2000 Conference Proceedings

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REACH Smart KeyTM 1 Technology and Other New Products

James E. Schroeder, Ph.D., CHFP

Applied Human Factors, Inc.

REACH Smart KeyTM Technology (Smart Keys – patent pending) is an exciting new product that is revolutionizing assistive technology in the area of keyboard entry. Smart Keys is an add-on for REACH Interface AuthorTM (REACH), an on-screen keyboard product that includes a collection of tools for increasing computer accessibility and speech augmentation5. Smart Keys modifies the keyboard each time a letter is typed. For example, start typing the word "lucky" by typing the letter "L", and (with one option) Smart Keys physically removes the letters that do not follow the letter "L" in the currently loaded REACH dictionary(ies). In this case, only the vowels (A, E, I, O, U, and Y) remain on the keyboard because those are the only letters in the 11,000-word REACH dictionary that follow "L". Next, type the letter "U", and the keyboard again removes letters that do not follow "LU" (leaving only the consonants C, G, K, M, N, R, S, and X). This results in a simplified keyboard display that can make it easier to type because keys are easier to locate and there is less chance of pressing a wrong key by accident (because there is more "empty space" on the keyboard). Perhaps the greatest advantage is for persons using one of the REACH scanning keyboard options, because only likely keys are scanned (or are scanned first – depending on the option the user has selected). Research currently is being conducted to determine the effects of this new technology on typing speed and accuracy. At the CSUN-2000 Conference, the results of this research will be presented and other new products from Applied Human Factors, Inc. (AHF) will be announced and demonstrated.


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Background Information

REACH Interface Author. REACH Interface AuthorTM (REACH) was developed over the past seven years with extensive input from end users. Nine user tests were conducted involving adults, adolescents, children, and care providers (see Schroeder, 1992, 1996). The overall goal was to create program that would greatly simplify access to and use of the popular Microsoft WindowsTM environment and corresponding off-the-shelf application programs. The original target population comprised individuals who experience difficulty using standard computer keyboards. REACH comes with word prediction, speech augmentation, an assessment battery, automatic windows management features, scanning keyboard options, a keyboard author for modifying any of the 100+ keyboards that come with REACH or for creating new keyboards from scratch, and a variety of other assistive technology tools. In addition to speech augmentation, there are several other speech options (speak letters, words, sentences automatically as you type; speak highlighted text, etc.).

Toolkit for Accessibility. Several decisions were made early in the development effort (see Schroeder & Templer, 1999). These were based in part on input from experts who work with the target population. For example, the program was designed to be very comprehensive, containing a wide variety of tools to increase accessibility for a large variety of users. With this characteristic, school systems, rehabilitation clinics, organizations, etc. could purchase and adjust one general program to accommodate the abilities of a large variety of users rather than deal with a variety of different specialized programs. Consequently, REACH contains a variety of options and features that are typically only available in separate programs (e.g., word prediction, customizable user dictionaries that can be exchanged, different speech augmentation options, keyboards that can be authored and exchanged, switch options, scanning keyboard options, a quick "zoom" feature, etc.).


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REACH contains an assessment battery to help a user or the people who provide services to the user make objective evaluations of performance under different conditions. While many other factors must be considered when actually making equipment/configuration decisions, the "Assess" options can provide objective data to help determine the best switch for an individual, the best pointing device for an individual, and the best keyboard or overall layout for an individual. Included mini-typing tasks also can be used to help chart typing progress.

The program also was designed to have enough flexibility to allow it to grow with the user as he/she becomes more mature and sophisticated. Consequently, keyboards and features are included that have been tailored for everyone from young children to sophisticated adult computer users. With this approach, users can keep some sense of Afamiliar ground@ in an otherwise ever-changing software world.

