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Assistive Technology
Helping people compute
By Brendan Walsh

Assistive technology is technology that assists people in operating the tools we use when computing. There are a variety of products and strategies that modify or replace standard displays, keyboards and cursor control devices.
These products can not only make using computers possible for some people, but also for anyone who finds standard product design inefficient or uncomfortable.

As an example , I am setting up a computer for someone who has difficulty keeping a steady hand due to a brain injury. At this point she needs to use a joystick to operate an onscreen keyboard to type. One reason why a joystick is used for an onscreen keyboard is that it is easy to manuver the cursor over the keys of an onscreen keyboard. We are using an onscreen keyboard made by WiViK.


All on-screen (virtual keyboard) keys work just as they would if you were typing on a standard computer keyboard. Select a key and WiViK sends it to a word processor, e-mail message, web page or other text-based application you may be using. WordQ is a word prediction program that is included with WiViK (WordQ uses advanced word prediction to suggest appropriate words to make typing with WiViK faster and to help with spelling. As you type, WordQ continuously presents a list of relevant correctly spelled words within the WiViK keyboard).

There many onscreen keyboards available, some of them free like this one by Milosoft. Win XP also includes a free keyboard. These tend to not have all the features available on the ones that you pay for. Madentec makes an onscreen keyboard like WiViK, called Screendoors 2000.

madentec screendoors


This keyboard will be operated by a joystick made by Traxsys and the one I chose is the Roller II joystick.

roller2 joystick

It is distributed by Infogrip.

This computer system will also include a keyboard that she will eventually use. The keyboard has one inch square keys and is called the BigKey LX.


BigKeys LX is for people who want a full-featured keyboard -- but who need large keys in order to locate and operate the keys. BigKeys LX includes all special characters found on a standard keyboard, with the exception of the numeric keypad, Scroll Lock, and Pause/Break.

EnableMart distributes this at the best price (at least in 2009).

This is just one setup for one person with particular needs. There are many many configurations and products available.

If you would like help with assistive technology please contact me.




Assistive Technology Terms

Alternative Keyboard - A hardware device that replaces or works in addition to the standard keyboard.

Assistive Technology (Adaptive) - commonly refers to "...products, devices or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that are used to maintain, increase or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities..."

Augmentative Communication Device (Aug Com Device/Dedicated Communicator) - A hardware device that provides speech output for nonverbal users. It is often portable and allows input from a variety of methods.

Braille - A system of writing for the blind that uses characters made of raised dots.

Braille Software - Software that translates from English to Braille, Braille to English, or functions as a Braille training program.

Braille Input - A hardware device that allows input to the computer via a Braille style keyboard or specific keys on a standard keyboard that function in Braille patterns.

Braille Output - A hardware device that produces hard copy Braille or paperless, refreshable Braille as output from the computer.

Communication Software - Software that provides expressive communication capability, either oral, written or manual.

Dwell Software - Software that automatically activates a mouse click after resting the cursor over an icon or area of the screen for a preset amount of time.

Early Childhood Software (Early Learning) - Software that develops primal cognitive or motor skills.

Environmental Control Unit (ECU) - A hardware device that allows programmed or spontaneous control over remote, electricity-operated appliances.

Head Tracking Mouse - A hardware device that emulates the mouse with the movement of the users head.

Input Device - Any device that enters information into the computer by an operator or another device.

Keyboard Emulator - A hardware device that connects to the computer and allows input from a source other than the standard keyboard.

Keyguard - A hardware device that covers a standard or alternative keyboard and provides direction for a finger.

Mouse Emulator - Software that imitates and takes the place of a mouse.

Mouse Keys - Software that transforms the traditional numeric keypad into a directional mouse.

On Screen Keyboard - Software that allows a user to use a mouse, touch screen or switch to enter all the characters and functions of a keyboard.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) - A hardware and software combination that uses a scanner to scan text into a computer then the software translates it to text to be read aloud and/or magnified.

Refreshable Braille Display - A hardware device that converts onscreen text from a computer into tactile Braille code.

Scanning Software - Software that automatically steps through allowable responses that users select by single switch or multi switch activation.

Screen Magnifier - Software that magnifies or enlarges the computer screen.

Screen Reader - Software that translates what is on a computer screen into synthesized speech or refreshable Braille. It reads text with in documents, dialog boxes, menu selections and icons.

Sticky Keys - Software or firmware feature that allows a user to press a key, release it, then press another key(s) without having to press and hold all the keys simultaneously.

Switch - A hardware device that allows a user with little motor control operate a computer or other electrical device.

Switch Interface-Hardware that allows the connection of one or more switches to a computer.

Text Reader - Software that reads text as it is keyboarded and reads aloud text with in documents.

Touch Window - A hardware device that is mounted onto a computer monitor and allows a user to make selections, move objects and pull down menus with the touch of a finger.

Voice Recognition - Software that allows the user speak or dictate directly to the computer.


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