Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 42 / NOVEMBER 1983 / PAGE 233

Micros With The Handicapped

Susan Semancik & C. Marshall Curtis

Developing A Communications Program

This is the final column in the series on developing a communications program for the handicapped. The final version of the program, written for the VIC with at least 8K RAM, has the following features:

  1. Multiple menu selection, with menus stored within the program.
  2. A joystick button used as a one-movement, alternative input device.
  3. A faster scanning algorithm used in a passive selection process.
  4. Input options:
    1. Changing the rate of scanning and the time in which to make a selection.
    2. Changing the menu being displayed.
    3. Storing messages within the program, which can be retrieved in any order.
    4. Audible signal when message is ready for viewing.
    5. Erasing characters, words, or sentences within the current message, or erasing a stored message.
    6. Saving the program with its menus and messages.
  5. Word and character selection from the same menu.
  6. Automatic spacing after words and prevention of word-splitting in messages.

User Options

The top line of the screen displays the input options in green. If one is selected, its choices are presented in cyan on the second screen line. The next 13 screen lines are used for menus, which are displayed in blue. Any messages are reverse-fielded in red in the bottom 8 screen lines.

Instead of every menu entry being scanned until the user responds, the columns of the menu and options are alternately scanned until one is selected. If a menu column is chosen, its rows are scanned until no more selections are made from that column.

A "debouncer" line has been added to the input routine so that the selection timing isn't started until the joystick button is released. This should help avoid unexpected and unwanted multiple selections.

When the message area is filled, the user cannot add to it until after selecting the message erase option. This allows the user to first save the message or signal someone to read it. A saved message is erased by referring to it by a positive number under the ERASE option. Choosing a zero instead will clear the message display area for further message formation.

The message review option allows multiple messages to be displayed in any order. Any current message is preserved, and then restored after the review mode is done.

To make the program easier to use by people with limited computer experience, menus and messages are stored in the program within DATA statements. The program adds new messages to DATA statements by means of the "dynamic keyboard" method. The first DATA statement contains information that the program updates when the user changes response time or the number of stored messages. Then enough DATA line numbers have been reserved for nine messages, each taking up four DATA lines. The remaining DATA lines contain menu parameters and menu entries by rows.


The complete program with all of its features will not fit in an unexpanded VIC. We suggest at least an 8K system to make this a useful communication tool. If you eliminate multiple menus and some of the input options, and limit the number of messages to be stored even further, you can make the program fit in the unexpanded VIC.

One helpful addition would be the ability to change an entry of a menu or add a new menu. This would allow the user even greater independence in creating a tailored communication tool.

We hope that this series has been helpful to you, or at least given you a new perspective on designing specialized communication programs for the handicapped. There are many other ways to approach the problem, but most of these require a larger and more expensive system than we have considered here. For those wishing to further explore this topic, we recommend the June 1983 issue of IEEE MICRO magazine, which contains an excellent article and references on computerized, anticipatory letter-selection programs.

There are also many new computer interface devices being developed for the handicapped user. For instance, an Atari compatible joystick that is mouth operated is being advertised for $65 by KY Enterprises, 195 Claremont, Suite 288, Long Beach, CA 90803, (213) 433-5244.

If anyone knows of other computer programs or devices to help the handicapped, or if anyone develops enhancements to our final program, please let us know and we will share the information with the rest of our readers in this column. You can contact us through Jean Trafford, Secretary, The Delmarva Computer Club, P.O. Box 36, Wallops Island, VA 23337.