RocketKeysby MyVoice LisaCiraldo & Laura O’[email protected]
[email protected] – Assistive Technology Working in the field of education, specifically withstudents with disabilities, made us curious to research additional forms ofcommunication that are available using assistive technology (AT), in additionto the ones we learned during this class experience. We were specifically interested in additionalmethods of communication for autism, but came across the application of RocketKeys that assists with multiple disabilities including autism, and felt it wasimportant to research further. As we learned in thisclass, assistive technology helps by increasing the functional capabilities ofstudents with disabilities. Yes, thistechnology 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 classroomfor students with disabilities. Therefore, having multiple forms and styles oftechnology available to help with multiple disabilities is crucial in the fieldof education and beyond. RocketKeysshowed the ability to fill this role in AT and augmentative and alternativecommunication (AAC) for so many students and people with disabilities, that wewere 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 itscustomizable keyboards, accessible input, and sentence prediction.”(RocketKeys, 2018). In a nutshell, thistext-to-speech application for the iPad assists people with complexcommunication needs and allows them to customize their keyboard to fit theirspecific abilities and preferences.
“Customizable” truly is the one word that captures the aspect ofRocketKeys that makes it stand out as an inclusive AAC tool for speechassistance. Very easily learned, all of the keys on thekeyboard can be individually “edited” in order to meet the needs of theuser. Within this editing process, userscan switch the key location, size, color, or what it states. In addition, entire sections, including theprediction, message and keyboard sections, can be moved around to a locationthat best suits the user.Depending on the user and the disability, the keyboardcan be set up any way, such as with two very large keys, or dozens of smallerkeys, all stating whatever the user wants the keys to state. While the initial templates give a standardset of keys and prompts, customization, as stated many times, is a majorselling point of the RocketKeys application. Blank keys can be dragged onto the keyboard in any location, size orcolor, and the user can choose any punctuation, word, letter or phrase toassign that key. A nice feature withinthis blank key customization is the ability to have different words written orspoken versus what is written on the key.
For example, if there is a phrase that is often used, such as “My nameis Joe”, the key can simply say “Joe”, and when pushed, the program will writedown and then say the full phrase.Other important areas of customization are thevoices and word prediction sections. Forthe voices, every push or hover over a key or message bar gives an audibledescription of what the key or words are. You can have a primary voice that manages the message bar, a secondaryvoice that manages how the keys are spoken and a hover voice that speaks thekeys 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 onthe screen. In addition to helpingpeople with visual impairments, the differentiation of voices also greatlyassists those they are communicating with. Having distinct voices for both the keystrokesand reading the message bar (for what the user wants to actually say), theother party can easily comprehend when the user is saying something, versusjust typing.
Within the voice features, users can alter thegender of the voice, as well as the voices’ speed, pitch and volume. Within the gender options for the voiceselection, the user can choose if they want the voice of a man, woman, boy orgirl, all having a very realistic voice tone and quality. The prediction bar is one of the most interestingand 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 inits predictions, and accuracy of predictions, hence the name, RocketKeys. The user is able to change the amount ofprediction options that show up as soon as one key is typed, depending on theirpreferences.
We all know that modern day language shiftsfrequently, leading to different slang, sayings, and social statements. Fortunately, technology moves equally as fastas the younger generation, and we are often not sure who is keeping up withwho! RocketKeys acknowledges thisimportance and uses “groundbreaking analysis of 10 million Twitter tweets”(RocketKeys, 2018), in order to keep the word and phrase prediction culturallyliterate. This is a unique aspect ofRocketKeys and allows the younger generation with complex communication needsto be able to “keep up” with their peers.
Not only will they be able to say what they want to say, they will beable to say it faster. Without having toput in so much effort, the application can very accurately predict what phrasethe user is trying to type, whether it is a standard phrase, or a hip newsaying or slogan. Even if the words wereabbreviated on the keys, or written in the incorrect order, the program willnotice this and make an autocorrection. Thislast feature greatly assists those who struggle with poor spelling yet stillneed to use a communication device that usually requires quite a literateuser. Having the ability to assist people with manydifferent types of disabilities, including physical, RocketKeys can understandthe touch from people with unsteady hands that may not be precise.
Users simply choose a stabilization option inthe menu to have this feature turned on. If their hands are very shaky and they touchthe screen often while trying to push a key, the program will know to wait fora “tap and hold” pattern, in order to recognize the keys being chosen. This is extremely beneficial for people withphysical 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 acknowledgeand 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 ifthere is a hand position that is unusual yet must be used to touch thekeys. Once programmed in on thesettings, the application will recognize this unique hand position to ensureaccuracy when the user is typing, to allow for fluid communication. This physical accessibility feature makesRocketKeys very user friendly for people with many different types of disabilities.Those with communication and visual disabilitiescan easily work with this program by customizing the size, color and locationof the keys, as well as the voices used for the keys, as we previouslydiscussed.
The auditory prompts for thekeys can be very comprehensive throughout the program to allow for seamlessnavigation through the application for blind users. There is also an on-screencursor that is customizable, as well, and can assist the user to see what theyare hovering over, before they push the key. A great visual aid feature is the use of AirPlay to assist with visualdisabilities. Using AirPlay allows usersto see the screen projected onto a larger HD television screen, showing themthe keys, and what they are writing, in real time.
In order to better view the screen, users canalso change the contrast and color to allow for better contrast between thebackground and keys. We have seen thislast feature on many AAC applications in this class, and know that it can be awonderful and simple tool to bring ease to the eyes and system, while trying toread 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 astandard format, and then customize later, in order to get started quickly withthe program.
Users can choose betweenfive different templates and three different color schemes that best suit theusers’ need. For a continued “quickstart”, the program is already set up to perform suggestions for sentence andword 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 owncustomized keyboard and screen features, for whenever they log on as theuser. Having this amount of userspossible makes RocketKeys a wonderful option for teachers or clinicians thathave many students with varying disabilities that need help with complexcommunication needs. Switching betweenusers is extremely easy as it is the push of a button, which is helpful when ateacher is working with multiple students at once, and needs to jump back andforth between them. In conclusion, RocketKeys is a wonderful andmulti-functional AT and AAC application that can assist people and studentswith multiple types of disabilities, specifically motor, visual orcommunication disabilities, or any combination of them. Between the extensive customization that isallowed and available, and the ease of use, RocketKeys seems like a completepackage within the AAC high-tech tools available.
The multitude of persons assisted by thisprogram makes it an all-inclusive AT device that is easily learned by studentsand teachers alike to ensure that communication to the outside world is quickand easy and, equally as important, up to date with the phrasing of thetimes. As the developer of RocketKeys,Alex Levy, stated, “We wanted to talkabout Saturday Night Live and Obama and musicians and baseball. But theexisting prediction engines made formal suggestions — no proper nouns and noslang. We wanted an engine that would suggest words and phrases that we useevery day” (Specialneeds.com, 2018). Thisamazing prediction feature allows people with disabilities, who are oftensocially isolated, to take one step closer to feeling fully integrated withtheir peers. Although we learned that AThelps to increase the functional capabilitiesof students with disabilities, we can go one step further and assist with theiremotional and inclusive capabilities, and RocketKeys is right there toassist.