RocketKeys it is not considered “assistive” unless

 

 

RocketKeys
by MyVoice

 

Lisa
Ciraldo & Laura O’Connor

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5371 – Assistive Technology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Working in the field of education, specifically with
students with disabilities, made us curious to research additional forms of
communication that are available using assistive technology (AT), in addition
to the ones we learned during this class experience.  We were specifically interested in additional
methods of communication for autism, but came across the application of Rocket
Keys that assists with multiple disabilities including autism, and felt it was
important to research further. 

As we learned in this
class, assistive technology helps by increasing the functional capabilities of
students with disabilities.  Yes, this
technology can assist anyone that uses it, but it is not considered “assistive”
unless the actual user has a disability. 
The use of AT is a major tool of integration into the general classroom
for students with disabilities. Therefore, having multiple forms and styles of
technology available to help with multiple disabilities is crucial in the field
of education and beyond.  RocketKeys
showed the ability to fill this role in AT and augmentative and alternative
communication (AAC) for so many students and people with disabilities, that we
were curious what factors made it stand out as an AT and AAC tool.

“RocketKeys gives a voice to people with ALS,
Aphasia, Autism, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, MND, and Parkinson’s, using its
customizable keyboards, accessible input, and sentence prediction.”
(RocketKeys, 2018).  In a nutshell, this
text-to-speech application for the iPad assists people with complex
communication needs and allows them to customize their keyboard to fit their
specific abilities and preferences. 
“Customizable” truly is the one word that captures the aspect of
RocketKeys that makes it stand out as an inclusive AAC tool for speech
assistance.  

Very easily learned, all of the keys on the
keyboard can be individually “edited” in order to meet the needs of the
user.  Within this editing process, users
can switch the key location, size, color, or what it states.  In addition, entire sections, including the
prediction, message and keyboard sections, can be moved around to a location
that best suits the user.

Depending on the user and the disability, the keyboard
can be set up any way, such as with two very large keys, or dozens of smaller
keys, all stating whatever the user wants the keys to state.  While the initial templates give a standard
set of keys and prompts, customization, as stated many times, is a major
selling point of the RocketKeys application. 
Blank keys can be dragged onto the keyboard in any location, size or
color, and the user can choose any punctuation, word, letter or phrase to
assign that key.  A nice feature within
this blank key customization is the ability to have different words written or
spoken versus what is written on the key. 
For example, if there is a phrase that is often used, such as “My name
is Joe”, the key can simply say “Joe”, and when pushed, the program will write
down and then say the full phrase.

Other important areas of customization are the
voices and word prediction sections.  For
the voices, every push or hover over a key or message bar gives an audible
description of what the key or words are. 
You can have a primary voice that manages the message bar, a secondary
voice that manages how the keys are spoken and a hover voice that speaks the
keys or words when you hover over a key. 
This differentiation is extremely helpful to those with visual impairment,
as it helps the user to decipher what is being said, and where the cursor is on
the screen.  In addition to helping
people with visual impairments, the differentiation of voices also greatly
assists those they are communicating with.  Having distinct voices for both the keystrokes
and reading the message bar (for what the user wants to actually say), the
other party can easily comprehend when the user is saying something, versus
just typing.

Within the voice features, users can alter the
gender of the voice, as well as the voices’ speed, pitch and volume.  Within the gender options for the voice
selection, the user can choose if they want the voice of a man, woman, boy or
girl, all having a very realistic voice tone and quality.   

The prediction bar is one of the most interesting
and unique portions of the RocketKeys application.  Similar to other AAC speech applications,
there are words predicted that pop up when the user begins to type a word.  Yet, this application is lightening fast in
its predictions, and accuracy of predictions, hence the name, RocketKeys.  The user is able to change the amount of
prediction options that show up as soon as one key is typed, depending on their
preferences.

