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 Programs

There are many internet programs that are free and worth exploring. Some are great- sequential, well thought out, include finger placement and some are just plain fun. Many in the special needs population do not need finger placement graphics and in fact, that may create stress, so be sure to take this into consideration. Also, fun is important!! Let them choose. The main thing is familiarity and comfort. 10-15 minutes a day is plenty (unless they want to do more.) 

But, will our students who struggle with fine motor do better with typing? Many were taught touch typing, which is memorizing the place of each key and the finger that should strike it, so that eventually we could type without looking. We placed our fingers on “home row,” then did meaningless drills, such as using our right index finger to hit “j” repeatedly. "Touch typing is still the gold standard for keyboarding instruction, but for children with fine-motor problems, it’s a recipe for failure," says Cynthia Tam, occupational therapist at Bloorview. To read more about this thinking, visit, "Does your Child Struggle with Keyboarding?" Based on their findings, a team of Bloorview occupational therapists and rehab engineers developed an interactive, game-based typing program that focuses on getting kids to type functional words rather than practice letter combinations using all 10 fingers. “We try to use high-frequency words so that they become automatic at typing those words,” Mays says. “And the games are interactive – they’re typing something to get the computer to do something, so it’s engaging.”

See more Keyboarding Thoughts and Resources posting for more information. This posting is for free typing programs only. 

The other side of the story to consider:
By Richard Wanderman, a well known educational consultant, presenter, and successful LD adult who lives in Warren, Connecticut:

"One problem with using a game or some other “side-show” to get kids into typing practice is that it may, for some, increase the cognitive load: you have to know how to play the game to have it be a motivating part of the experience.

I’m only commenting from personal experience: I had and continue to have a hard time with some game rule sets and for me, folding that difficulty into another learning experience would be problematic.

So, in short, maybe assuming that the motivation provided by a game will be useful depends on the student finding the game accessible and then, of course, motivating to use the software and actually do some keyboarding practice.

For this reason, I continue to recommend Type to Learn on computers and KeyWords (keyboarding program built in) on the AlphaSmart (portable word processor) as they’re quite stripped down in the “external motivation” department.

In the end, of course, it matters less what you use to learn to type than that you actually learn to type. Once it’s automated and part of your approach to writing the learning part falls away.

I used a little program called Typing Intrigue which had a game built in. I ignored the game for the most part and just did the drills and played a game where I’d have to hit a key to stop a falling letter from hitting the bottom of my screen (Tetris-like). This game, while dull by comparison to some was enough for me. Mindless yet good practice."

