Switches come in a bewildering range of types, shapes, sizes and colours. Making the right choice for an individual can be, at first sight, a daunting task.
Successful switch use depends on many factors including:
Sufficient time for practice
Lots of encouragement
The position of the switch
The type of switch
In many instances the type of switch is the least in importance, which is why it is at the end of the list. Switch use and skills will only develop in the context of the whole activity, the switch is a means to an end. The focus of switching should be on the outcome: you are switching on the light, not just pressing the switch.
Children who really enjoy being with others may develop their skills more quickly using their switch to control a simple communicator rather than a computer program. Pupils with a visual difficulty may react best to being in control of a visually stimulating computer program. The choice of activity is a key part of the development of switching skills, in fact the activity is the reason for using the switch.
A switch can convert an action of the user into making something happen. Switches are commonly used to work computer software, mains devices, battery toys and communication devices.
For computers the switch must be connected through a suitable interface, for mains powered equipment through a mains controller and for toys by using an adapted toy and possibly a timer/latching unit.
The switch will need to positioned so that the user can operate it easily, mounting arms can be used to give a flexible way of switch positioning. Universal mountings and Maxess Mounting System).
Who needs switches?
Switches can be used for different reasons:
In many cases users may have more than one difficulty, a pupil with severe motor difficulties may have an additional visual or learning difficulty. In some instances the less obvious difficulties may be why the pupil is having problems in developing good switch use.
There are various types of switch available designed to be operated in various ways, but the majority are touched or pressed in some way, many of the differences are more cosmetic than practical.
Size - A large switch can be easier to target, but will take up more space and be more obtrusive. Some children may find it easier to start with a big switch and then move to a smaller one. A very small switch may be easier to position and may suit where a single finger can be used. A very flat switch (Pal Pads) may be used in situations where the user is unable to lift their hand to touch the surface of a deeper switch.
Feel and sound - For most users the feedback offered by a switch that moves and clicks when it is pressed is an advantage (Adjustable Pressure), in the same way that a "proper" keyboard is preferred to a flat membrane keyboard. The Adjustable Pressure Switch allows the operating pressure to be altered, this can help to give some users additional feedback.Pal Pad) may be better as it will distract the users less but the tactile feedback will be less.
Operating area - Some switches are made in the form of a hinged box, the major disadvantage of these is that the pressure needed to work them varies over the surface, in fact they may not work at all if touched near the hinge. It is desirable that a switch operates consistently wherever it is pressed so the user is always successful.
Colour - Colour can make a switch attractive to touch and help users with a visual problem when they are placed on a contrasting surface. Different colours will help the pupil using two switches. Older users may prefer a less obtrusive colour, or even different colours as a fashion accessory. Transparent covers for the AbleNet switches allow you to put pictures, symbols or different textures onto a switch, the Picture Switch has a pocket for pictures etc. Pictures or symbols on a switch can be useful to give your pupil the chance to choose between a number of battery or mains devices.
Specialised switches - In addition to the switches already mentioned there are many specialised switches made. In the few instances that the basic switches will not work successfully it may be necessary to consider a different switch: but do ensure that enough time has been allowed for switch practice with interesting resources. Remember how long it takes for a child to practice and develop pencil skills before they can write, switch skills may look simpler but can take as long to develop. Switch use requires some conscious and controlled activity and an awareness of "cause and effect" in order to make things happen.