Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kids Click: Your Quick Guide to Computer Access Methods for Young Children

by Tenley Mcdonald

Computers are increasingly present in early childhood classrooms, and they can be a fun way for young children to learn and interact with their peers. For young children with disabilities, however, access to computers can be a challenge. Fortunately, many options are available to help children use the computer so they can develop important early learning skills. Here are several popular options.

Touch Screen: Placed on or built into a computer monitor, a touch screen allows the user to activate the computer or select a program by touching the screen instead of using a mouse. The ability to make a direct selection is helpful for children who may have difficulty understanding the relationship between the mouse and the cursor on the monitor.

Switch: When a child is unable to use a standard keyboard or mouse, a switch offers a helpful alternative. Connected to the computer through a device called an interface, a switch is usually a large, one-button device that is activated when the child presses it. Scanning software moves across the choices on the screen, and the child presses the switch when the preferred option is highlighted. Software programs designed for children with disabilities often have scanning available in their options menus. If not, users must purchase scanning software separately.

Alternative Mouse: For young children who understand how to use a mouse but find the size daunting, several alternatives are available. A tiny mouse that’s easier for little hands to maneuver is one popular option. Another choice is a one-button mouse that eliminates the right-click function found on a standard mouse. Other alternatives include a trackball or joystick. With a trackball, the user moves a small ball on a stationary base to control the cursor. A joystick is another option to control the cursor and may be especially well-suited for a young child who already uses such a device to control his or her wheelchair.

Alternative Keyboard: With variations in size, shape, layout, or function, alternative keyboards give users the functions that meet their needs. Young beginners, for example, may find that keyboards with large keys and bright colors help them find letters more quickly. Some children may prefer a keyboard where letters are in alphabetical order instead of the standard QWERTY layout. Children who need visual clarity and would benefit from having tactile information on the keys may like keyboards with alternative labels. Those with fine-motor challenges may find that keyguards—hard plastic covers with holes for each key—help them avoid striking unwanted keys. For those who need to protect their keyboards from spills or saliva, thin plastic sheets called moisture guards are an option.

For more information about these and other assistive technology options, please contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or PACER.org/stc. Members of the Simon Technology Center Library may borrow these and other items.

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