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Special Words User Guide - Switch Control

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Options for Using Switches

All of the activities in Special Words can be controlled using switch access scanning, with 1, 2 or 3 switches connected to the Android tablet or phone, or Chromebook, via a Bluetooth switch interface.

Alternatively, USB switches can be connected to the device's USB port (although you may need to connect via a powered USB hub).

  • Using the support provided by Special Words

    This provides simple switch access within each activity, requiring very few presses.

    It is designed for where the switch user (typically a child) will control the activity, but another person (usually an adult) will support the user by starting the app and selecting the activity using the touch screen.

  • Using the support built into Android

    Android's more general switch support allows full control of many apps, and the ability to access the home screen and to switch between apps, etc.

    This option requires more presses, and is generally suited to adult users with no intellectual disability.

Android built-in support is enabled in the device's Settings, as documented in Google's Instructions.

Note that you must turn this off to make use of the switch facilities provided by Special Words.

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  • One Switch

    Press to start automatic scanning, press again to select.

  • Two Switches

    Press first switch to scan manually, press second to select.

  • Three Switches

    As with two switches, plus press third switch to move to next page.

The rest of this chapter describes the first of the two options above. To use this, firstly ensure that Switch Control in the device's Settings is turned OFF.

To make use of switches, if you are using Bluetooth, you need to have already enabled Bluetooth on your Android device, and have paired it with the switch interface or Bluetooth-enabled switch. With one or two switches, the first must be configured to act as a space key or the sequence of two keys ~1, and the second switch (if used) to act as an enter key or the sequence of two keys ~3. With three switches, the first must act as space, the second as enter, and the third as either ~1 or ~3.

It is also possible to simulate the use of switches, using a hardware keyboard, as described in Chapter 8. As the app also supports using external keyboards and switches together at the same time, this provides a way for the adult to model the use of switches for the child, in a dual-control manner.

special-words-ios-settings-switch.pngBefore proceeding further, you must also specify the number of switches you are going to use in the settings for Special Words: from the Word List, tap the action button at the top right and then the Settings button at the top right. You will see a view similar to that shown on the right. Change the number of switches from 0 to 1, 2 or 3, as appropriate (beside the bottom red arrow in the screenshot).

Special Words offers three different control modes:

  • With 1 switch

    Pressing will display a red highlighting border around the first baseboard card, and then cycle this border round the others indefinitely until pressed again, when it will select the currently highlighted card as if tapped on the screen. The scanning speed is tied to the Animation Speed setting (next to the top red arrow opposite), giving a range of about 1 to 10 seconds per card, with a default middle setting of about 3 seconds.

  • With 2 switches

    The first switch highlights a different card each time it is pressed, and the second switch performs the selection.

  • With 3 switches

    The first highlights a different card each time it is pressed, the second switch performs selection, and the third moves on to the next page.


If you want to make it possible for the switch user to advance from one page in an activity to the next without assistance, when using 1 or 2 switches, change the Advancing to Next Page setting to Automatic, as shown next to the middle red arrow opposite.

We have tested Special Words using the APPlicator Bluetooth switch interface, Smoothie 75 wired switches and iSwitch Bluetooth switch, all manufactured by Pretorian Technologies Ltd. Other switches and interfaces should also work provided they emulate a Bluetooth or USB keyboard with space and enter and/or ~1 and ~3 keys.

If you have any difficulty getting your switches to work, check whether they generate any input with other apps on your device, e.g. Gmail or Chrome. If the switches are connected and configured correctly, then you should be able to use them to input space and enter or ~1 and ~3 key-presses in these apps, without the on-screen keyboard appearing. If these work, double-check that you have configured the appropriate number of switches in the Settings for Special Words.


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