Dyslexia and Technology

In Part 2 of the article on switches and software, we look at Penfriend and its use with Dyslexia.

Clicker Integration

The biggest advantage Penfriend has for South African users is its integration with Clicker. In addition to predicting words directly into a word processor programme, Penfriend XP can work with Clicker.

Clicker effectively makes Penfriend switch accessible. Penfriend integrates fully with Clicker versions 4 and 5.2. Penfriend XP combines terrific performance with a range of well chosen features and surprising ease of use. It brings dyslexic and physically disabled users benefits including the confidence to write more, the accuracy to write what they mean, and the speed to write more in the time available. It can be used with almost any word processor, as it intercepts and simulates messages from the keyboard to the application.

Word Prediction

Penfriend XP's core strength is in predicting the next word a user wants to write. It does this using a dictionary of known words, along with detailed knowledge of when they are likely to be used, their grammatical type, words that have been used before, and so on. Every time a user types a letter, it displays a new list of the most likely words which will fit the characters already typed. Choosing one is a simple matter of pressing one more button, or clicking on the word with the mouse. If the user is not sure how to read it, he can hear it spoken before choosing.

Speech Feedback

Penfriend comes with speech feedback; the programme’s ability to read aloud the words on the screen, including words that haven't been written yet! Penfriend XP uses Microsoft SAPI5 to produce clear words, and to allow the installation of other 'third party' voices.

The programme can be set up to speak each letter as it is typed, each word as it is completed, and each sentence. It can read words from the prediction list when the user points at them, or chooses them, or automatically when they change. It can also read back whole paragraphs (or more) of text from other applications using the clipboard. This might be a document, a web page, an email, or almost anything else.

While speaking text from the clipboard, the screen shows a window which follows the voice, highlighting each word as it goes. A user can click on a word to hear it again, or to speak a fragment of the text.

On-screen Keyboard

For people with physical disabilities preventing the use of a keyboard, or for those who do not want to glance repeatedly between the screen and keyboard, Penfriend XP offers an on-screen keyboard. Its straightforward design mirrors key features of a conventional QWERTY keyboard, and it uses colours of the user's choice.

Lexicon Editing

A major feature of Penfriend is the ability to edit lexicons. Penfriend doesn't claim to know all the words the user will want to write in advance, but it is very good at learning them. Every word the user types is analysed, and Penfriend can learn those it doesn't recognise. Depending on the spelling, users might ask for new words to be predicted immediately (as appropriate), or perhaps just to be remembered and then checked by a teacher.

Penfriend holds new words in a specially marked list, so that a user can easily review the ones it has learnt recently. There are various tools for manipulating these, such as approving only those words used several times. If a user has bad spelling, the 'Predict new words' function can be switched off so that the wrong spellings attempts can be seen. These can then be 'Banned' if the user never wants them predicted again.

As well as learning new words, Penfriend keeps track of the words used, and the user’s style of writing. This all helps to predict the right words the next time!

Sensible Options

Penfriend XP makes its options easy to understand. There are enough to give a user the choices needed for the people they work with, but each one makes sense, providing flexibility and comprehension.

The colour of text in the prediction window and the on-screen keyboard can be adjusted. The colour of highlighted words, both text and background, can be controlled separately from the normal words. Whether Penfriend learns new words, predicts them immediately, applies 'smart punctuation', or speaks as the user types, these can all be decided by the user. The Penfriend User Manual explains which options would help most.

Further, these options are saved for each user rather than for the whole computer. This means that several people with different special needs can use the same system, but each one gets it configured especially for them.

Abbreviation Expansion

As well as predicting words using the letters typed, Penfriend can store phrases or other words, assigned to special codes. For example, 'pfl' might be an abbreviation for 'Penfriend Ltd'. When the user types the short code and presses Space, Penfriend automatically replaces it with the stored phrase. This can speed up writing of commonly used phrases or even sentences. Naturally, the user controls the abbreviations, adding and removing them at will.

Smart Punctuation

When the user finishes a sentence, or uses almost any punctuation mark, Penfriend can help to get it right. Although it normally puts a space after predicted words, it moves that to after the punctuation, and capitalises the next letter. Little things like this give writers the confidence to put their thoughts on paper.For product pricing and information info@inclusivesolutions.co.za.

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