1999 Conference Proceedings

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SWITCH BASICS -- SOFTWARE TO TEACH STUDENTS SWITCH USAGE

Jo Meyer, Partner
SoftTouch
4149 Pinewood Lake Drive
Bakersfield, CA 93309
ph 805-396-8676
fax 805-396-8760

Many students with physical disabilities need to access the environment with a single switch. The computer gives the student a whole new way of learning and/or communicating. But in order to use the single switch with a computer a variety of skills need to be taught.

SoftTouch's new program Switch Basics uses 9 different activities to teach the different steps in learning to use a switch and understand scanning when using the computer. This session will explain the different steps in learning to use a single switch and show the activities in Switch Basics which support these steps. The graphics, sounds, and animations in Switch Basics are age appropriate for all ages. Some of the activities use graphics which support thematic units from school curriculums.

The first step in learning to use a switch is to become engaged or interested. The activities need to be interesting enough to hold the students attention. This can be done with graphics, animation, and/or sounds. There needs to be a variety of activities to continue to hold the student's attention. Switch Basics has a variety of activities which allow the user to choose different types of sounds depending upon the child's interest. One time the student may hear African-style music, another time pacific-style music yet a third time environmental wind sounds. The graphics in Switch Basics are large and interesting. Some are cartoon type of animation, some are animated real pictures, others are photos.

Understanding that switches are to be pressed and released--not banged on, is an important concept for some students to learn. Switch Basics has an ÒHold and PlayÓ activity which allows the user to watch the mountain lion and tigers climb the hills and rocks as long as the user holds the switch in place.

As the student begins to interact with the environment through the switch, he/she learns cause and effect. At first the students random movements can activate the switch to control the environment. Thus activities which activate an interesting sound/animation are used when the switch is activated once. 'Fishy Colors' is such an activity.

As the student becomes more aware of his own actions, his switch activation becomes more purposeful. Then switching needs to become more discriminating. The student needs to become aware that the switch activation gives a final outcome. 'Clouds Be Gone' is an activity in which every time the student hits the switch more and more clouds leave the sky uncovering the pictures of different wild animals. In this activity, the adult chooses how many switch activations is needed for the clouds to leave and the type of sound the student will hear.

As the student progresses in switch use as well as cognition, scanning needs to be introduced. With scanning comes the ability to press the switch within a specified amount of time. Scanning and 'RATE' are introduced in several activities.

Using either one or two switches for scanning need to be taught to progress to higher level switch use. Either 'waiting' your turn or using two switches to activate an item can be taught. It can be used as a two person 'game' where the student needs to 'wait' his turn--or as a way to select the next item.

As the student progresses in skills and cognition, choice making is introduced through a matching game. Once this skill is mastered, curriculum can be presented and the student can show his understanding by selecting correct answers.

If a student does not have the motor control to hit the switch accurately within the time frame, step scanning may be an option. In step scanning, each activation moves the user to another option. Switch Basics has an activity which teaches step scanning.

The most efficient type of scanning is row column or column row scanning. In the first each row is scanned in turn. When the switch is depressed, items in that row are scanning one at a time. (In column row, the column is scanned first, then the row.)

Teaching scanning is a step by step task. This software gives simple examples in each area so the student can achieve that activity and move on to other skills.


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