This was the first time we tried to use the MakeyMakey with AT users in a recreation type activity and although it was moderately successful there are a number of things we would do differently next time. First I’ll outline the planned activities, then the difficulties encountered and how we propose to overcome those difficulties in the future if we run the activity again.
How it works
Both activities were similar. We would use the MakeyMakey to turn a selection of fruits and vegetables into switches of sorts so that they would make noises when the children touched them. We also had prepared a number of metallic objects (Slinkey, bauble type things etc.) and cardboard shapes covered in tinfoil although we didn’t use them in the end. In order for it to work (make sounds) both the participant and the fruit/vegetable need to be connected back to the MakeyMakey (see image below). For this activity each child was connected to the earth (ground) by a long length of hook-up wire and a tinfoil band that was placed around their wrist or leg. Each fruit/vegetable was then connected to a letter key on the MaKeyMaKey board with a crocodile clip and a long length of hook-up wire. The principal behind this is that when the person is earthed (connected to ground) and they touch the fruit (which has low resistance due to its high water content) they complete the circuit and the MaKeyMaKey sends the letter to the computer.
For the first activity we opened the browser game Patatap (needs to be opened in Chrome Browser) and displayed it using a projector. Patatap allows you to play sounds and visuals using your computer keyboard. Only letter keys (and spacebar) work on Patatap and the MakeyMakey only sends W,A,S,D,F,G keys so we used some AutoHotKey scripts to give more variety (remap MaKeyMaKey keys). The activity involved showing the children each fruit and vegetable and getting them to touch them. Touching them sends a letter key and Patatap plays a sound and visual. To make it more engaging we had planned to get the children to decide whether that sound and visual was appropriate for that particular fruit/vegetable. If they didn’t think it was suitable we would remap it to another key using AutoHotKey. Once all the sounds were chosen each child gets a fruit or vegetable and we would make some music… or noise. The second activity was creating a banana piano using the online piano on the MakeyMakey site. This works in a similar way to the previous activity except this time each child has a banana which plays a key on the online piano.
Difficulties encountered and possible solutions
We ran into a few difficulties realising the above activities. Firstly the tinfoil wrist and ankle bands didn’t work reliably. We kept having to check them and make readjustments. In future we will resolve this by using conductive thread and elastic material to make bands that keep contact with the participants’ skin. Secondly within this particular group of users there were a number of children who had significant access difficulties. This meant that they needed assistance touching the fruit/vegetable but also assistance removing their hands. Many of the children, once contact was made, kept touching the fruit/vegetable and therefore was sending a continues string of their particular letter. This creates a very noisy and flashy result in Patatap. There could be three possible solutions to this. If the child has someone there to assist them maybe the assistant could be grounded rather than the child, this way the sounds will stop when they break contact with the child. Another solution would be to use Windows (OSX or Linux) Accessibility Feature Filter Keys to slow down the repeat rate of the key, this would affect all users however. You could also accomplish a similar effect using AutoHotKey and have it apply to only one specific key (user). In general the setup took too long in comparison to the activity. In future by preparing the ground wires and straps in advance, labelling all the wires on both ends and making a plug to connect all letter simultaneously to the MaKeyMaKey would all significantly increase the speed of setup. Also if an AutoHotKey script was created that recorded and looped key presses, better results could be achieved by users with significant access difficulties as they could take their time choosing sounds and then layer one over another creating beats and loops.