2002 Conference Proceedings

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The AlphaSmart Keyboard, Versatility in the Trenches

Presented by
Terry Hamman
And
Kathy Griffin

Are you dealing with the many varied needs of students and consumers? Do you need a more durable and much less costly alternative to a laptop? Do you need a device to ...take notes, write reports, communicate, practice typing skills, use word prediction, take a test, or use Spanish, French, or four other languages? This session provides examples of using the AlphaSmart keyboard through real solutions, strategies, and scenarios based on ATA Centers' real life experiences.

Many individuals could benefit from the use of a laptop computer. When you add in various disability factors, there can be significant obstacles that must be considered before the acquisition of a laptop. Physical access to the laptop can be one of the most challenging obstacles, probably second only to cost, for an individual with a disability. Accessing a laptop can be fairly simple if all you have to do is start typing, but if you have to get a laptop out of where it is kept and open it up, you can run into some problems. The weight of most laptops makes them difficult to handle with only one hand. Getting a laptop out of a backpack or wheelchair pack can be awkward at best for an individual with limited range of movement. The laptop lid also has to be unlatched and opened which often requires the use of two hands. This is an obstacle for a person who has the use of only one hand.

An example of someone who has limited mobility is Paul. Paul has cerebral palsy, which involves all four limbs. While in high school, he needed something to help him take notes in class and to do his homework on. All of his equipment is kept either in a backpack hanging behind him off his wheelchair handles or in the desk mounted to the front of his wheelchair. He has only the use of his right hand for picking items up. He opens his desk with a tug on the lid and the lid continues to open on its own. He then has to take the device out of the desk, place it on his lap, close the desk and then put the device on the desktop. We first tried a laptop, but it was too thick and heavy for him to lift securely with one hand. Next he tried an AlphaSmart, which was very lightweight and easy to grasp with his right hand. It also didn't take up too much room on his lap or inside his desk. For physical access it was the right device for him.

Another factor for determining if an individual needs a laptop is what tasks the individual needs to do. The most common needs are typing practice and word processing. The AlphaSmart now has these tasks covered with AlphaWord, which comes with the AlphaSmart 3000 and KeyWords, which can be purchased and loaded onto the AlphaSmart. AlphaWord, a word processing Applet, has editing functions including cut, copy, paste and a spellchecker. KeyWords is a language-based typing tutor Applet that puts fun into typing practice. A student reads and types words and phrases that can rhyme, be silly or in other ways entertaining. An elementary student, Jessica, is ten-years old and in the fifth grade. She needs a device to copy notes from the blackboard, to write assignments and to get extra practice typing. Jessica has difficulty with handwriting, both in legibility and in speed. For what she needs, an AlphaSmart is a much better choice than a laptop. As an additional factor, Jessica has already dropped the AlphaSmart twice with no damage. There's a great deal of doubt about how a laptop would fair if it were dropped.

These are just two examples of how ATA Center staff has used the AlphaSmart. The session attendees will come away with many other examples of how this durable, inexpensive and versatile device can be used.


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