REACH was designed to go far beyond a simple on-screen keyboard by providing behind-the-scenes "windows management" operations to simplify computer use in a WindowsTM environment. Keyboards that are not Aalways on top@ can get hidden, forcing the user to search for the keyboard. Conversely, keyboards that are always on top can block the view of the application or force the user to resize and reposition the application window and keyboard window (tasks that can be difficult for any user). In REACH, the Button Bar always resides at the bottom of the display and different buttons allow the user to hide or show the current keyboard, REACH Menu Bar, and Status Bar. Another windows management feature is that whenever the REACH keyboard is moved, the application is automatically resized in the space above the keyboard. When a program is launched, it is maximized and automatically sized above the keyboard (to the extent the application window can be resized). Another button allows the user to page through the AKeyboard TurntableTM@ - where the user=s four favorite keyboards can be stored. Similarly, the ANext Program@ button automatically takes the user to the next running application. If it is a full-sized standard window, then it will be maximized and resized above the keyboard. When a dialog box is launched from an application, REACH attempts to move it upward so that it is visible to the user. If it still overlaps the keyboard, REACH tries to provide access to both windows by bringing one or the other to the top (pointing at one of them brings it to the top). Without this feature, the user would have difficulty entering text in some dialog boxes. REACH also allows the user to enter up to four favorite programs in the APrograms@ menu. The user then can start these programs simply by clicking on them. Finally, REACH provides several startup options including starting REACH on computer startup, loading specific keyboard(s), launching a favorite program, starting the Dwell anywhere and Wobble anywhere options (see below), etc.


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Because of the tremendous diversity in the target population with regard to psychomotor ability, REACH provides several different input modes. The ADwell Anywhere@ feature was designed for users who can operate a pointer but have difficulty using a switch (or do not have a switch - as is the case for some head-mounted pointers). AHF's dwell switch can be used to click on desired options anywhere on the computer display (not just on the REACH keyboard). For users who have unsteadiness when pointing (making it difficult to hit small targets), REACH has several tools. An adjustable AWobble Anywhere@ feature can be used to Asmooth@ the pointer. One of the Assess drills can be used to help decide what adjustments should be made to Wobble. For users who cannot use a standard keyboard or pointer, scanning options are available. All REACH keyboards can be scanning keyboards. The scanning patterns for existing or newly created keyboards can be altered to suit the user's preferences or the situation. The REACH Word Prediction window also can be scanned. Auditory keyboards also are provided (which speak each letter as they are scanned). Words or sentences in the REACH Word Prediction word boxes also can be spoken as they are scanned. Three scanning options are currently available: single switch, inverse single-switch, and dual-switch.

A large variety of keyboards come with REACH as well as an authoring capability so that existing keyboards can be modified and new keyboards created. REACH keyboards are multimedia because different sounds5 and speech5 can be associated with a key as well as different labels and different pictures. More specifically, a background picture and label (bmp format) can be displayed on the keyboard face. In fact, different pictures and text labels can be displayed on the key face for each of three Akey states@: normal, when the key is pointed at, and when the key is pressed. Similarly, different sounds (wav files) can be played when a key is pointed at or pressed. The size of any keyboard and its keys can independently be adjusted.

REACH designers took liberties with the concept of Akeyboard@. For examples of the different kinds of keyboards that come with and can be created with REACH, visit the "Keyboard Library" at the AHF web site (www.ahf-net.com).


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Smart Key Technology

In the Spring of 1999, AHF filed a patent application on what might be the most significant advance in assisted keyboard entry since word prediction. When a key is pressed with "Smart Key Technology" active, REACH's Main Dictionary and current User's Dictionary are surveyed to determine which keys follow the letter that was typed. Then, the keyboard is updated to help identify those keys that are most likely. Various options are available. In one mode, unlikely keys are removed from the keyboard. This has the potential advantages of simplifying the display for more rapid visual scanning as well as creating additional "dead space" (where keys have been removed), making it less likely to accidentally select a wrong key due, for example, to poor motor coordination. To type a word that is not in the dictionary, the user can press the "Restore" (Escape) key and all keys are then returned to the keyboard. In two other options, unlikely keys are "grayed out" and then either made inactive or active (depending on the selected option). In another mode, the color of unlikely keys is changed and they remain active. In another mode being developed, the likelihood of the remaining keys (based on the frequency of occurrence in the dictionaries) is reflected by the color of the key face (e.g., using shades of gray: white keys are the most likely, light gray keys are somewhat likely, medium gray keys are somewhat unlikely, and dark gray keys are very unlikely).

It is expected that Smart Key technology will be useful to almost anyone using on-screen keyboards, but that the greatest advantage will be for persons using scanning keyboards because only the likely keys get scanned. When the user is using a Smart Keys option that allows unlikely keys to remain active, REACH scans the likely keys first and then the unlikely keys.