Top 5 Free Typing Programs:
  • Dance Mat Typing is a colorful, interactive website that teaches touch typing. There are 4 levels divided into 3 stages; Level 1 being the easiest and gradually increasing in difficulty. In each level and stage, new animal characters will teach about the different rows and keys on the keyboard. After completion of each lesson, there is a reward with entertaining songs and dance. Dance Mat Typing also provides worksheets that teachers can use in the classroom for offline keyboarding practice.
  • E-Learning for Kids Keyboarding Skills is an interactive typing tutor where you participate in the Type-E-Chi Virtual Typing Tournament. In this tournament, you will earn medals and trophies as you move through the Bronze, Gold, and Silver arenas all while learning to type. The Type-E-Chi Tournament contains 10 interactive typing games that can be unlocked by moving through each of the different arenas. If you successfully complete all of the arenas and games, you will win a certificate and become a Type-E-Chi Grandmaster.
  • Glencoe's Online Keyboarding by McGraw-Hill- Glencoe's Online Keyboarding is an online typing tutor for children or adults that is divided into 16 individual typing lessons ranging from Home Keys and Spacebar to Symbols. Each lesson on this free typing program for children includes a demonstration movie, typing exercises, a drill, and a printable lesson report to show completion of the lesson. This site would be great for students who need to turn in a record of their completion of a lesson. 
  • PowerTyping.com is an online typing tutor for children or adults that includes 13 timed typing lessons for both QWERTY and DVORAK keyboards. A words-per-minute goal can be set for each lesson, and most lessons include a radio player at the bottom to encourage a rhythmic pattern while typing. Power Typing  also includes a series of 5 typing games to make learning to type more exciting. 
  • Kiran's Typing Tutor Software is a free keyboarding program for children and adults that includes more than 500 typing lessons, practice, and tests. Each lesson calculates and shows the accuracy, words-per-minute, keys-per-minute, as well as typing speed and errors for each letter. Kiran's Typing Tutor includes a module specifically for children that include 5 lessons: Capitals, Numbers, Small Letters, Colors, and Words. There is also a section that includes four different typing games. The program settings are customizable, and it also supports multiple users, which makes this free typing program for children ideal for the classroom.
A Variety of Free Internet Programs: (Just because sometimes it is nice to have a variety and some may like one more than another.)
  • Advanced Speed Typing is designed to help typists at all levels. From beginner to advanced. It runs on most versions of Windows and works on most networks.  
  • On the Custom Typing site, lessons will help you learn finger placement and proper touch typing technique. Offers hundreds of typing tests and exercises, as well as reporting features to allow you to track your progress. They just added one handed keyboarding to their typing training web site. The special needs section also has comprehensive features for evaluating students with different input methods and providing detailed reports with comparison graphs etc. You can get a month trial to see if it meets your needs.
  • LearnToType is sensitive to the way you learn. The course is automatically adjusted according to your learning rate and it generates remedial training exercises specifically for you. Their TypingWeb is a free online typing tutor & keyboarding tutorial for typists of all skill levels. TypingWeb includes entertaining typing games, typing tests, and free official typing certification.
  • Key BR provides a good visual program that shows the keyboard, provides a letter to type and where to find the key. Beat your own time as it keeps track of your errors. Very straight forward program.
  • Typing Test; FREE Typing tutor at Learn 2 Type for Kids - this Web site that helps kids master the skills of touch typing. The interactive exercises in this Kids Typing Tutor automatically adjust to your child’s skill level. The better they get, the more challenging the Typing exercises become.
  • Nimble Fingers typing program feature the “Little Professor” as your private instructor. He introduces the keys one at a time, analyzes errors, offers suggestions, and may even send you back to the classroom. The program contains an interesting keyboard and numeric pad exercises, timed writings and flash cards to develop your typing ability.
  • Rapid Typing provides a download of their program that offers several components: Full courses for Beginner, Advanced and Expert typists, Virtual Keyboard: Qwerty, Dvorak, ABNT, Bepo, Colemak..Moving Hands, Progress Tracking: WPM, CPM, Accuracy, Delay.. Lesson editor, and Numeric pad lessons
  • Read, Write and Type, from Talking Fingers (previously published by The Learning Company), are a combination program, merging the teaching of phonics-based reading skills with an introduction to typing.
  • Sense-Lang.org offers a typing program, on-line tutor including typing on a DVORAK keyboard. This is a free program with 15 lessons. It will time you and provide an auditory clue if your typing is not correct. It will also provide some statistics. Pretty straight forward.
  • Sunburst provides 30-day trials of Type-to-Learn 3, Type to Learn Jr. New Keys For Kids, and Type-to-Learn Assessment.
  • Talking Fingers- For little folks you might want to consider Read, Write and Type which work with some phonemic awareness. "The Talking Fingers approach is based on a simple idea: text is speech made visible! We use our mouths to talk, to make the sounds of words. We use our fingers (with a pencil or keyboard) to represent those sounds on paper. When children learn to link speech sounds with letters, they can use the alphabet code to write any word they can say. Their fingers are "talking"!
  • Talk Type Tutor is a PC Talking Typing Tutor is designed for people with disabilities. It teaches touch typing skills using speech and text instructions. There are14 Lessons to learn the keys on the QWERTY computer keyboard. Practice typing skills by typing letters, words and sentences.
  • Talking Text Type activity has been specifically designed for those users with a visual impairment who also need speech feedback to access the exercises. When using the Practice Keyboard with Speech, the name of the key pressed is spoken. In the Talking Exercises, the user is prompted by speech to type each letter and hears spoken feedback for each key pressed.
  • Text Type is a complete touch typing course suitable for all ages. Exercises start with the home keys and progress to typing sentences. Customizable options allow this activity to be used by learners with a visual impairment.Talking Text Type activity has been specifically designed for those users with a visual impairment who also need speech feedback to access the exercises. When using the Practice Keyboard with Speech, the name of the key pressed is spoken. In the Talking Exercises, the user is prompted by speech to type each letter and hears spoken feedback for each key pressed.
  • TuxType (by the same company as TuxPaint) is an educational typing tutor for kids starring Tux, the Linux penguin. This educational game comes with two different games for practicing your typing, and having a great time doing it. This can be downloaded onto your computer so Internet access is not required.
