by Deborah Newton

SUBJECT AREA: Writing in any subject

PUBLISHER: Don Johnston Incorporated


COST: $290 single user

$1,015 lab pack (5 user)

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Ages 7 - Adult; users with physical or learning disabilities


Mac: SE or higher, System 7, 1.2-2MB RAM for Co:Writer, additional .5 MB for minimum-quality speech and up to 2 MB for highest-quality speech; any word processing program.

Win: 486-based PC, Windows 95, 4 MB RAM for Co:Writer, SoundBlaster or compatible sound card; any word processing program.

DESCRIPTION: Co:Writer is an intelligent word prediction program that has been available for the Macintosh computer for a number of years. It has recently been released in a format compatible with Windows 95 and retains the same outstanding features that have made it a favorite among Macintosh users.

Word prediction programs, such as Co:Writer, were initially designed for users with physical disabilities, to reduce the number of keystrokes needed to complete intended words. The latest research, however, shows that word prediction can also be a useful tool for students with learning disabilities.

Screenshot from Co:Writer

A sample screen from Co:Writer. The user is typing the sentence, "Co:Writer predicts the next word."

As a user types the first letter of a word, Co:Writer displays a numbered list of words that start with that letter. If the intended word is displayed, the user simply types the number in front of the word or points to it with the mouse and clicks to select it. If the word is not displayed, the user types the next letter, and additional choices will be displayed. Users can select the number of predicted words to be displayed (from 0-9) to best meet individual needs.

As an additional support, speech output can make selection easier for users with reading difficulties or visual impairments. Co:Writer's speech options include reading aloud each predicted word, speaking the selected word, and reading the completed sentence. A variety of voices are available, pronunciations can be edited, and the rate of the speech can be adjusted.

Co:Writer must be used in conjunction with a word processing program. When an ending punctuation mark is typed the complete sentence is transferred to the word processing document. It is within the word processing program that users edit, format, save, and print their work. Co:Writer can be used with any word processing program, and can also be used with a variety of other programs that require text entry.

STRENGTHS: A powerful feature is the "Predict Ahead" option. After the first word is typed Co:Writer will automatically suggest words which the user might want to choose, even before a letter has been typed. Co:Writer makes its predictions based on the letters typed, rules of grammar, and past usage; the more recently and the more frequently a word has been used the more likely it is to be predicted in the future. Co:Writer also collects new words and uses them for prediction so it adapts to individual writers.

Co:Writer has several keystroke saving features. When the "Auto Space" option is selected Co:Writer will automatically capitalize the first word in a sentence, add a space after a word has been selected, and add two spaces after an ending punctuation mark. The "X:PND" feature allows users to create abbreviation expansions, whereby phrases and sentences can be entered with just a couple of keystrokes. "X:PND," coupled with the speech output, allows Co:Writer to be used for augmentative communication, as well as for writing.

The intelligent way that Co:Writer makes predictions and the way it adapts to individual users are among its greatest strengths. Providing dictionaries of 2,000, 10,000, and 40,000 words makes Co:Writer appropriate for users at every level. The additional options, including customizing the number of words predicted, using speech output, and built in scanning for switch users, combine to make this a powerful tool for users with a variety of disabilities.

SUMMARY: Co:Writer is an intelligent word prediction program. For users with physical disabilities Co:Writer is an especially useful tool for reducing the number of keystrokes that must be typed to complete words and sentences. For users with learning disabilities, Co:Writer provides many features which support the process of writing so that users are no longer limited to only those words they know how to spell.

The wide variety of options and ease of use allow this program to meet the individual needs of children and adults. Co:Writer stands as a perfect example of assistive technology helping to increase the independence and productivity of people with disabilities.

Deborah Newton is an alumna of the graduate program of the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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