Portable Word Processors have keyboarding programs built into the devices and are worth exploring.

Single Hand Typing
Do you or someone you know need to make decisions about the best approach for typing with one hand? If so, I strongly suggest you do some research at the following site: www.aboutonehandtyping.com

Ms. Walters writes: "I am a one handed typist. I lost most of my left hand in an accident when I was 10. Today I type 40 -80 wpm on a normal keyboard. I am also the author of 13 books, all of which I typed myself."

Working with children in schools, I can tell you that the following are considerations that need to be discussed:
  • Has the student tried the least restrictive method of using a traditional keyboard and found it to not be successful?
  • Does the student need to access more than one computer in their day? If so, would they want to carry around a one-handed keyboard and set it up in each setting when they need to type or access a computer?
  • Would they also need to use the same keyboard in the home setting, therefore, need to take it back and forth each day?
  • Does it matter to the student if their keyboard looks different than their peers?
Lilly Walters has developed a One-hand Typing Tutor that you can try for free. It is designed to use with both kids and with adults. This is designed to be used with a traditional keyboard.

It is a good idea to try to go with one-handed typing on a standard keyboard as opposed to using a 'one handed' keyboard.  This will allow the typist to use any computer in various locations with a greater ease.  The next least restrictive option would be to change the keyboard layout to DVORAK keyboard wherein the accessibility options you can change the keyboard for either a left or right-handed typist then just put keyboard labels on the keyboard.  Lastly, consider a one-handed keyboard as it is most restrictive.

This is not a free program, but one worth knowing about... a very specialized keyboarding instruction site which is geared specifically to which fingers the individual can use Typing for the Physically Disabled.

If desired, there is a typing program, Five Finger Typist, that is designed for one hand typing. Five Finger Typist information and purchasing is also available on www.typeonehand.com

Doorway Online is a free, simple one-handed typing program.  No bells and whistles. Just very straightforward program.

Some programs, such as Rapid Typing are not necessarily designed for one-handed typing but may have a left and right handed options as lessons can be customized by importing text docs.  

Single Handed Typing - This activity will guide a person who is effectively single handed user through learning an efficient typing method. It is important that users, their family or support staff reads the documentation. There are layout diagrams for both left handed and right handed schemes here: left-hand layout, right-hand layout. We are grateful to the RS MacDonald Charitable Trust for funding the development of this activity.

One Handed Typing Training is an online typing tutor for both one handed and two handed typists. TypingTraining will teach how to type effectively on a standard keyboard. Learning how to type on a standard keyboard allows you to use any computer, anywhere, without needing specialized equipment.The website includes specialized exercises, tutorials, and training modules specifically meant for both left-handed and right-handed typists. The website recognizes that some keys are harder to reach than others, and allows you to focus on the keys and skill areas that need the most work.

A wonderful video is a very helpful video about all of the variables associated with one-handed keyboarding programs and the alternatives. It is provided by a young man with personal experience. This is great to share with your student: One Handed Typing Options 

TypingClub has developed their One-Hand Typing Guides in their typing program. Students can configure the hand guides by clicking the “Settings” icon located at the top-right corner of the screen. The hand guides will reflect their choice, and show them how to type each character. Sticky Keys must be turned on in order to use this feature. When using Sticky Keys, you can press the shift key and have it remain active until another key is pressed. This function is designed for individuals that have trouble pressing two keys at once. There is a link to more information about activating Sticky Keys in the student settings menu.

Typio is an "accessible typing tutor which makes typing as easy to teach as it is to learn. Typio is equipped with guided instruction through the entire keyboard, customizable practice lessons, individual student record keeping and fun sound effects. A simple and customizable interface creates a distraction-free learning environment for students of all need levels. It is highly-visual and entirely audible. Typio provides complete accessibility without being complicated."  There is a demo version to try before you buy. 
You will probably find that the best results will happen when the student has been allowed to take the lead on their typing method, even if it is completely unique to them.  Not that the guidance of a one-handed method wouldn't be helpful, but once the student figures out the best way for their hand to reach a letter, motor planning seems to just kick in.

Keyboard Options
  • The Android operating system has Swipe which is a functional one-handed keyboarding option.  (Please note that there is an app that claims to function in an apple system, but it only allows the user to 'swipe' in their program and does not support any other applications.)
  • Fleksy is an iPad app which is a keyboard app that uses predictive text technology designed for blind and visually impaired users. There is a free version that with one hand will work well as long as you know the keys on the keyboard. The swiping does take some adjusting to but could become a faster method for typing if practiced. The free version basically allows you to practice with the app, but the full version for $4.99 will allow you to use the Fleksy keyboard for messaging/texting, notes and on the Internet.
  • The Matias one-handed keyboard will work with the iPad. You would connect the USB to a camera converter for the iPad and then to the keyboard.

Keyboard Considerations
There are a variety of needs to take into consideration when deciding on the right keyboard. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
  • Which keyboard should you use? First, ask yourself: what my goals are for the use of the keyboard? Is it comfort, speed, accuracy or a need unique to the user?
  • Is the user used to QWERTY (traditional key placement)? If not, we might want to explore other options. If they are already used to using a QWERTY keyboard or if you think they will be using many keyboards in life- might be best to stick with this.
  • Does the user actually need a traditional keyboard or is a virtual keyboard a possibility?
  • Will a keyguard be needed?
  • Is vision/contrast and/or key size a consideration?
  • Will they be using numbers quite often? If so, you may want to be sure your keyboard includes a number pad.
Ability Hub has keyboards broken down by need. This will provide some of the options available.

Final thoughts about learning to keyboard:
You can help by making it relaxed. Making it fun. If you choose to integrate drill and find it important to a specific child, don’t make it drill and kill. Alternate between drill and let’s write! Do 10 minutes of drill and 15 minutes of writing. Watch for stress. Make it shorter if you feel it is too much time and provide longer times if you find them enjoying it. The main thing is to not make it a negative adventure, but stress the power one can have if they know how to type. The faster they type, the more they can say!!