Communication Without Barriers: The orbiTouch® Keyless Keyboard For Persons With Autism

It's been a while since we've done a post on how orbiTouch can be used by autistic individuals, and well, it's time for a change up.  The following article was written by John M. Williams, an assistive technology writer and blogger who founded the website Assistive Technology News.  In this article, Williams recounts his experience with the orbiTouch, and in particular, watching a young, highly functioning autistic adult gain independence by using orbiTouch.

Original Article:

Catherine Zeh sits in front of her desk with her Hewlett Packard PC sitting on the desktop. She is preparing to input information onto a page. In front of her is a plastic sheet showing her various directions to move the two domes on the orbiTouch keyless keyboard in front of her. Resting comfortably with the keyboard at arm’s level, she starts typing. “There is no finger motion involved in using the orbiTouch. I just move the two domes in different directions and I am typing,” says Zeh with a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. She says she likes using the orbiTouch because there is less finger and wrist motion, and she can sit longer spells without being tired.

Ten minutes later, she has typed 303 words in four paragraphs. A spell check review shows she typed nine words incorrectly. Still, her periods, question marks, quotations, spacing between lines and paragraph indentation are flawless. Before she started today’s work she had not used the orbiTouch in close to four weeks. She believes her efficiency rate and typing speed would be higher if she had used the orbiTouch during those four weeks. Almost three of those four weeks were spent vacationing with her parents and then grandparents. Twenty-year-old Catherine Grace Zeh is a high functioning individual with autism. A graduate of Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA, in June 2000, Zeh loves working with computers. In fact, she just loves working. She dreams of returning to work in an office where she can utilize her computer skills and general administrative skills. Her software experience includes working with Data Entry Speed 8000 KPH, Microsoft Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint and CPC 700 Closed Captioning Software. She enjoys filing, web researching and perhaps captioning once again. She was a Closed Captioning Editor from July 2000 to December 2000, for Fairfax County Public Schools, Chapel Square Center, Annandale, VA. She did transcription from audio and written scripts. However, she does not want to do captioning full time “Captioning full time is tedious and tiring because your fingers are moving all the time,” she says.

Returning to the orbiTouch she says, “The orbiTouch can be used by people who caption. After 30minutes of captioning, especially in real-time, your fingers are awfully tired, and your back aches,” says Zeh.

Zeh’s typing speed is 50 words per minute. With the orbiTouch it is 30. With more usage, she believes she can reach 40. Aware of repetitive stress injuries resulting from too much typing, she believes the orbiTouch can reduce injuries because, “there is no finger and wrist motion.” Zeh says it took her five hours to learn to use the orbiTouch to where she was typing more than 20 words per minute. Some people with autism have an ability to memorize songs, dates, facts and other information that they can recall instantly. According to Zeh, initially sitting in front of a computer for about two hours with the combinations chart in front of her, she memorized about 60% of the combinations of movements. She believes she knows more than 75% of the letter combinations and half of the other combinations.

“I have the ability to work and want very much to work full time,” says Zeh who is determined to succeed. One of her immediate goals is to work fulltime so she can travel to Europe soon with family or friends. Her burning desire is to visit Italy where she can see all the wonderful sights of Rome and ride on the canals of Venice. Working sporadically, Zeh feels as though her abilities are being wasted. She is looking for a full time job. After dozens of interviews without success, she is optimistic she will find one. She is certain the orbiTouch will play an important role in her career.

Her one wish for the orbiTouch is, “I would like to see a smaller version,” she says. By smaller she means a thumbs version. She thinks a smaller version will attract more people with autism to become users because using their thumbs will hold their attention.

She has told her friends about the orbiTouch and believes it can play educational, recreational and career roles in the lives of people with autism. Zeh, who weighs her words carefully before speaking says, “The orbiTouch gives individuals with autism a voice in the information technology field.” Zeh adds, “The orbiTouch is a communications tool. Since it can enhance my communications, it can help other people with autism to communicate.”