I never lie to my students. Firstly, it’s demeaning to them as individuals. Secondly, it doesn’t say much about my abilities as an educator and undermines my students’ ability to trust me. But I think the hardest truth I have to tell is this:
“Learning to type is boring.”
Sure, you can add some spice to the activity with different programs and incentives, but it is still essentially boring for the majority of our students.
But as boring as touch typing is, it is undoubtedly one of the most important skills for students with visual impairments to master. And in some cases, being a proficient touch typist puts them at an advantage over their sighted peers,
Many TVIs and other professionals want to know the most accessible means of teaching touch typing to their students. Several options exist, but some are better suited to different age groups and abilities than others.
In this article, we will discuss five different touch typing platforms, students who benefit most from them, and the advantages of each for low vision and no vision students.
APH has long been a great source of materials for teaching blind and visually impaired students. One of their software solutions is called Talking Typer. It is available as a digital download for $79 or as a standard software package for $89. For those using an iOS device with a Bluetooth Keyboard, Talking Typer is available in the App Store for $4.99.
Talking typer is self-voicing (so does not require any additional screen reading software such as JAWS) and has a very clean and easy to see interface. The font size is easily adjustable in the settings, and there are some contrast settings. The sequence of instruction is easy to follow and anticipate.
Unfortunately, you cannot add or edit lessons in Talking Typer, but most instructors don’t make use of that capability in other programs for the most part.
Who Benefits Most?
As with many typing programs, this one is not very kid friendly. So older students and adults would likely find it the most useful.
The font size is adjustable and actually can be made very large, so individuals with low vision can easily view and copy the letters.
A very nice and accessible resource put out by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind is called “Keystroke”. It is a free download that can be obtained from their webpage.
Starting with the home row, it takes the student through the typical sequence of touch typing lessons starting with the home row and progressing onward. The sequence of instruction is quite logical.
A very nice feature of Keystroke is that it customizable. For example, you can adjust how thorough Keystroke is in teaching you (like using the correct shift key or how many keys must be capitalized before you should use the caps-lock) and even what kind of feedback Keystroke gives you when you make mistakes.
You also have the ability to add (CONTROL + N) your own custom lessons or edit (CONTROL + E) existing lessons. Keystroke has a built in "Lesson Calculator" designed to make this process easy. It shows you how complex your lesson is, how long it'll take and even lets you give characters that you do and don't want to use in the lesson (that way you don't put anything in the lesson that hasn't been taught yet).
As a bonus, the document suite gives you an idea of how to create, edit and format documents. It'll teach you all the important keyboard commands you'll need in order to quickly edit and format documents.
Who Benefits Most?
Keystroke is designed for individuals who use a screen reader. The print is very small and not customizable. So it is ideal for screen reader users or those you do not want looking at the screen for whatever reason.
The setup would likely appeal more to an adult than a child, but one could use the customizable lessons to add some fun into the program by creating “fun” things to type.
Keyboarding Without Tears
This program is not really specific to students with visual impairments, but it is very useful for the “reluctant typist”.
Keyboarding Without Tears (KWT) is an annual license and software download, though it is also partly web based. It is a part of the larger and more comprehensive suite called “Learning Without Tears program”, but can be purchased separately.
KWT offers many visual effects as well as some creative sounds to help engage students and keep their minds somewhat distracted. This has the dual effect of distracting the child enough to not look at his keys and providing a larger visual target,
Who Benefits Most?
KWT was designed for students who have difficulty attending to other more traditional keyboarding programs used in regular education settings. It is available for grades K-5 and content is aimed toward those with attention issues or those difficult to motivate. It is not, however, ideal for students who have CVI or visual crowding issues due to the nature of the images/animation.
Another quality program is called Typio by Accessibyte. This product is marketed specifically for students with visual impairments. The program is a software download and is self-voicing so no screen reader is needed.
The program includes a logical sequence of lessons and includes a lot of “special characters” in the later lessons such as the ampersand and the carrot. This is actually very beneficial because many students are unaware of where these characters are and now that many passwords are requiring a “special character” to be included, it is even more important to know how to type them.
Settings for each individual allow students to change the font size, contrast, voice, sound effects, and other settings. Teachers can also set up the account so that students need to achieve a certain score in words per minute or accuracy to proceed to the next lesson.
Students can also move directly to specific lessons rather than go through the “progress mode”. This allows them to review or preview a lesson. It also allows the teacher to conduct assessment on which keys the student needs some extra help with.
One disadvantage of this program is that there is not a way for teachers to track student progress (though that will be addressed in an upcoming product release).
Who can Benefit?
This program is ideal for students with low vision and glare issues since the colors and font size can be easily customized.
Typio is a software download that costs a one-time fee of about $100. It uses a very traditional approach to teaching keyboarding skills, but the ability to change the sound effect scheme easily has been a motivator for my own students.
Sao Mai Typing Tutor
One product that has come out in recent weeks and that I have no experience with is called Sao Mai Typing Tutor (SMTT). For those unfamiliar with Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Institute, it is a center located in Vietnam with the goal of improving the lives and employment prospects of adults who are visually impaired.
An interesting feature of SMTT is that it offers tutorials and the multi-language support. The website indicates that additional languages will be added over time.
Like many of the other programs mentioned here, it has an explore mode, customizable lessons, and a way for teachers to track student progress.
Since this product is so new, or at least newer to the US market, much is unknown and it may not have been explored by many people quite yet. The good news is that it only costs $14 per download.
Who Would Benefit?
As previously stated, this is a relatively new product that many (including myself) have not explored. So the features described are pretty much the best that can be offered at this point.
It is worth noting that proceeds from the sale of this program directly benefit the Sao Mi Institute and thus the blind of Vietnam.
I hinted at a new product that will be released by Accessibyte very soon. That program is called Accessibyte Online and will feature Typio in an online format with many new features. Interested in learning more? There will be an installment later this month reviewing this new product so stay tuned!