A review by the Access Technology Team of the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) at the National Center for the Blind
In a world dominated by computer technology, touch-typing is critical and is set to remain a core skill for blind students. All four of the products reviewed below provide excellent methods for teaching touch-typing to blind learners using a PC keyboard. They come with multiple site licenses for school and educational institutions or may be purchased separately for individual use.
TypeAbility requires JAWS, while the other three typing tutors come with their own speech so no additional screen access software is needed. Of course the student will need JAWS or a similar screen access program, or a sighted assistant, to locate each tutor to begin with.
TypeAbility, available from <www.yesaccessible.com/typeability.html>, is a typing tutor program which relies on JAWS for Windows screen access software to make its accessible features come alive. In fact, without JAWS, there will be no speech output. The program offers extensive options and training levels and has been found by some teachers to be more flexible than other typing tutor programs. It is available for $85 as a single installation, $220 for a ten-site license, and $440 for a twenty-site license.
Targeted to younger students, TypeAbility presents the lessons in a playful, childlike format. It provides immediate feedback if the learner presses an incorrect key, with a gentle reminder of the correct key. The program comes with sixty-eight default lessons, but more can be added by a teacher or parent. The program can also be modified to cater to adult learners. Go to the product’s Web site for a demo of the product.
Talking Typer for Windows:
Talking Typer for Windows, available from American Printing House for the Blind (<www.aph.org>), costs $79 (without enhanced voicing) or $89 (with enhanced voicing). This program is self-voicing and has various levels from which a student can choose. It will tell the student what keys to press and then report back whether the correct key sequence was pressed. Other options include speed tests where the student increases his typing speed to receive feedback on how fast and accurately he is typing.
PC Talking Typing Tutor:
PC Talking Typing Tutor, available from DeWitt and Associates at <www.4dewitt.com>, costs $99 for a personal copy. It comes with speech and has similar features to the Talking Typer for Windows program. A classroom version is also available at $199, with an additional $49 being charged per student seat. This version allows a teacher to use multiple profiles to track the progress of different students.
Consisting of fourteen lessons, PC Talking Typing Tutor takes a student from identifying the keys on the keyboard to advanced practice of his or her typing skills. Each lesson contains various exercises, allowing the student to repeat the items from the lesson. It also provides speed and accuracy testing in each lesson. There are various options to change the look of the interface to accommodate low vision. Depending on what speech is available on the computer being used, the student may be able to choose different voices. The speed and pitch of any available voice can be altered to accommodate user preference.
Talking Typing Teacher:
Talking Typing Teacher, available from MarvelSoft at <www.marvelsoft.com>, is self-voicing and works in a similar way to the other typing tutors. Once again, personal programs are available, as well as teacher’s versions that allow an instructor to set up learning tracts for a student. Adults may want to turn off many of the features to make the program friendlier and less childlike. The student MarvelSoft product costs $104.95. The Talking Typing Teacher Pro version, at $404.95, is network compatible and can serve up to thirty-five machines from the one central (server) machine on which the program is installed. The Pro version allows a teacher to teach up to thirty-five students at a time, while centrally storing all the information, and it comes with an extensive teacher kit.
NOTE: The staff at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) is able to review these competing products because this laboratory for the blind has a mandate to purchase one working model of all Braille embossers, along with other technology for the blind sold in America. Vistors who wish to personally compare rival products are welcome to do so during business hours and by making a prior appointment. The IBTC is located in Baltimore, Maryland, at the National Center for the Blind.