  • Typing Club doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles (or distractions). There is no pressure to go at any speed other than your own and it seems to address the keys in a motorically sensible sequence. Free, of course. Just letters, so automatic letter recognition would be really helpful, but no need for reading and/or decoding.
  • On Typing Lessons you'll find a set of free online typing lessons and typing exercises for beginning typists, and frustrated hunt-and-peckers who want to move from four-finger typing to full-blown touch typing.
  • Typing Tutor program helps you improving your typing skills by playing a simple game: characters are falling down the screen; you have to stop them before they reach the ground by pressing the corresponding key on the keyboard.
  • Typing Web tracks students' progress and can be accessed from any location with internet. It is a free online program for typists of all skill levels which includes typing games, typing tests, and a free official typing certification. TypingWeb's Teacher Portal provides all the necessary tools to report on, grade, and manage your students
  • Typio is a program that lets you program the words the student needs to type, i.e., a weekly spelling list or vocabulary words, etc. It is very easy to customize.
For Fun Typing Programs (for those students who are young or are needing a high interest approach):
  • Air Typer lets you practice keyboarding skills by typing the words on the oncoming planes to make them disappear.
  • Al Bunny's Typing Class, though by nature is a typing tutor problem, is designed to be as interesting as a game. For most people, the greatest difficulty they might encounter in learning to type is to to figure out which finger they should use to press which key without looking at the keyboard. People usually have to switch their attention back and forth between the monitor screen and keyboard. This makes the learning process inefficient and painful. Some software publishers have created enjoyable typing tutors in the form of a game. But none of them could make learning to type so quick, efficient, and enjoyable as Al Bunny's Typing Class does.
  • Game Format: The "Bubbles Typing Game" Your target is to burst the rising bubbles by pressing the character shown in them. The more bubbles you burst, the better score your score.
  • Disney’s Adventures In Typing with Timon and Pumba from Disney Interactive, is a beautifully animated program for beginning typists.
  • FreeTypingGame.net has several typing programs in game style available to play around with. Experiment with them all or find your favorite!
  • Frogs are Off Their Diet a frog will eat the oncoming words before hitting the ground, if not, the frogs will disappear - one at at time.
  • Gamequarium offers a variety of programs are listed to support keyboarding skills, Including: Dance Mat Typing, Typing with Yasmin, Touch Typing, TypeOnline, TyperShark, Typing Tutor, Keyboarding Practice, Type Me, Mr. Kent's Typing Tutor, Krazy Keyboarding for Kids, Computer Circus, TypingMaster, Typing Pal Exercises, Typing Pal Practice, Typing Test 1, Typing Test 2, WPM Tester, Kids Learn 2 Type and Beginning Sounds Typing.
  • Martian City Defender lets you save a Martian colony by typing strings of letters that will destroy the attacking flying saucers. 
  • Meteor Typing Blast has you type in the string of letters to destroy the oncoming meteors. 
  • Type 'em Up has you type the letters to make the oncoming spaceships disappear while dodging their attack with the space bar.
  • TyperShark will let you sink your teeth into an action-packed educational adventure. Hungry sharks and piranhas are on the hunt for food as you SCUBA dive into the deep blue unknown. But if you can type words fast enough, they'll be zapped before they can turn you into lunch.  It offers great graphics. You can play it free online, or download a free version to unlock all of the levels. The free deluxe version allows you to play 60 minutes of game time. After that, you can either go back to the free online version, or pay $6.99 for the full version. 
  • Keyboarding Games for Kids offers a variety of gaming opportunities to support learning keyboarding skills.  Worth exploring as they are free and range in variety.
Freeware Programs:
These can be downloaded and installed onto your computer, so as to not require Internet access.
  • KP Typing Tutor words that are typed get shot down; for the “course” section – the appropriate finger and key light up onscreen to practice copying sentences or paragraphs. 
  • Letter Chase Typing Tutor  has lots of onscreen help visually, but no sound; “beginners” tab provides lots of home row practice.
  • TypeFaster offers appropriate keys highlighted in red; buzz sound to indicate when an error is made; able to select letter/word/sentence patterns that will be the model for type from; game to blow up words as they are typed.
  • Typing Master Games is very fun, game-based; they have an online version that some school districts use with their students.
Keyboarding Apps:
  • Jalapeno helps people of all ages learn to type with speed and accuracy. Features include: Practice mistakes with keystroke history, subtle helping hands show, which finger to type with, with adjustable fonts and sizes and print your speed test scores.
  • Keyboard Fun differs from the apps below, as it can be set up as a QWERTY keyboard or ABC. Students who are learning the alphabet would benefit from the ABC set up. Students hear the letter and type the key. After they type the key a picture starting with the letter appears, reinforcing the letter. A student who knows the alphabet can use the QWERTY keyboard.
  • Talking Typer from APH is now available as an app. As with the desktop version, great for those kids who need less visual clutter. It also has auditory feedback which is great for low vision/blind students.
  • Tap Typing has a free for demo and previews, then in app purchases for three levels of courses. The features include an iPhone/iPad Crash Course: quick overview. The beginner: Learn to quickly reach the primary keys (a-z). Intermediate: Capitalization, punctuation, numbers. Advanced: difficult tapping patterns, complicated sentences and symbols. Special courses: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (chapters 1 & 2), US History, Inspirational Quotes, Romeo & Juliet.
  • Typing Fun app has a multitude of settings to for students, ranging from big keys within the keyboard, color coding, QWERTY or ABC, audio letter cues, ignore errors and whether to hear a beep when hitting the key. In addition students can have color lines around the letters to help students with visual perception. Finally, the app has a built-in spelling list from pre-primer to third grade. As students learn the keyboard, they can hide the letters on the app. Aligning with the Common Core, students can capitalize the letters of proper words by touching the caps key. If students are using a Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard tablet like the Writer Plus, they will get practice with both the app and the keyboard.
  • Type a Word has a lite version and a standard version. Students practice typing different words. In addition to typing the words, the student is able to see the time it took to type the word, helping the student to increase their spelling and understanding of the keyboard. 
Edutopia has more links, philosophy and resources. This site is worth your while to explore! Educational Technology and Mobile Learning have a listing of their favorite free educational typing apps- also worth exploring. The Best Free Educational Typing Apps is also worth taking a peak at.

