A Kirkland developer, who lives with cerebral palsy, teamed up with Google’s Gboard team to implement Morse code as a usable language on compatible smartphones.
Tania Finlayson, the Kirkland native who co-developed the Gboard feature, has been using Morse code to communicate since her early childhood and teamed up with the Gboard developers in January. The Morse code keyboard they created is currently available for Android device
“I have been communicating with Morse code devices for 40 years,” Finlayson said. “Through those 40 years, Morse code has never really been fully accepted by the assistive technology community.”
Finlayson communicates through device that interprets head movements as either a dot or dash to spell words in Morse code. With the new Morse code keyboard, she can communicate through any device that supports Gboard. The feature also lets users to customize the keyboard to their needs and connect Gboard to external devices such as Finlayson’s.
“Access is important for people like Tania. Anyone who wants to communicate with Morse should be able to use it,” said Angana Ghosh, product manager for Gboard.
Finlayson was born with cerebral palsy and all throughout her life, she said she had trouble communicating. Initially, she could only answer yes or no questions, but once she learned how to read, she learned how to use a word board that consisted of about 200 words.
She had good control of her neck and used a stick to point to the words. Eventually, her father suggested she try using a typewriter, which opened up numerous possibilities for her.
“Amazingly, my vocabulary grew. I could tell on my brother, and I finally had the chance to annoy my dad with question, after question about the world. I am quite sure, my dad did not, in any way, regret letting me try a typewriter,” Finlayson wrote with a laugh.
She used this method for years until her mother enrolled her in a University of Washington study run by Ross.
“Ross’ device was revolutionary,” Finlayson said. “It had text to speech, a small printer installed in it. I could turn it off and on using Morse codes. I could activate a light to ‘raise my hand in class.’”
Despite the benefits, Finlayson said she was skeptical of learning Morse code at first. She thought it would be a waste of time and that she’d never use it.
“Plus, the Morse code looked hard to learn; there were some days when I rebelled from participating from practicing the drills and everything,” Finlayson said.
Finlayson’s mother pushed her to drill through flashcards on the weekends, despite her protest.
Her attitude immediately changed when she first used Ross’ device.
“It was then, that I, truly, realized that I could say anything and everything that I wanted,” Finlayson said. “I had total freedom with my words, for the first time, and I could talk with ease, without breaking my neck. School became fun, instead of exhausting. I could focus on my studies, and have real conversations with my friends for the first time. Also, I did not need an adult figure with me every moment at school, and that was awesome.”