Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Fusion Keyboard Offers Full PAckage for Writing, Communication and Text to Speech

I have discovered a keyboard that I have been playing with and recommending for trials lately. It is called The Fusion keyboard. It is made by Advanced Keyboard Technologies (The Writer Learning Systems). When I first heard about the keyboard at a state-wide A.T. meeting, I looked them up online. They had a place to request a demo to be sent and so I requested one with text to speech. I received one promptly and the company was very easy to work with. Because of this, I have been recommending this demo loan to teachers who want to try one for students in their classes who need text to speech support. One thing I will mention is that the standard demo shipped is the Fusion without text to speech. You will need to contact them and request a text to speech version keyboard.
When I received the keyboard it came with a manual, a charger/power adaptor, a case, headphones and a wireless USB receiver for a computer to send documents from the Fusion to a workstation. In the manual it said that to send a document, you open a blank word processing document and then with the receiver plugged in, press send on the Fusion and it will load onto the page. I used the Fusion to write this review and used the send feature to get it on my computer. It typed out on my Word document as I watched. Very cool.
The Fusion has some great features that were helpful for me from an assistive technology standpoint. First off, since my eyes get tired easily, I used the backlight on the screen. I accompanied this with a large font size for easy reading. I used the text to speech, set to read each sentence after the period so I could proofread by hearing it read back to me. In addition, each word was highlighted as it read so I could follow along as it read - a great feature for students that need the extra support. You can use the option key and speak key to speed up or slow down the rate of speech.
I turned on the word prediction and used it too. I found that you can set the word prediction choices to be read back to you. By selecting the numeral for each one, you can hear it, and then selecting it again enters it in the sentence.
There are some nice features for working with students on keyboarding or writing. If you are wanting to have students write using vocabulary words, you can set up a split screen and have a word list on the right for students to use in a set of sentences. There is a set of built-in writing prompts to choose from for building writing assignments, or you can write your own and save them as internal documents. You can also set up internal folders under topics and save assignments.

There is a built in score feature that allows the student to press the "score" key after doing a writing assignment and it will give feedback on time spent, any errors and advice on making the piece more interesting (the ifactor). There are 8 or 9 "good writing checklist templates" that can be used to check writing samples. You can also set up your own custom writing checklists as well.

Built-in Keyboarding Software
The Fusion has a built-in keyboarding tutorial program with 120 lessons and practice drills. These drills build skills and reinforce homerow. The drill assessments are timed for WPM and accuracy. Reports can be sent to a computer as well as sending documents for printing.
The Fusion has a dictionary, spell checker, thesaurus and a translate key. You can highlight text, cut copy, paste and delete text easily. A compact flash memory card can be plugged into the back of the Fusion to save and transfer files with a card reader.
The settings include a sticky keys on/off, an on/off on writing helpers to disable for assessments, and full menu settings for speech, word prediction, writer tools, send and setup.
The basic Fusion word prediction package is $249. The text to speech packaged Fusion is $369.

The Fusion fills an AT need:
I have been looking for a compact, portable and lightweight way to give text to speech communication to non-verbal students and this has been the best setup I have found so far. I like that the speaker is built in to the Fusion so there are no clunky external speakers sticking out.
I would recommend the Fusion trial to you if you are looking for text to speech, writing or communication support tools for AT as part of an IEP. The fact that you can borrow one for 30 days and use it first, gives you the option of borrowing theirs instead of purchasing one of your own for trials within your school or district. Although, in talking with one of our OT's yesterday, we already think we will be needing one to trial often enough for short show and tells before a longer 30 day trial, that we should probably have one anyway.
I can't say enough about the positive experience I have had with the company. They have package prices for lab sets to be used in classroom instruction to check into as well. I believe your time exploring their Fusion Keyboard will be time well spent.
All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

1 comment:

mvresource said...

I have been using the text-to-speech/word prediction demo unit with a range of my Resource Program 3rd-5th graders. Wihout exception, they have taken to it like a fish to water. Students that would prefer a root canal to writing are choosing to continue writing and skip recess. Kids that typically write short, inadequate sentences are INDEPENDENTLY producing complex sentences. The kids are fighting over the demo unit! As a special education teacher, I have been overwhelmed by the reception the Fusion has received. Another pro is a very small learning curve. I'm begging our English Language Advisory Council & parent group to purchase the 30 unit lab to be used by whole classes. This is Universal Design for Learning in action!