‘Keystroke’ App Teaches Touch-Typing and Gets Blind Students Used to Text-to-Speech Engines

14 Oct
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Briley O'Connor

Briley O'Connor

Briley O'Connor is a regular contributor to the Mac-cessibility Network and panelist of the fortnightly podcast "The Maccessibility Round Table." www.maccessibility.net

The New Mexico Commission for the Blind has developed a free program, Keystroke, to teach touch-typing to blind and visually-impaired students using their preferred screen reader. The program is available for Windows and Mac OS X, and works with the most popular text-to-speech solutions (JAWS, Windows Eyes, NVDA and VoiceOver).

I reviewed Keystroke on my MacBook Air using the integrated VoiceOver screen reader. I completed several lessons to see how the program progressed and to test its consistency.

I liked the program overall, but noticed a few areas that need improvement. The instructions provided throughout the tutorial, specific issues regarding screen reader verbosity, the inability to save individual user statistics and the visual design of the program could be improved with minor changes to make Keystroke a more well-rounded, powerful tool for teachers of students who are blind or have low vision…and even for blind users themselves.

The Keystroke tutorial did not provide much instruction before lessons. Incorporating more instructions would assist users new to computers and screen readers. (The developer, Tyler Thompson, did tell us that this is one of the major updates planned for the next release.) The app is not difficult to use, yet it did not explain what was expected and what task should be performed to complete lessons. (Admittedly, there was a “help” file, but I was trying to emulate the experience of a novice computer user.) It would be helpful if the app were to have an Instructor Mode (to remove lesson instructions for users working with another person who is familiar with the setup) and an Independent Mode (which would include the instructions for users practicing alone).

Several important problems I encountered dealt with how my VoiceOver, my screen reader, interacted with Keystroke text. These issues include strings of multiple letters read aloud as whole words, punctuation not read because of my screen reader’s verbosity settings and not knowing how to repeat the text presented on the screen (again, we’ve been told that this feature will be better explained in the next version). These issues could be corrected with minor adjustments. For example, VoiceOver would not read “ASDFJKL;” as one word if each letter was capitalized or if spaces were placed between characters. Users could be instructed on how to adjust verbosity settings in their screen reader before lessons, so characters such as “;” would be read aloud. Specific instructions telling users to press the Space Bar to repeat text could be added so users could improve accuracy and familiarity with the screen reader.

Keystroke measures important statistics about users’ typing speed and accuracy; however, it does not allow users or instructors to save the data that is collected. Adding a login feature for multiple students and the ability to save students’ progress would allow teachers to use Keystroke to create reports with more compelling content, track student performance and use the program in larger classes.

The design and visual elements of Keystroke could be improved to help hold users’ attention. Currently, the program is not visually appealing or stimulating on screen. While this tutorial is intended for blind students, improving the aesthetics of the program would be beneficial to low-vision students using residual vision alongside a screen reader and sighted instructors.

Overall, the Keystroke typing tutorial is a useful tool and has great potential. I particularly like that the program is driven by the screen reader, which allows users to become more accustomed to hearing and navigating with synthetic speech. (Other typing programs use stereo-quality, human voicing.) It was not difficult to use and progressed through the introduction of the keyboard in a logical, straight forward manner. The app offers useful statistics about typing performance, has good sound feedback and did not have noticeable glitches. Adding more instructions and making some minor adjustments would help make Keystroke a powerful typing tutorial for blind users and instructors.

More information about the app can be found on the Keystroke web site.

The following two tabs change content below.
Briley O'Connor

Briley O'Connor

Briley O'Connor is a regular contributor to the Mac-cessibility Network and panelist of the fortnightly podcast "The Maccessibility Round Table." www.maccessibility.net

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