1998 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents


Cynthia K. Spitler
ZYGO Industries, Inc.
115 E. Vista Del Cerro
Tempe, AZ 85281
602-966-3850 fax


This session will illustrate the use of Morse code as an alternative switch selection technique on the ZYGO Macaw for pre-school through adult users. Sequential teaching techniques for beginning or cognitively young communicators will be presented as well as techniques for advanced users. Single switch and multi-switch input will be covered, handouts will be available.


The ZYGO Macaw line of communication devices offer Morse code as an alternative switch access technique. This technique allows switch users a faster and more reliable way of direct selection through the use of single or multiple switch inputs. Knowing and/or learning Morse code is not a criteria for using this type of inputting method. In this method, Morse code characters are used to select keys on the front panel just as one might select them by touching. On the 32 panel Macaw's the message keys are labeled A through Z and 1-6. On the 128 panel Macaw's the message keys are broken into four quadrants. In each 32 quadrant the keys are labeled as above. Producing a Morse code character with the switch(s) will actuate the appropriate key; for example, sending the letter "E" (a single 'dot') will actuate message key #5 on the keyboard.

There are three Morse code modes available:

This session will demonstrate the use of Morse Code transparency guides which may be placed over existing graphical representations (overlays) for "cheat sheets". These guides will be presented in progressive formats to illustrate the introduction of Morse code to beginning through advanced users. The use of creative overlays for teaching the technique will also be presented. Advanced Macaw features such as level changing and key linking are accessible with this method and will be demonstrated as well as navigational strategies for accessing language.

Three profiles for potential Morse code users will be discussed with application suggestions for each presented.

Profile #1:

Preschool or elementary aged child with spastic cerebral palsy. Non-ambulatory, poor head control and good vision. Arms are stabilized with straps on each side of the wheelchair tray with switches placed next to each hand. There is some cognitive involvement and no emergent literacy skills have been noted. This child is also a beginning switch user.

Program: Two switch Morse code, one represents the 'dit' and one represents the 'dah'. A ZYGO Lolly switch and an AbleNet Jelly Bean switch represent the two codes. The Macaw 3 is set to a key pattern of 32 and the icons are recorded on the keyboard in order of Morse code motor learning, i.e.: "." and "_" are the first two codes to introduce and a two location overlay is used with pictures representing the recordings placed on the Macaw. For even more clarity the Morse code is color coded, i.e.: red for "." and green for "_" and the two switches are color coded the same. The next two codes to introduce are ".." and "_ _" and a four location overlay is used with pictures representing the recordings placed on the Macaw. The next codes would be "..." and "...." and "_ _ _" and an eight location overlay is used with pictures representing the recordings placed on the Macaw. With the eight location overlay, one key would be left blank. It is important to note that the overlays do not match the recorded locations of the messages as they would in direct selection or scanning! The Macaw is being "tricked" to perform Morse code in enlarged key patterns. After this user becomes proficient with the eight location overlay, begin to introduce Morse code combinations, i.e.: "._", "._.", "_." and "_._" with a four location overlay. The next step for this user would be to use a 32 location overlay with the above recordings and place a transparency guide on top of the overlay which blocks out unused message areas. Colored cues are also removed. Gradually the child is introduced to more language and eventually the transparency can be removed so that all 32 messages are visible. The learning curve is slow but steady.

Profile #2:

Adult user with severe spastic cerebral palsy who can direct select on a 32 location Macaw and change levels. Speed is slow but accurate. Excellent switch control with thumb on right hand, high cognitive and has some functional literacy and sight vocabulary skills. Does not want to spell due to speed and fatigue. Vision is fine.

Program: Single switch Morse code using thumb on right hand and a ZYGO Lolly switch. The Green Macaw is used with 64 and 128 key patterns. Talk/repeat and select level features are activated. For this user, the learning curve is fast and mostly self taught. This user is introduced to Morse code inputting method using a 64 location overlay initially. Overlay is word based and generative leaving some message locations blank to aide in visual location of icons. The user is taught to locate the four quadrants on the Macaw and learns to lock into a specific quadrant in order to navigate only within its boundaries. Talk/repeat is activated and moved in order to use it more efficiently. Once this overlay is mastered then a 128 location overlay is introduced which contains the same language as the 64 overlay with additional messages. Again, locking into quadrants and navigating within the quadrant is practiced. Once this skill is mastered then additional levels are added for the user to change to. Overlays are placed on the Macaw in a page turning method in order for the user to independently turn pages and change levels.

Profile #3:

Adolescent with advanced Duchenne's muscular dystrophy who can direct select in 8 location but is very slow and getting nowhere. Non-ambulatory, severely motor impaired, has use of fingers in one hand but timing of switch movements is difficult. There is some cognitive involvement and literacy skills are nonfunctional with very little sight word recognition. Vision is fine and there is some residual spoken language.

Program: Three switch Morse code using ZYGO Lolly switches, one represents the 'dit' and one represents the 'dah' and one represents "enter". Three switch Morse code input was chosen due to the users poor timing of switch movements. The Macaw 3 is set to a key pattern of 32 but only 16 messages are programmed initially. Multiple overlays are used with the select level and key linking features activated. The overlays are placed on the Macaw in a page turning method in order for them to be changed quickly and independently by either the user or an assistant. Language is thematic based with single hit messages and some simple key linking. The user is introduced to one overlay at a time to ease in navigation and then taught to use the select level feature. The key linking feature is introduced once navigation and message selection become fluent. Learning curve is slow to start but moves quickly with some self teaching occurring.

Morse code input method can be a faster method for everyone from a severely cognitively involved switch user to a high-level user of a picture communication system. This session is designed to demonstrate Morse code with three potential users and give the audience some creative strategies to implement.

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.