2004 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 


James E. Schroeder, Ph.D., CHFP
Applied Human Factors, Inc.
P.O. Box 228
Helotes, TX 78023
Phone: 888-243-0098 or 210-408-0098
Fax: 210-408-0097
Website: http://www.ahf-net.com 
Email: sales@ahf-net.com

New Approach to Assisted Typing and Speaking

Applied Human Factors, Inc. (AHF) conducts research and develops software in the area of custom user interfaces and assistive technology. In this paper, AHF's latest assistive software programs are described and relevant research findings presented. "REACH with Smart Lists™" (Patent Pending) is a program that uses an innovative new approach to typing. This new technology will be demonstrated at this session. Both simulated performance date (i.e., based on simulated user performance when using scanning input) and data from a controlled experimental evaluation will be presented. For example, Figure 1 shows the simulated results for work (number of switch closures required when using scanning input) for words of different lengths. As shown, there are substantial reductions in the amount of work required when using AHF's new "List-Based Typing™." The "Control" condition is for standard row/column scanning and the other four conditions represent different types of words (high and low probability) and different settings for Smart Lists (high and low "Root Extension Analysis™").

 Simulated performance reflecting the amount of work 
required to type words of different lengths.

Figure 1. Simulated performance reflecting the amount of work required to type words of different lengths.

With Smart Lists™, the user starts by typing the first letter(s) on a standard on-screen keyboard but is quickly moved to a set of candidate options presented in list format presented at the site of the last key selected. Smart Lists uses AHF's "Root/Extension Analysis™" (Patent Pending), to determine which candidate letter, sets of letters, or words should be offered in the list. All candidates in the list are presented in the context of the letters already typed. For example, Figure 2 shows an example of the word "Yours" being typed. Starting with a standard on-screen keyboard (Frame 1) the user selects "Y" and the "Y" key enlarges to present a list of candidates (Frame 2). After that, the user stays at that location and selects the options consistent with the target word until the word is completed. An option ending with an ellipsis indicates that there are more letters to follow (i.e., the option "Your" means the word "Your" is typed but the option "Your..." means that REACH™ will continue to search for words beginning with the letters "Your."

Frame 1
 A user typing the word Yours using REACH with Smart Lists™.
Frame 2
 A user typing the word Yours using REACH with Smart Lists™. the letter Y
Frame 3
 A user typing the word Yours using REACH with Smart Lists™. the letters Y o
Frame 4
 A user typing the word Yours using REACH with Smart Lists™. the letters Y o u

Figure 2. A user typing the word "Yours" using REACH with Smart Lists™.

In addition to increased speed and reduced work, there is another significant proposed theoretical advantage to this approach. Specifically, previous approaches to typing required users to perform different tasks (e.g., find the next letter, check word prediction to see if the word is there, check to make sure what has been inputted already) at different physical locations (e.g., on the keyboard, in the list of word prediction candidates, in the application being typed to). REACH with Smart Lists™ attempts to consolidate these tasks and locations, so that the user performs a common task (i.e., select the option that best corresponds to the word being typed) at a common location (a list presented where the last key was typed).

For persons using scanning input, the optimal strategy is to move to scanning lists after the first letter is typed (a simultaneous increase in speed and reduction in work is the typical outcome). For persons using point and click input, the best strategy depends on the preference of the user and whether the user is attempting to minimize work or maximize speed. Users can go to a list immediately or can stay on the keyboard until Smart Lists™ determines that a relatively short list can be presented which is highly likely to include the target letters or word. In addition, options are available to present additional contextual cues on the key faces. For example, after typing a "c" the "a" key can show both the standard "C" label in the standard upper left of the key's face and the current letter string (i.e. "ca") on the lower section of the key's face.

