Scanning the Horizon for Computer Access

For some individuals, physical control of muscles is limited. One of my students is only able to move his head. Yet, this one simple, seemingly limiting movement allows him to perform a variety of tasks. He utilizes scanning technology to help him operate his computer, telephone, and communication device without anyone assisting him. He does this by accessing a “switch.”

Switches come in several varieties, but basically it’s a button with an on and off state, like a light switch. My student activates his switch by pressing it with his head, turning it on. Pressing it again will turn it off.

This person is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair, so without this technology he would not be able to live the life he lives. It gives him the same choices anyone else has. He just makes his choices differently from most. Scanning through switch access means that my student has a list of options to select from. He waits until a choice is highlighted on the device that he is using presses the switch to make a choice.

Assessment Software

The first step in implementing this technology into any lifestyle is to identify whether or not the individual will be able to comprehend and perform the steps necessary to utilize scanning. This is done with assessment software, which helps evaluate the needed skills for a given individual based on his or her abilities and limitations. In my student’s case, he is able to understand the complexity of scanning and is able to press a switch quickly and accurately enough for it to be effective.

There are several ways to determine whether scanning is a viable option. Trial-and-error is one method. However, EvaluWare is the most common piece of software used by assistive technology (AT) professionals to identify the capabilities of the computer to be used and the best access methods for that computer. EvaluWare is an assessment package for scanning which helps discover the best settings for the user based on motor/access, looking, listening and other related skills.

Software Scanning

To control your computer’s operating system with switch-and-scan control, you will need a combination of hardware and software. The software is the application which will appear on your computer screen. A screen keyboard, for example, if it is for typing. Other scanning software packages include options for reading books, educational software, and games.

The second piece of equipment needed is an interface. This device plugs into your computer or other device and the switch or switches are directly connected to the interface. There are many models of interfaces available. It is what allows the scanning software or device make a selection, much like a mouse or keyboard connects a user to his or her system. Without an interface, nothing is connected.

Scanning Screen Keyboards

Clicker 4: Clicker is a scanning program that enables children to write through whole words, phrases or pictures. It contains Clicker Writer which is a talking word processor. Clicker comes with high-quality, digitized speech such that the user can hear words in the onscreen keyboard before a selection is made, as well as hear what has already been written. The program has choices for different languages, or speech can be recorded if a certain needed language isn’t available. Clicker comes with a picture library with 1,000 educationally-related images which can be put into a customized scanning grid. Personal pictures can be imported and utilized when one is not available in the library.

WiVik: With this switch-based scanning, a highlight moves across the screen keyboard. Once a switch is activated, WiViK sends the choice to a word processor, e-mail message, web page or other applications being used. With WiViK the switch can be used to open menus, edit text, move or resize windows, jump to other applications or move the mouse pointer, giving the user nearly limitless computer access.

While there are several standard scanning strategies available, WiViK also allows one to define a unique strategy based on abilities and preferences. By choosing the number of switches (from one up to six), the basic scanning method (automatic, directed, inverse/step etc.), and the pattern of scanning movement preferred (item, row/column, quadrant) one can create a personal scanning strategy.

Automatic scanning: In automatic scanning, groups or items are automatically highlighted or scanned in sequence, giving the user a preset time to decide if that option is the preferred one before the highlight moves onto the next option. The scan time can be changed to accommodate the user’s ability. Some users need a slower scanning speed than others. This is similar on most of these techniques.

Inverse/step scanning: With inverse scanning, the highlighting cursor is advanced by holding the select switch down. While the switch is held down, the highlight pauses at each item for a preset time.

Step scanning: Step scanning is a variation where the user repeatedly activates the selected switch. The advantage of inverse/step scanning is that timing is not as critical as with automatic scanning. Groups or items are selected with a select switch. Typically two or three switches are used with move, select and cancel actions assigned to switches.

Directed scanning: Directed scanning matches separate switches with moving the highlight across individual keys. These switches are used in a step or inverse fashion. The scanning movement is directed up, down, right, and left by pressing multiple switches.

In addition, WiViK offers a wide variety of layouts from which the user can choose. With scanning, placing the most common letters or choices together will assist with speed. For others, learning out-of-order layouts is difficult; an alphabetical appearance may be beneficial. WiViK provides macro programming, allowing for several layers of keyboard.

Reach Author Interface is another scanning program with many different options.One of the more unique features of this program is the technique called smart typing. With smart typing, the letters on the keyboard will disappear if the letter will not make a word based on the letters already typed. The program can be set up for an auditory scanning letting the user hear each letter, or group of letters, that they are highlighting.

On-screen: Onscreen is a low cost solution for individuals needing scanning. It may have a couple less features than the above mentioned program; however, is still provides independence in typing with a single switch.

EZ Keys: EZ Keys XP is designed for users who have at least a third-grade reading level. EZ Keys XP allows the user to do everything from typing a letter, engaging in conversation with a friend, or exploring the World Wide Web. World-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking uses the software to communicate, write papers, and deliver lectures around the world.

The program is capable of storing hundreds of thousands of phrases and sentences, and then retrieve them instantly using EZ Keys XP’s Instant Phrases. The user can group phrases according to subject, such as family matters, sports, personal needs, jokes, or hobbies, and then use them quickly in everyday conversations.

The size of a scanning keyboard is quite small, so as to not cover up the majority of the monitor. The program also provides mouse emulation. A “no voice” version of EZ Keys XP is available, as well, for users who do not require speech output, but who do want adapted computer access.

Other Types of Scanning Software:

Children and some adults may not be ready or need a screen keyboard. There are educational and recreational options available. Other ways that scanning can be used on a computer include Start to Finish Books, Cause and Effect, SimTech Games, Mix-and-match, puzzles, communication (i.e. speaking dynamically), and various educational software packages.

Scanning offers numerous possibilities for the potential computer user no matter how old or how severe the disability. It may take time to configure, learn and implement this technology into your own lifestyle, but the end result is worth the effort.