Single-Handedly Conquer Technology
 

by Rob Reilly Ed.D. • Computer Education Teacher, Lanesborough (Massachusetts) School System

 
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2001 
RESOURCES in Brief
(see below for full descriptions + technical stuff)

InfoGrip Inc.
http://www.infogrip.com

IntelliTools Inc.
http://www.intellitools.com

The National Rehabilitation Information Center
http://www.naric.com

Center or IT Accommodation, Office of Government-Wide Policy
http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/cita

Teachers Net
http://www.teachers.net/mentors
 

Well the warm summer weather has finally gone here in Massachusetts, and the snow is falling. I can only reminisce about sitting in the warm sun at the local baseball field watching the kids play baseball. I know them all, as I teach in the one-school town where I live. But there is one boy that I especially remember watching. He was born without a right hand. He graduated from elementary school this past year. As I watched him play the outfield, he is seemingly unaffected by the lack of having a right hand. He caught and threw the ball with his left hand—it was a marvel to see him catch the ball, tuck the glove and ball under his arm, pull his hand out, pick the ball out of the glove and then throw it. I remember sitting at the ball field one day and thinking about his career in my computer class. This boy has done a great deal for himself. He has a terrific attitude—he does not let his situation get him down or otherwise stand in his way. I remember the day that the boy decided not to use his prosthetic arm any longer—he simply did not like using it; and his parents agreed. But when he arrived in my computer education class he found it rather difficult to use conventional keyboards. What to do?

I surveyed several Web sites to find a solution for a student with one hand. Traditional keyboards can be configured to have sticky keys for those people who do not have use of two hands, but I though there must be something better—I thought there must be a company somewhere that has a product for single-handed use. Sure enough, after a good deal of Web surfing, I was able to find a very useful product.

I discovered several products, but after a good deal of evaluation, the BAT Personal Keyboard seemed to be the best for my purposes. The BAT is a one-handed compact input device that replicates all the functions of a full-size keyboard, but with greater efficiency and convenience.

After talking with a number of colleagues who have used the BAT and my one-handed student, I decided to buy one. I remember the day it arrived. I took it out of the box and I tried it. I must confess that I did not have good feelings about this techno-gizmo. Even though I had seen pictures of the BAT and had seen children using them, it was quite a different matter to be "at the controls" and be expected to make this thing work properly. There was a large card that accompanied the BAT—this large card (it seemed to be huge to me) contained all the keystroke combinations—it seemed more daunting to learn than Morse code. I was not at all sure how my student would react to memorizing all that.

The next day the student came to class and I gave him the new keyboard and let him go off in a corner and read the directions while I gave the class their assignment and set them to work. When I returned I was not sure what I'd find—would the boy be sadly disappointed by a daunting task, or would he be politely thankful and want to get to work with the other students in his class. I must confess that I was very pleasantly surprised. He had memorized A through L on the BAT. "The BAT is easy to learn and use," he said. Letters, numbers, commands, and macros are simple key combinations. If you have the right motivation it's easy. Apparently my motivation was quite low—I didn't need an alternative to the traditional keyboard—my student did.

The BAT is a fully functioning keyboard for use with one hand. It has an innovative and compact design that is ideal for individuals with physical (or visual) impairments. The keyboard's small size allows users to easily port the BAT from home to work or school, as well as to place the keyboard in the most comfortable position to meet their needs. InfoGrip Inc. has another product to enhance speed and efficiency of the BAT. ChordEasy software, a word expansion and macro program, is included with the BAT so that the keyboard can be customized.

The BAT employs an input system called "chording." Similar to Braille, combinations of keys are pressed simultaneously. The BAT has seven keys, four for the fingers and three for the thumb. The center thumb key is used in combination with the four finger keys to type "space" and "A" through "Z." The two outer thumb keys are used for special keys like "Alt," "Shift," and cursor movement. "Sticky" or "latching" keys are used to enter multiple key sequences, i.e., Alt F to open a file.

