Keyboard Optimizer       

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Keyboard Optimizer - overview


The Keyboard Optimizer is a utility program that optimizes keyboard response settings to suit a user's typing style. It helps people with motor impairments to minimize typing difficulties. Watch the video demonstration.

What does Keyboard Optimizer do?

Keyboards have a number of standard response settings such as the delay before keys start to repeat. Appropriate settings can help people with motor disabilities to type more easily and accurately, but they can be difficult to use. The Keyboard Optimizer provides a quick, easy, and accurate way to adjust a keyboard to suit a particular user. It allows users to demonstrate how they type, determines what response settings would be best, and sets them. Users can try each proposed change then choose to keep or reject it.

The Keyboard Optimizer focuses on the most common typing difficulties. These include long key presses; difficulty in holding down keys like Shift while pressing other keys; the activation of a key adjacent to the intended key; and bounce errors, which occur when the user unintentionally presses a key more than once. Finding the right accessibility settings can make an enormous difference to the usability of a keyboard. Unfortunately, users are frequently unaware of options on their operating systems and other facilities that could help them type more easily and accurately. It can also be difficult for them to assess their own requirements. The Keyboard Optimizer overcomes these issues by providing non-technical assistance that does not require the user to already know what they need.

The user interface is physically undemanding, with large control buttons designed to eliminate errors caused by common input difficulties such as long presses or "bouncing" on keys and buttons. The Keyboard Optimizer can also accommodate users whose needs change over a session by providing automatic, dynamic updates to the keyboard response.

The screenshot below shows a suggestion being made by the Keyboard Optimizer, after a user has started to type with long key presses, producing unwanted extra characters. Here, the Keyboard Optimizer suggests a less sensitive setting and displays the effect this would have on the user's typing.


Screenshot.  Shows typing with many key repeats.  
The optimizer's suggestion is to try a 'less sensitive' setting.
  The user's options are 'try it now', 'skip it', 'see details', 'start again' and 'finish'.


How does it work?

The Keyboard Optimizer monitors users' keystrokes as they type. It analyzes the typing, looking for typical patterns indicating specific typing difficulties. When in user-controlled mode (the default), it then provides the user with a non-technical description of a potential improvement to the current keyboard configuration. Users may try out or ignore each suggestion, and they can easily undo changes they do not like. The program adjusts the key repeat delay, key repeat rate, debounce time, key acceptance delay, and Sticky Keys features available in Microsoft Windows. Users can also choose to allow the Keyboard Optimizer to continue monitoring their typing and adjusting keyboard parameters while they use other desktop applications.

The program operates by combining information about the user's keystrokes, the keyboard layout, and the different kinds of keys on the keyboard. It uses statistical analyses and heuristics to choose appropriate response settings. The Keyboard Optimizer's analysis techniques are based on empirical data from a study of keyboard users with and without motor disabilities.

How has it been tested?

Twenty individuals with motor disabilities and ten with no disability participated in the initial evaluation of the model, in which they tried a variety of different keyboard adjustments, including those recommended by the Keyboard Optimizer's analysis of their typing. All of the adjustments recommended by the Keyboard Optimizer were considered relevant and useful by the participants. No adjustments were recommended for participants without typing difficulty.

Further evaluation by professionals who specialize in recommending assistive technologies for individuals found that 20 of 21 recommendations made by the Keyboard Optimizer were appropriate, nine potentially useful adjustments were missed, suggestions were made after an average of 26 keystrokes, and the technology was judged to be easy to use.