07 April 2008

Hardware every school should have on hand...

I believe that every school needs an assortment of keyboards and 'pointers' (mice) if they are to actually teach 'keyboarding' and/or computer use to students. You probably don't need more than one or two of any particular choice - certainly not until student needs/preferences become known - but you need to have these options on hand wherever computers are in use. Not having them is the same as not having accessible entries and rest rooms.

There are the classics that should always be on hand, BigKeys, Dvorak, One-Handed, various ergonomics, but there are a few new items which seem important to have on hand if your school is not going to deny reasonable access to a range of students. (By the way, shifting to Dvorak simply requires changing Windows or Apple control panel settings and a bit of ingenuity, you don't really need to buy anything.)

One keyboard solution is using the ABC layout. This becomes more and more logical as students train early in life on devices (such as phones) with ABC patterning, after all, there is no logic to the QWERTY system, only ancient history.

The "new standard" ABC keyboard is one option in either 'classic' black and white or the more unique green and purple look.

If you are outside the US the 'Easy as ABC' Keyboard is a more traditional looking solution.

Keyboarding, if taught, must first include keyboard choice. This is not just for those with special needs because it is probably true that more people are injured each year by their keyboards than any other single piece of employment-related equipment (carpal tunnel, anyone?). And keyboard flexibility is an essential part of our current/future economy. I type on a regular-looking keyboard. I also type on my mobile. I type on the on-screen keyboards on handheld devices. I type in various countries using, of course, the keyboards of those countries.

I have to admit that I often laugh when travelling with trained touch typists. Being a "one-fingerer" myself phone keys don't bother me, WindowsMobile ABC arrangements don't bother me, nor does a keyboard in France or Germany. My friends who succeeded in learning "typing" are, however, completely thrown. "The keys aren't in the same places!" they shout. "No they are not," I reply, adding that, "finally, I win."

Remember that size - surely with keyboards - also matters. Small hands need smaller keyboard reaches. And of course left-handers need attention as well. If not acquiring truly left-handed keyboards at least make sure that you can place the numeric keypad on the left side for the student who needs that.

Your students need mouse choices as well:

One of the best discoveries I've made is the 3M Renaissance Mouse, which seems to offer positive mouse control in some extreme of examples of dexterity limitations. It even comes in two sizes.

Others include the Hover-Stop Mouse which simplifies control to movement alone. The Big Track - great for the young and those without fine motor control. And yes, the foot-mouse. There are hundreds of other choices, pick a few, and let students consider which is best for their own needs.

Don't forget the basic option of the trackball, which is just much more intuitive for many kids, and much less stressful for many workers. The Trackman Wheel remains one of the most comfortable of these, but visit any office supply store, and think of the possibilities.

A decade ago (or more), when I first began working in assistive technology at Grand Valley State University, we put a "one-of-each" box in each campus building with computer labs. There was a BigKeys keyboard with a removable keyguard, a Dvorak keyboard, a numeric keypad with larger keys, four or five different "mice." Headsets for speech recognition and text-to-speech. And we set up a check-out system. Trade your student ID for the device you wanted - no "special permissions" needed. Back then, in the era of PS2 connections it was a pain in the arse. You had to restart each time you switched one of these devices, and we needed special "dual keyboard adapters" if two people with differing needs wanted to work on the same machine. Now, USB links make this simple, and very easy, and every one of these options costs far less now than the price back in the last century.

So is your school equipped with these options? If it is not, it is not accessible, and access to information and communication is not equal.

- Ira Socol

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