Chrome Typing Programs:
  • TypingClub "Master touch typing using this free game / educational program. This online program will assist you with learning and improving your typing speed! Practice each lesson over and over to at least get all three stars. It really doesn't take much to learn touch typing, a few minutes a day for one to two weeks and you will be a pro! Using this program, your typing speed will reach 10 to 12 words per minute rather quickly. From there practice on your normal typing activities to increase your speed to 40 - 90 Word per minute. TypingClub now includes a school portal available for free."
  • Type Fu is a traditional systematic option for learning 10-finger keyboarding with leveled exercised. There is auditory feedback. Speed and accuracy can be measured and graphed. Settings allow for customization, including use of alternative keyboards (DVORAK, QWERTZ, etc.) This app is free of advertising.
  • Type Scout is a professionally designed commercial product intended for school-wide use, but any individual can go online and use it for free. Type Scout is another application for learning and practicing 10-finger typing skills. In addition to practice drills, Type Scout offers a Tetris-like game. There are no ads on the site.
  • Nitro Type is possibly the most engaging typing game available as a Google Chrome app, but it is probably not the best place for a beginner to start. This app is for building on basic skills that have already been learned. The game is built on an auto racing theme, and it is surprisingly sophisticated. It is possible to compete with other players who may be online. Signing up is easy, and does not even require supplying an email address. This app is ad-supported.
  • Z-Type is a basic but engaging skill building game, described by its developers as “Type to Shoot”. As the player types a key, the letter is shot out of the “sky” as it drifts down from the top of the screen. The level of challenge increases as the game progresses. Two game modes are available–normal and expert. Engagement is enhanced by optional music and sound effects. This app is ad-supported.
Typing Programs to Purchase: (More to come soon.)
  • Handwriting without Tears now has a typing program called Keyboarding without Tears.  Keyboarding Without Tears is the only keyboarding program that is developmentally based and offers individual curricula for kindergarten to 5th grade. Individual licenses are required for each student and correspond with the student’s grade level. Once a license is purchased, the student has access to the program both at school and home. Licenses are per student. Read Review.
  • Type-to-Learn has twenty-two lessons illustrate everything from proper posture and hand position, to the correct finger selection for every key on the keyboard, including numbers and punctuation. With each lesson, there are also corresponding practice games and speed building exercises. Keyboard instruction makes use of simple hand and key animations, with audio instructions, correcting mistakes and repeating directions. Presented in a factual and straightforward manner, there are neither rewards nor chastisements for the user's efforts.
SuperKids has a review of educational typing software programs. 

Teacher’s Institute for Special Education typing programs are designed to increase speed and skill at keyboard typing, with the added benefit of better spelling and reading skills. They will also make a custom-designed keyboard for specific needs, such as a one-handed user who is also blind or dyslexic. A daily lesson plan is available which addresses special-needs kids.

Reviews: These links provide comparisons and reviews of commercially-available typing software:

A Few Online Typing Tests:

  • TypingTest.com How fast can you type? Find out with our free typing test that works in your web browser and takes only a couple of minutes to complete.After the short text typing sample, you will see your typing speed, accuracy and net speed. 
  • Mini Speed Test Test your typing - Click the start button and type the famous quotation as fast as you can! Then hit the return button and you will be given your typing speed and accuracy. 
  • Super Typing Wizard Just start typing in the empty box below when you are ready. The clock will start when you do. Your score will appear at the bottom of the page when you finish typing all the text.