06 April 2006

CSUN 2006/More Keyboard Alternatives

We keep moving further and further away from the need, or even the desire, to waste any huge amount of a child's time teaching them touch-typing on a QWERTY keyboard. There are so many other options, and if we learn how to offer choices to students - from the cell-phone touchpad and on up - they just may find the solution most comfortable for themselves.

I keep coming across the "statistic" that only 25% to 30% of Americans are actually "touch-typists" and though I can't find where the figure comes from, since it pretty closely tracks the percentage of United States students who read proficiently or do math proficiently (from 30 years of NAEP scores), this seems like one more example of a situation where we might as well try something different because what we are doing could hardly be worse.

Whatever. There are literally thousands of possibilities, here are a few...

The FrogPad: FrogPad comes in both wired and Bluetooth forms - thus allowing text entry into virtually any electronic device. "The iFrog has 20 full-size keys in a space less than 4 x 6 inches. 15 keys are for entering letters, numbers, and symbols and the remaining five for shift and control functions. Alternate characters are entered by pressing the Space or Number key together with one of the 15 letter keys. The Number key by itself puts the iFrog into a numeric keypad mode while the Symbol key provides access to the two symbols on the right side of each letter key.

"According to FrogPad, the iFrog has been designed for fast data entry. The letter layout is based on the percent usage of each letter in the English language. Fifteen letters that are used 86 percent of the time by typists are placed in the most efficient locations on the keyboard. Overall layout uses the natural drumming motion of the hand to further optimize performance and enables international scalability for other languages.

"FrogPad claims that the iFrog's ergonomic design significantly shortens learning time compared with the traditional QWERTY layout. University studies indicate new users can reach 40 words per minute in 10 hours versus the 56 needed with QWERTY. Both right- and left-handed versions are available." FrogPad for the disabled. Frogpad for educators.

The Half-Keyboard: This can work for many different types of users, including those with limited or no use of one hand, or those who need to keep one hand consistently on a mouse or drawing tool. The system works via a simple "right-left reflection" method. If you use the left-handed version, the left hand keys are just as they are on a QWERTY keyboard, but if you hold the space bar down while typing a letter, it produces the equivalent letter from the right side of the keyboard (vise-versa with the right-hand model). It is very easy to learn. The manufacturer says, "Type while talking on the phone. Easier text editing – Scroll, select text, type corrections, or make deletions, without moving your hand back and forth between keyboard and mouse. Hold documents in one hand and type them in with the other hand. Users of Desktop Publishing, CAD, Photoshop and other graphics software can change tools and issue commands on the Half Keyboard, without taking their hand off the mouse or stylus. One hand incapacitated? Type with the other! A Half Keyboard is ideal for someone with a hand injury or disability." I have seen this layout work very well.

Programmable Solutions: Another choice is to start with a blank slate and set up the keys the way you want to. This allows the creation of all kinds of quick-keys to support those with disabilities. There are fully programmable keyboards and there are the "blank" X-Keys Desktops, available in 20 Key, 58 Key, 84 Key, 128 Key, and 16 Key (a long "stick") versions (20, 58, 16 key versions available from EnableMart). The X-Keys system can replace a regular keyboard or add to it, offering many dramatic fast-touch solutions to boost typing and other communication. It is an easy system to gety set, and to alter, and even comes with easy-to-use templates for creating the key labels.

Happy April Holidays to all, whether it is Easter, Passover, Buddha's Birthday, Mohammed's Birthday, Songkran, the Easter Rising 90th, or Dia de Liberdad - Ira Socol

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