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Scanning in the Classroom: A Hands-on Experience with Assistive Technology

Grand Rapids, Mich. -- This summer, a Western Michigan University class of occupational therapy graduate students experienced assistive technology first-hand. WMU instructor Cara Masselink included Scanning Wizard in her Therapeutic Use of Technology curriculum to demonstrate an innovative service—and to foster empathy in her students.

Occupational therapy student using Scanning Wizard, showing a grid of letter items on computer screen
An occupational therapy student using Scanning Wizard during a classroom exercise

Scanning Wizard is a free web application that helps switch users, practitioners, and caregivers optimize switch and scanning setups. Switch scanning is an access method used by some people who are unable to type using a keyboard. With a one-switch or two-switch scanning method, users select letters or symbols using a scanner that highlights the available options in turn; the user chooses an item by hitting their switch when the desired item is highlighted.

Switch scanning can be a very slow way to access communication and computers or tablets if setup poorly. However, after completing a Scanning Wizard session, users receive a set of recommendations they can adopt to increase their communication rate. In some cases, this has helped users communicate three times faster than before they took the assessment and adopted the suggestions. This saves users’ energy to allow them to work, play, or communicate for longer periods of time.

Masselink says Scanning Wizard will help students make critical decisions when matching their future clients with appropriate access methods in the field.

“If we can fine-tune scanning setups and identify some of the areas where scanning can be optimized, it can really help,” she said. “Scanning Wizard does a nice job of walking through that process and giving feedback on what can be done to speed up the scanning range.”

Masselink has used Scanning Wizard with clients in the past, and she says the software collects all the quantitative data associated with scanning, so that she can take a step back and observe the client during the session. This way, she says she can pay attention to details like the placement of the switch devices, the way the client sits as they scan, or the client’s level of physical exertion as they interact with the system.

She says she observed that students found scanning and using the switch devices more complex than they thought it would be.

“It put them in the shoes of someone who might be using a switch,” she said.

Maggie Sladick was one of those students who was surprised by the difficulty of using switch scanning.

“I didn’t know what scanning was before this class,” she said. “I read about it in the homework, but it wasn’t until I tried out the devices in person that I realized how challenging it would be to be a switch scanner.”

Scanning Wizard co-creator Heidi Koester, Ph.D. says she thinks using Scanning Wizard in occupational therapy classrooms is a great way to introduce assistive technology to students.

“Being exposed to any assistive technology is crucial to help them find their path in occupational therapy and learn how to best meet the needs of clients,” she said. “I also think it can be a fun activity; I’m thrilled they decided to look at it.”

Two occupational therapy students using Scanning Wizard. One is pressing a switch with his hand to select items from the computer screen
Occupational therapy students type a sentence using switch scanning

Kevin Reineck, another student in Masselink’s class, says he’s interested in pursuing a career in hand therapy. His desire to help people came from seeing a family member go through the rehabilitation process with occupational therapists coming to his home. After using the web app, he said he can see the value of Scanning Wizard for his future clients.

“I can see how Scanning Wizard would help people communicate well and help them compensate,” he said. “I find the hand fascinating, and I can see using Scanning Wizard to help people regain what they lost.”

To learn more about setting up a Scanning Wizard demonstration in your classroom, or to check out the software first-hand, email info@kpronline.com and go to ScanningWizard.com.

About Scanning Wizard

Koester Performance Research received grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2010 to validate the concept and again in 2015 to build a more complete, deliverable project, with KPR President Heidi Koester, PhD as principal investigator and Rich Simpson, PhD as a collaborator. Working with software designers and developers from Atomic Object, the team crafted the web app, which is freely available at ScanningWizard.com.  Research on Scanning Wizard available at kpronline.com/pubs.php.

About Koester Performance Research

Koester Performance Research works to enhance computer access for people with disabilities, particularly for people who are not well-served by the typical keyboard and mouse. Through research, development, and education, the team supports evidence-based practice in the design and delivery of assistive technology. More at kpronline.com.

About Atomic Object

Atomic Object helps companies innovate and grow by creating custom software that’s beautiful, reliable, and easy to use. We develop products that cross web, mobile, desktop, and custom devices. Predictable projects; uncommonly good software.  With offices in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, we serve a national base of clients across many industries. Employee-owned; since 2001. More at AtomicObject.com.