2002 Conference Proceedings

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USE OF MULTIPLE ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES FOR STUDENTS AND INDIVIDUALS WITH SEVERE IMPAIRMENTS

Presenters:

Christine Oddo
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214

Katie Beaver
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214

Alternative computer access devices including a variety of keyboards and alternative access methods currently exist for individuals with specific disabilities. For example, screen-reading programs are used by individuals who are blind to read information displayed on the computer screen. However, commercial products are limited in providing access to multiply impaired persons who are blind, non-verbal and physically impaired.

We have found in our work experience that for these individuals it is often necessary to combine multiple products and access methods. These products then require specialized customization and programming expertise to enable compatibility and independent use. Because of the diverse needs and specialization required, these individuals continue to have barriers to technology for education, work and leisure.

Our team has combined three technologies (the Discover Switch single switch access software, Co-Writer word prediction software, and Jaws screen reader software) into an access system.

Access/Input

With direct selection, feedback for key selection is presented tactually through the keyboard. Once a key is pressed, audio feedback can be received in the form of key echo. Individuals who have difficulty with seeing and targeting keys for direct selection require alternative input. The Discover switch provides capability for single switch access with audio scanning. With audio scanning, a switch is pressed at the point the desired key is spoken by the computer. Once a key is selected by the switch press, audio feedback is presented in the form of key echo. Cues and feedback can be specifically customized. Use of this input method requires various stages of learning including consistent use of a switch and timing of switch presses to make scanning selections, learning various scanning array layouts and how to operate them, and then combining these skills to use the scanning arrays to perform tasks.

Word Prediction

As the user begins typing the first letter or two of a word, a list of words that begin with that letter appears on the screen. The list of words can be read out loud using audio feedback. The CoWriter word prediction program can be customized to address the needs of individuals that use a switch for access and that require auditory feedback.

Audio Output

A speech output system consists of both software (a screen reader program) and hardware (either a sound card or a speech synthesizer.) A screen reader program and a speech synthesizer provide audio feedback by echoing keystrokes or words when typing. These components also provide speech access to text displayed on the screen including menus, lists and dialog boxes. Jaws for Windows is used to provide audio feedback in a Windows-based environment.

This presentation will include information on:
* review of the issues surrounding use of multiple programs and the demands on the user
* discussion of hardware and software used
* review of the customization process for each specific program
* how to combine programs for participation in specific tasks
* limitations in the system

This system enables the users to independently navigate the computer, manage files, perform word processing and send and read email. A case study of how this system was implemented will be presented including:
* selection of the system
* how specific screens were created and modified
* how programs were modified
* the training process
* changes in the system


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