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Current Research Program

In an experiment being conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (funded by the National Institutes of Health1), Smart Key technology is being tested to determine whether it improves typing speed and accuracy. Specifically, twenty disabled subjects (defined as users who experience difficulty using a standard keyboard) and non-disabled subjects (defined as users who do not experience difficulty using a standard keyboard) are being tested under different conditions. In the first part of the experiment, various Smart Key approaches are presented to the subjects and they are asked to make subjective evaluations of the overall concept and different specific approaches using a "structured interview" script. This script will solicit comments, suggestions, criticisms, reactions, etc. that the user might have for each mode.

After subjective evaluations, comments, and criticisms are collected, performance data are collected for each of three Smart Key experimental modes (unlikely keys disappear, unlikely keys are grayed out, and unlikely keys have their color changed) and a control mode (no Smart Keys) under each of two conditions: point-and-click key selection and single switch scanning selection. For each of the resulting eight conditions, 15 trials are conducted. In each trial, a common English five-letter word is presented on the display above the REACH keyboard. The subject's task is to type the word as quickly and accurately as possible. Speed and accuracy measures are collected for each trial. The eight conditions are randomized across all subjects to minimize any contaminating effects due to warm-up, fatigue, etc. Analyses of variance will be conducted to determine main effects and interactions among the various conditions.


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Other New Products from AHF

In addition to Smart Keys, other new products from AHF will be described at the CSUN Conference. Most notably, the new SoothSayer Word Prediction Version 3.0 and REACH Interface Author Version 3.0 will be presented. Both programs run in standard Windows and Windowsâ NT and both containing significant enhancements (e.g., macro word prediction options for both SoothSayer and REACH and macro key authoring options for REACH). Also, the new Spanish, English-to-Spanish, and Spanish-to-English dictionaries will be discussed. The English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English Dictionaries work with both REACH and SoothSayer and provide help in translating from one language to the other. For example, using the English-to-Spanish Dictionary, the user types the English word to be translated, selects it from the word prediction window, and the Spanish equivalent is typed to the application (and spoken if the user has a SAPI-compliant speech engine that speaks Spanish). In addition, the new REACH Typing Tutor for the Blind and the new REACH Typing Tutor will be unveiled as well as the new REACH "Sound-It-Out" phonetic keyboard system. Finally, a new program will be unveiled that contains a collection of several useful tools for improving computer access (a text caret enlargement tool, a quick text enlargement tool, a tool allowing a joystick to emulate a mouse, a mouse cursor enlargement tool, a quick zoom window, a scanning mouse, etc.).


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References

Schroeder, J.E. (1992). Cordless light pen and interface authoring system. Applied Human Factors Technical Report for Phase I SBIR submitted to the National Institutes of Health, Washington D.C.

Schroeder, J.E. (1996). Cordless light pen and interface authoring system. Applied Human Factors Final Summary Technical Report for Phase II SBIR submitted to the National Institutes of Health, Washington D.C.

Schroeder, J. E., & Templer, K. S. (1999). REACH Interface AuthorTM: A New Comprehensive Program for Easier Windows Management, Text Entry, and Augmentative Communication. Paper presented at the 1999 Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference and published by the Center on Disabilities, California State University at Northridge.


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NOTES:

Current research on REACH Smart Key Technology is being supported by a Small Business Innovation Research Grant (#1 R43 HD37713-01) awarded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Institutes of Health.

REACH Interface Author, Smart Key Technology, and SoothSayer Word Prediction are trademarks or registered trademarks of Applied Human Factors, Inc.

REACH Interface Author was initially supported by a Small Business Innovation Research Grant (#2 R44 HD28864-02) from 1992-95 awarded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

With REACH and SoothSayer, sounds require a sound card and speech requires a sound card plus a speech synthesis program what is compliant with the Microsoft Speech Application Instruction (SAPI). REACH and SoothSayer both come with Microsoft Text-to-Speech Engine (which is SAPI compliant).


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For more information on this project, free demonstration software, reseller information, or (if you are a not-for-profit ADemonstration Center@ or APreview Center@) and would like to receive a copy of REACH and its comprehensive User=s Manual, contact Applied Human Factors, Inc. (see below).

Applied Human Factors, Inc. Toll-Free Phone: (888) 243-0098

P.O. Box 781076 Standard Phone: (210) 408-0098

San Antonio, TX 78278 Fax: (210) 408-0097

Web Site: ahf-net.com e-mail: info@ahf-net.com


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