Both Smart Keys™ and Smart Lists™ (Smart Lists™ includes Smart Keys™) are add-ons for AHF's REACH Interface Author™ (REACH), an extremely powerful and flexible on-screen keyboard authoring system. It includes word prediction, speech augmentation , windows management features, many scanning keyboard options, "macro" keyboards, many speech options, pre-customized "profiles" for representative user groups, keyboard author for modifying the 240 keyboards that come with REACH™ or creating new keyboards, and numerous other assistive technology tools. REACH™ as well as all programs listed below run in Windows®98, ®Me, ®NT, ®2000, and ®XP.

Other AHF Products

As time permits, other AHF products will be demonstrated. Free demonstration copies are available for downloading on the AHF web site www.ahf-net.com or on a free CD.

SoothSayer Word Prediction™ is a word completion program with many features: speak letters, words, sentences, and highlighted text; caret tracking; abbreviation expansion; sentence completion; "AutoType" completes words automatically; a scanning "WordTips" feature individually shows and speaks the words in the list; multiple dictionaries; an option that builds a dictionary from an existing *.txt file; and much more.

ScanBuddy™ is a program that lets a user click, double-click, or drag the mouse anywhere on the display by using scanning techniques or with hot keys on the keyboard. The most standard scanning method combines a special form of row/column scanning (to identify a specific section on the screen) followed by line scanning (to select a specific point). Options are available for offering the active application first and "AutoClicking" (automatic clicks when ScanBuddy™ determines the selected location is likely to require a click (e.g., menu options, buttons, etc.).

REACH Scan Plus™ is a software bundle that combines REACH Interface Author™, Smart Keys™, and ScanBuddy™. This program is a must for users who scan because they can use REACH™ with Smart Lists™ to enter text or other activities often conducted with a hardware keyboard and use ScanBuddy™ to perform other activities that are usually performed with a mouse or other pointer. REACH™ and ScanBuddy™ work seamlessly together: REACH™ offers the keyboard, then the word prediction options, then the REACH Button Bar, then ScanBuddy™. When the user is finished with ScanBuddy™ (e.g., opening a web browser or scrolling down a document), scanning control is seamlessly passed back to REACH.

REACH Tablet™ combines the power and flexibility of REACH software with the portability of the Fujitsu Stylistic 4000 Tablet Computer. This device is small but usable (12" by 8.6" by .9"), portable (weighs 3.2 lbs. and can be clamped to a wheel chair), and powerful (800 MHz, 256MB, WindowsXP, sound/speaker, IR port, Modem, and 20GB Hard Drive). Touch screen and a variety of accessories are available.

SoothSayer Scan Plus™ is a software bundle that combines SoothSayer Word Prediction™ and ScanBuddy™. This is perfect for users who want to increase their typing speed and accuracy when using a hardware keyboard (i.e., with SoothSayer™) while minimizing use of a mouse (i.e., with ScanBuddy™ in "Keyboard Input" mode).

Mouse&Caret Buddy™ can help any user locate the text caret and mouse cursor more easily by showing pictures next to them. While fun for everyone, this program offers the greatest benefits for persons with limited vision or attention span. The user can choose from a variety of pictures that come with Mouse&Caret Buddy or from other sources (e.g., clip art). The size of the pictures can be adjusted as well as the location of the "hot spot." Options are available for showing the buddies "always", "when in use", or "when not in use."

Joystick Buddy™ lets you use off-the-shelf joysticks instead of a mouse when working with Microsoft®Windows (e.g., the joystick can be purchased separately from a local computer store). This program has many options including: whether it is a relative or absolute pointer, an "Accelerate" option, time before acceleration, speed before and after acceleration, automatic startup, and joystick "Sensitivity." You also can assign different functions to your joystick buttons (i.e., left button click, right click, left drag, left double click, right drag, or display Settings).

AHF Spanish Dictionary is a dictionary that can be used by either REACH Interface Author™ or by SoothSayer Word Prediction™. It contains 39,000+ Spanish words (translations for the 11,000 most frequently used English words).

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

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

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