The BAT is a keyboard; it is not a mouse. However, all cursor movements can be achieved, and with Windows 95 and System 7 for Macintosh, users can turn the keypad into a mouse. If a pointing device is desired, most users mount a portable Glidepoint touchpad (available from InfoGrip) just above the thumb keys, or place a trackball or mouse on the low side of the BAT, thereby minimizing hand movement.

Users can do anything on the BAT keyboard that they would with a traditional keyboard and more. Included with the BAT is ChordEasy software. ChordEasy enhances user productivity, providing a customized short hand or Quickkeys type feature. Abbreviation expansions and macros turn long words, phrases, or key sequences of up to 250 characters into two strokes. ChordEasy also allows the users to lock the BAT in Macro Mode, requiring only one stroke to be entered, transforming it into a fully customizable keyboard.

The InfoGrip Inc. indicates that those who use their product have a wide range of physical disabilities, including the following conditions:

  • Amputation of a hand or arm
  • Congenital absence or malformation of a hand or arm
  • Physical injury or nerve damage to a hand or arm
  • Limited range of motion from a physical injury
  • Congenital condition
  • Head injury resulting in hemiplegia (paralysis on one side only)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Stroke
  • Visually impaired
  • Total blindness
InfoGrip does caution those who are considering purchasing their product that "users need to have fairly good control of finger movements on the functional hand."

My student is very happy with the BAT—I am, too. He's at the regional high school now—he's in 7th grade, and I understand that he carries the BAT around with him from class to class.

TECHNICAL STUFF

Cost: $199 (basic BAT keyboard—either right- or left-handed)

Other accessories are available (e.g., Braille reference guide, $10). For a price list see http://www.infogrip.com/bat.htm.

Warranty: An unconditional 30-day, money-back guarantee. The keyboard is covered by a 1-year warranty.

IBM Compatible: The PC model is compatible with IBM PC AT, PS/2, or higher and 100-percent compatible computers. Just plug and play, easily connected through the keyboard port, no driver required.

Macintosh Compatible: Connects through the ADB port and requires a small software driver (98k) be installed.

Daisy chainable—Both IBM and Macintosh compatible versions allow for an extended keyboard to be plugged directly into the BAT and used simultaneously, allowing other users to access the computer.

Construction: Very well built, sturdy construction.

RESOURCES

InfoGrip Inc. [http://www.infogrip.com]— The manufacturer and distributor of the BAT.

IntelliTools Inc. [http://www.intellitools.com] — IntelliTools Inc. has an excellent alternative keyboard. IntelliKeys is an intelligent, alternative keyboard that plugs into any Macintosh or Windows computer. It's an ideal solution for students who have difficulty using a standard keyboard. IntelliKeys is a keyboard that's flexible enough to meet a wide variety of learning needs. Unlike the keyboard on a computer, one can change the way IntelliKeys looks and functions by sliding in different overlays.

The National Rehabilitation Information Center [http://www.naric.com]— For 20 years, the staff of the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) has collected and disseminated the results of federally funded research projects. NARIC's literature collection, which also includes commercially published books, journal articles, and audiovisuals, averages around 200 new documents per month. NARIC is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for the purpose of serving "anyone, professional or layperson, who is interested in disability and rehabilitation, including consumers, family members, health professionals, educators, rehabilitation counselors, students, librarians, administrators, and researchers." Their motto is, "NARIC can help you find the answers."

Center or IT Accommodation, Office of Government-Wide Policy [http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/cita]— Established in 1984, the Center for IT Accommodation (CITA) is a nationally recognized model demonstration facility influencing accessible information environments, services, and management practices.

Teachers Net [http://www.teachers.net/mentors]— A bulletin board-based asynchronous chat that has an excellent Special Education and an excellent Computer Technology section. Accessing these chat boards will put you in touch with educators and technicians who can be of great assistance.
 



Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Communications to the author should be addressed to reilly@media.mit.edu. His Web site is http://www.media.mit.edu/~reilly.
 
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