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MORSE CODE DEMYSTIFIED: A POWERFUL ALTERNATIVE FOR ACCESS TO AAC AND COMPUTERS

Presenters
Bruce Fleming, BSME ATP
Rehabilitation Engineer
Email: btfleming@dhs.co.la.ca.us
Las Floristas Center For Applied Rehabilitation Technology at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center Downey, California, U.S.A

Andy Lin, BS
Assistive Technology Specialist
Email: alin@dhs.co.la.ca.us
Las Floristas Center For Applied Rehabilitation Technology
at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center
Downey, California, U.S.A

Barbara Phillips, MS OTR ATP
Occupational Therapist
Email: bphillips@dhs.co.la.ca.us
Las Floristas Center For Applied Rehabilitation Technology
at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center
Downey, California, U.S.A

Kevin Caves
Rehabilitation Engineer
Email: kevin.caves@duke.edu
Director, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.A

Margaret Cotts
Occupational Therapist
Email: mcotts@itsa.ucsf.edu
The ALS Center at UCSF Medical Center
San Francisco, California, USA

INTRODUCTION

Samuel Finley Breese Morse demonstrated his original telegraph machine for the first time in January 1838. (1, 2) He based his early code on a numerical listing of 5000 words in a dictionary Morse corresponding to the number of clicks generated by the sender. According to some sources (3), Morse's primary benefactors, Alfred Vail, suggested using a simpler series of dots and dashes corresponding to letters of the alphabet. This "Vail code" would be much easier to remember and transcribe. Apparently, Vail and Morse later had a falling out, but Morse continued promoting his telegraph with this streamlined code system, and therefore it stuck as "Morse" code.

This revolutionary early means of transmitting text information over great distances has survived to this day, though its popular usage has waned especially with the widespread use of Radio, Telephone, and the explosion of sophisticated computer systems and the Internet. While newly created accessibility tools have created opportunities for inclusion in this digital age for persons with physical disabilities, most provide slow and cumbersome means (such as switch scanning) at best for users who rely on single or dual switch activation for input. Contrary to common belief that the Morse code is an antiquated, cumbersome and obsolete input technique or interface, we will present how it can provide efficient, powerful access to computers and AAC devices. We designed this session with the following goals in mind:

MORSE CODE PRODUCTS

Morse-enabled AAC (EZ Keys and IMPACT)

While a number of AAC device manufacturers have offered products that provide for Morse code input, most have dropped it from their new products and discontinued the old ones. Only two exist on the market today: EZ Keys-powered Freedom devices from Words+, Inc., and the Portable IMPACT Tablet, HandHeld, and PalmTop devices from Enkidu Research, Inc.. Both product groups allow for a number of adjustments to suit particular user needs, while they differ in platform and user interface design. IMPACT was designed as an augmentative communication system, and thus it is extremely versatile for communication and rate enhancement but provides no access to the computing platform outside of the program. EZ Keys provides access to the whole computing platform, but provides less dynamic means for retrieving stored vocabulary for conversation.

Morse-enabled Computer Access (EZ Keys, Darci)

Words+ developed EZ Keys after many years of providing a variety of access and AAC products that run on PCs. EZ Keys is thus a combination of components, that provide for a number of different access techniques for computer access including keyboard/text entry and mouse control via Morse Code. As a primarily software-based system, EZ Keys has some unique features and drawbacks.

Employees of West Test Engineering banded together to create devices for a daughter of one of their co-workers, named Darci, who was born with limb deficiencies. The subsequent evolution of the Darci computer access products has yielded the latest, the Darci Too and Darci USB keyboard and mouse emulators. Both provide access to the computer via a number of switch input options. As a primarily hardware-based system, Darci has a unique advantage over software Morse access.

MORSE MIXED WITH COMPLEMENTARY TECHNOLOGY

CASE EXAMPLES
Successful users with differing physical circumstances

Head Injury
26 y.o. Full time student, brain stem injury. Currently using EZ Keys with dual Microlight switches for schoolwork at Pierce College, majoring in Business.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Middle-age man, Onset: 12/2000. Computer Uses: Buys and sells products on EBAY, creates photo brochures for real estate business, plays games. Accessing computer with dual Microlight switches at right forearm.

Multiple Sclerosis
56 year old gentleman with MS, unable to access computer. Motor control, with hand pointer, unable to reach entire keyboard. Seen in 1996. Recommended Jouse and Darci too. Still using today. Computer activities: videotape database with over 3,000 videos (19 fields for each). Manages finances, collects (downloads) music. At time of initial eval, was working for city utility company, no longer working.

WHEN MORSE CODE IS THE ONLY OPTION

Morse code is unique in that, in the case of the Darci Too, it offers access to any computing platform that accepts a keyboard or mouse. Its ability to emulate the keyboard and mouse at the hardware level means that it can be used with programs and operating systems that have typically required very expensive interfaces. The Assistive Technology Exchange Center (of Goodwill Industries, Inc., in Orange County, CA division) has worked in two instances that have required the use of the Darci Too with Morse code. These include using Morse Code to effectively utilize the keyboard commands available for the JAWS screen reader, using only switches; and the ability of a software programmer with ALS, who programs using the QNX operating system, to continue to work at home from his bed using a pneumatic switch.

ADVANTAGES of MORSE CODE

DISDVANTAGES

MISPERCEPTIONS

REFERENCES

1) Signing off... latest technology replaces Morse code, Annette Codispoti, The Institute http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/INST/apr99/morse.html

2) Preview of Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/atthtml/mrshome.html

3) GranadaKids web site description of the Morse/Vail relationship http://www.granadakids.com/bigbang/ser56/show18item3.html

WEB RESOURCES, MORSE-INCORPORATED PRODUCTS

Darci Too and Darci USB by The Darci Institute http://www.westest.com/darci/home.html

EZ Keys and Freedom 2000 products by Words+, Inc. http://www.words-plus.com

Morse 2000 Outreach http://www.uwec.edu/ce/morse2000.htm

Portable IMPACT AAC devices by Enkidu Research http://www.enkidu.net

All material included in this paper and CSUN 2003 General Session presentation are Copyright (c) 2002, All rights reserved by the authors, except where previous copyright and/or trademark rights are owned by individuals and companies listed or unlisted and/or discussed herein.


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