HomePage | SiteMap | Refresh| EditPage| RenamePage| WikiHelp| LogIn


WebTyper (also called Typer) (Available online at http://www.cs.unc.edu/Research/assist/et/projects/WebTyper) is a browser based program designed to enable switch users to do basic word processing or writing on a computer. The primary intended user base of this program is people with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments (SSPI). People with SSPI have non-linguistic impairments, such as muscular problems, that restrict their ability to express their existing or potential linguistic competence. In other words, these are people intelligent enough to develop language skills and be literate but have a physical impairment that makes expressing this intelligence very difficult. As a result of this, many people with SSPI are not given the same opportunities educationally as their peers. Some 328,200 people nationwide have SSPI and 70 to 90% of them lag behind there peers in literacy learning.

A number of commercially available tools (for Mac and Win) do exist that can be valuable educational aids to this community, ranging in price from $140 to $300 for a single license, which can be rather expensive for many individual users and educational systems. There are organizations that can be requested to subsidize the purchase of these commercial tools, but often they won’t do so unless there is evidence the tool will be beneficial to the student. Also, once a tool is purchased it is often only available on one computer owned by the purchasing organization, leaving the user without access whenever they are away from that computer.

Typer has the ability to fill some of these gaps left by the other tools available. Because Typer is free with no licensing issues and can be run on any computer with a supported browser (Firefox, available for most Operating Systems, or IE5 or IE6, already installed on most computers) Typer is accessible on almost any computer. This includes many computers where the user doesn’t have administrative access, such as library or school computers, and can’t install applications. Typer can be accessed across the web or carried on an inexpensive memory key to any computer. Because it’s freely available, it can be used as a way to demonstrate a user’s potential for improvement with an assistive tool. This evidence of improvement can then be presented to funding organizations to convince them of the value of funding the purchase of a more advanced tool.

The Typer itself is written in HTML and JavaScript and presents a very simple interface to the user. There is a toolbar across the top of the browser window which displays all of the options available for selection. Right now this includes the alphabet as well as a space and backspace option. The options are highlighted by means of a timer or a second switch which moves the highlighter from item to item. When the desired letter is highlighted the user then presses the primary switch to select the item. The selected item then appears in the windows below the toolbar at the end of the previously selected items. Word wrapping is handled using the native browser mechanisms, breaking at white space and a teacher can scroll through all of the typed text using the arrow keys. The teacher can also elect to print or save the contents as well as make the browser full screen.

Typer has a number of options available that can be set in order to make the program more suitable for any individual user. These include controlling the font, size and color of top and bottom text as well as the background color, highlighter color, timer length, single or double switch typing, which keys control the switch, use of restarting or scrolling, choice of an alphabetic or frequency alphabet and having one or two displays rows on top. These options are set using URL arguments, enabling a configuration to be bookmarked for easy access later.

In order to simplify the selection of these options, a control panel is available which displays all of the options available and writes a URL with the correct arguments based on the selected options.

So far I’ve received positive reactions to the Typer project and its current state of operation, both from The UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and from others who have been shown the project. I am looking forward to receiving future feedback regarding the Typer’s strengths and shortcomings in order to help guide its future growth, provided there is continued interest in its development from the community. I am open to developing any feature that there is enough demand for and as of now features I hope to develop in the near future include text-to-speech, a user customizable alphabet, more customization options and the ability to use images in the program. In the immediate future, The UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies has plans to start using Typer with some of their students and I am awaiting feedback from that.

Thanks to Karen Erickson and Gretchen Hanser from the UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies for their help in developing the project and this report.