Learning to Type with a Simple ‘Keystroke’

28 Oct
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Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

Everyone understands the need for learning to touch-type (using the computer keyboard without a need to look at the keyboard), yet one method has dominated the software world: users learn where a few keys are located, see a word on the screen, and practice typing it. When it comes to teaching blind students, the same method holds true except that teachers rely on a screen-reader (like JAWS or VoiceOver) to read the word aloud. When a student is blind and doesn’t know English or is hard of hearing, this setup proves frustrating for everyone.

Tyler Thompson, a computer skills instructor, has created an app that he believes is a game changer in the marketplace. Currently built for Mac OS X, “Keystroke” is in the final stage of beta testing.

Thompson’s frustration with a dearth of software that could be used by a Spanish-speaking, blind gentleman a few years ago led to inspiration.

“If you’re going to be using a typing program, by definition, you have to know how to spell the words you’re hearing,” said Thompson, who works at the New Mexico Commission for the Blind Orientation Center. “Since this person wasn’t a proficient JAWS user yet and had no way to visually see the word on the screen, I had the idea to combine braille and technology class. As a happy coincidence, I made it accessible to deaf blind, too.”

Many touch-typing programs rely on the function or tab keys to control the speech, like repeating a word or advancing to the next element in a lesson. This isn’t inherently bad, Thompson said, but you typically don’t learn the location of these keys until the end of the curriculum! In his app, the space bar is the repeat key and it is the first key you learn to locate. Furthermore, there exists no other typing program that is designed to natively function with a braille display.

The statistics within the program also set it apart. Like the majority of touch-typing programs, teachers and students can ascertain a “net words per minute” score, which is a measure of speed and accuracy. However, the Keystroke app also measures “keystrokes per minute,” a key data point used by hiring managers for data entry jobs, and a metric Thompson called “correct key likelihood,” which measures the amount of editing a student will likely have to do when he or she has completed typing a rough draft.

Because of the app’s integration with braille displays, Thompson said he found himself with a “weird, happy coincidence”: by using the Braille entry keys on a Braille display, teachers can test students’ Braille writing speed and accuracy.

At the time of this writing, the core functions of the app are finished. The small tasks that lie ahead, Thompson said, are writing a few help files and finishing the lesson content. He hopes to have the app submitted to Apple for review in the next few weeks.

Because of the generosity of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, the app will be free, he said. If you are interested in beta-testing the app, we encourage you to reach Thompson directly by e-mail at tyler.thompson2@state.nm.us.

Related Post: Help Blind People Combat the Tendency to Rock Back and Forth

Photo courtesy Pixabay

The following two tabs change content below.
Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

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