We all know that modern day language shifts
frequently, leading to different slang, sayings, and social statements.  Fortunately, technology moves equally as fast
as the younger generation, and we are often not sure who is keeping up with
who!  RocketKeys acknowledges this
importance and uses “groundbreaking analysis of 10 million Twitter tweets”
(RocketKeys, 2018), in order to keep the word and phrase prediction culturally
literate.  This is a unique aspect of
RocketKeys and allows the younger generation with complex communication needs
to be able to “keep up” with their peers. 
Not only will they be able to say what they want to say, they will be
able to say it faster.  Without having to
put in so much effort, the application can very accurately predict what phrase
the user is trying to type, whether it is a standard phrase, or a hip new
saying or slogan.  Even if the words were
abbreviated on the keys, or written in the incorrect order, the program will
notice this and make an autocorrection.  This
last feature greatly assists those who struggle with poor spelling yet still
need to use a communication device that usually requires quite a literate
user. 

Having the ability to assist people with many
different types of disabilities, including physical, RocketKeys can understand
the touch from people with unsteady hands that may not be precise.  Users simply choose a stabilization option in
the menu to have this feature turned on.  If their hands are very shaky and they touch
the screen often while trying to push a key, the program will know to wait for
a “tap and hold” pattern, in order to recognize the keys being chosen.  This is extremely beneficial for people with
physical disabilities who are unable to use individual fingers, for example,
and may only be able to touch the board with their fist.  The keyboard can be customized to acknowledge
and accept this type of touch, and can even be programmed to allow a “hover”
over a key to accept that key as submitted into the message box.  The user can even program special settings if
there is a hand position that is unusual yet must be used to touch the
keys.  Once programmed in on the
settings, the application will recognize this unique hand position to ensure
accuracy when the user is typing, to allow for fluid communication.  This physical accessibility feature makes
RocketKeys very user friendly for people with many different types of disabilities.

Those with communication and visual disabilities
can easily work with this program by customizing the size, color and location
of the keys, as well as the voices used for the keys, as we previously
discussed.  The auditory prompts for the
keys can be very comprehensive throughout the program to allow for seamless
navigation through the application for blind users. There is also an on-screen
cursor that is customizable, as well, and can assist the user to see what they
are hovering over, before they push the key. 
A great visual aid feature is the use of AirPlay to assist with visual
disabilities.  Using AirPlay allows users
to see the screen projected onto a larger HD television screen, showing them
the keys, and what they are writing, in real time.  In order to better view the screen, users can
also change the contrast and color to allow for better contrast between the
background and keys.  We have seen this
last feature on many AAC applications in this class, and know that it can be a
wonderful and simple tool to bring ease to the eyes and system, while trying to
read or write on a program.

While we found RocketKeys to be very easily understood,
users can immediately go onto the program and have all items set-up in a
standard format, and then customize later, in order to get started quickly with
the program.  Users can choose between
five different templates and three different color schemes that best suit the
users’ need.  For a continued “quick
start”, the program is already set up to perform suggestions for sentence and
word completion, helping the student get their words out more easily. 

While this low-learning-curve program does cost
$160, you receive 7 different user profiles that can each have their own
customized keyboard and screen features, for whenever they log on as the
user.  Having this amount of users
possible makes RocketKeys a wonderful option for teachers or clinicians that
have many students with varying disabilities that need help with complex
communication needs.  Switching between
users is extremely easy as it is the push of a button, which is helpful when a
teacher is working with multiple students at once, and needs to jump back and
forth between them.    

In conclusion, RocketKeys is a wonderful and
multi-functional AT and AAC application that can assist people and students
with multiple types of disabilities, specifically motor, visual or
communication disabilities, or any combination of them.  Between the extensive customization that is
allowed and available, and the ease of use, RocketKeys seems like a complete
package within the AAC high-tech tools available.  The multitude of persons assisted by this
program makes it an all-inclusive AT device that is easily learned by students
and teachers alike to ensure that communication to the outside world is quick
and easy and, equally as important, up to date with the phrasing of the
times.  As the developer of RocketKeys,
Alex Levy, stated, “We wanted to talk
about Saturday Night Live and Obama and musicians and baseball. But the
existing prediction engines made formal suggestions — no proper nouns and no
slang. We wanted an engine that would suggest words and phrases that we use
every day” (Specialneeds.com, 2018).  This
amazing prediction feature allows people with disabilities, who are often
socially isolated, to take one step closer to feeling fully integrated with
their peers.  Although we learned that AT
helps to increase the functional capabilities
of students with disabilities, we can go one step further and assist with their
emotional and inclusive capabilities, and RocketKeys is right there to
assist.