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MiniReader no more?

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 20th July, 2015 at 4:48pm

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It seems that IVONA MiniReader, the free text reader we liked for reading digital exams, is no longer available for download.

I've therefore spent the afternoon reminding myself of some alternatives - and thanks to Abi James and Jean Hutchins of the BDA Technology group for sharing some hints and tips. Of the free programs, I like NaturalReader best because it's the simplest. Orato and Balabolka are both good but reading text from a PDF involves an extra step because you have to select, then copy the text, then click to read it.

NaturalReader is a simple text reader for Windows and MacOS which can read out text from almost any program – Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, internet browsers etc.. NaturalReader can use our free Heather and Stuart voices and most other voices on your computer. The program is very simple: select the text, then click the ‘Play’ button.



Orato is another free text reader that can read text from Word, PDF, emails, Facebook or the internet. You select the text you want to read, copy it, and then click the 'Speak' button. (There is an option to automatically speak the clipboard, but it reads out the text and then repeat the first few words several times, which is quite disconcerting and could be confusing in an exam.) 



A third program is Balabolka. It's a great tool for reading long files and especially for converting text into audio files, but you can also use it as a text reader for a digital paper.

The simplest way to use Balabolka to read exam papers is with it's 'floating window'. ​​Select the text and copy it to the clipboard (press CTRL-C, or right click and choose Copy, or choose Copy from the program's menu). ​Then click the Read Clipboard Aloud button at the right hand end of the Balabolka toolbar.  

You should also consider the paid-for programs such as ClaroRead, Co:Writer, Penfriend and Read and Write because they offer more features and facilities which can help support learners with reading and writing difficulties.


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Bright Red textbooks now available on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 2nd July, 2015 at 1:29pm

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BrightRed National 4 and Higher Study Guides are now available on the Books for All Database! We are very grateful to John MacPherson and the team at BrightRed for giving us permission to make these files available to learners with print disabilities across Scotland. 

The books are PDFs that learners can access on computers using free Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader software, on iPads using a variety of apps such as the built-in iBooks, ClaroPDF (now with the Heather Scottish voice!), GoodReader or PDF Expert 5, or on Android tablets using for example ezPDF Reader

Why is this good? This comment we recieved yesterday from a secondary school teacher in Moray sums it up nicely: 

"I find this site invaluable because we can download on to iPads and then the screen and fonts can be adapted for dyslexic students and students with sight issues."

The books available to date are:

BrightRed Study Guides for National 4

BrightRed Study Guides for Higher



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New Maths in Action S3-2 in 18 point Large Print now available

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 29th June, 2015 at 4:26pm

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Thanks once more to Marie Lawson in Shetland who has contributed New Maths in Action 32 in 18 point Large Print - all 629 pages of it! 

This adds to Large Print versions of the 11, 12, 21, 22 and 31 books that Marie has already provided to the database. 

Marie has retyped and laid out the entire book in large print and the result is much 'cleaner' and less cluttered than the original, as well as being in a larger font.

Learners with visual or perceptual difficulties will benefit, and it also looks good on an iPad.  


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New books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 26th June, 2015 at 12:55pm

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Rebecca has been continuing her Herculean task of checking, adapting and uploading books (kindly provided by VTSS in Edinburgh) to the Books for All Scotland Database. The latest batch are 83 books for English, including novels such as Charlotte's Web and Ezio Trot, books from reading schemes such as Wellington Square and Oxford Reading Tree, and English textbooks from Collins. Most of the books are Large Print which are particularly suited for pupils with visual impairment or reading difficulties to read on iPads or tablets with smaller screens, because the large font and simplified layout means there is less need to swipe and scroll around the screen.

The screen shot shows a Large Print 24 point version of Charlotte's Web being read out using the free Scottish Heather voice that is now available on ClaroPDF, one of our favourite apps for accessing PDF files on the iPad.  

The new books are listed on the Home page when you go to the Database.  


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£1.5m Access to Education Fund now open for schools

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 27th May, 2015 at 12:51pm

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£1.5m is now available for schools and clusters to help reduce barriers to learning for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes learners with additional support needs. 

The fund aims to help enhance a school's capacity to:

  • address barriers to learning caused by difficulties in accessing appropriate school resources, equipment, IT, or clothing;
  • provide learning experiences, outdoor learning or other activities which will boost learning and are an integral part of the school curriculum;
  • offer coaching and mentoring programmes for disadvantaged students to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life;
  • deliver parental engagement programmes to support parents to support their children;
  • engage with the wider community; and
  • develop or deliver innovative learning experiences which will raise educational attainment, promote attendance and encourage positive engagement.

I don't know exactly what type of projects get funded, by my eye was drawn to the mention of IT, so perhaps funding would be available to invest in laptops, tablets or software for a support for learning department? Some schools say they have very limited stocks of devices for students with ASN and so this may be one way to supplement your resources. Or how about developing a programme of coaching for learners to teach ICT skills "to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life" - you might have after-school sessions to develop basic ICT skills, or teach students how to use particular software or apps for accessing the curriculum.

To find out more, get the application forms, and see an example application from last year, visit the Access to Education Fund pages on the Education Scotland web site.

Last year there was considerable variation in the amount of funding awarded to schools in different local authorities: from Glasgow, where schools received £173,568, to Argyll & Bute, where schools received only £2,000. Don't miss out this year! Get your applications in before the deadline on 19th June! 


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Latest additions to the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 1st May, 2015 at 4:37pm

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We have uploaded another 96 books kindly contributed by Mary Matson at VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. There are too many to list here, but you can see the full inventory on the news section on the front page of the database. The titles cover:

  • Spanish (6 titles)
  • science (8 titles)
  • RME ( 7 titles)
  • Physics (1 title)
  • Physical Education (2 titles)
  • Music (3 titles)
  • Maths ( 11 titles)
  • Classical studies (1 title)
  • Business (4 titles)
  • Biology (5 titles)
  • English (48 titles).


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Best wishes for the SQA 2015 Exams

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 28th April, 2015 at 10:29am

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Best wishes to all learners, parents/carers, teachers, assistants and SQA staff for the 2015 SQA exams which start today! The timetables starts with Drama this morning, Economics this afternoon, and runs until Friday June 5, finishing with High Early Education and Childcare. According to the SQA web site, over half a million exams will be sat during the six-week exam period.

Looking for last-minute advice and inspiration? Try:

If you have any technical questions or queries about using SQA digital exams please remember to visit our web site, or get in touch by phone or email. 

Good luck!


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Talking in Exams Project

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 17th April, 2015 at 1:11pm

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Speech recognition has been around for many years, and many people have tried it without much success. It could be made to work, but often involved a lot of training, time and effort. Today though, computers are much more powerful, speech recognition software is much more accurate and reliable, and we believe it is now a viable option for many more learners.

There has been a lot of interest in speech recognition recently in Scotland, partly because the technology is now more common and better, and partly because of the introduction of the National Literacy assessment, where scribes cannot be used for assessment of writing, but technology, including speech recognition, can.

On 15th January 2015 we held a seminar, supported by SQA, where we discussed the use of speech recognition software in assessments and examinations. You can view a recording of the seminar on CALL's web site: scroll down to 'Speech Recognition in Practice'.

We heard very positive reports about speech recognition from practitioners in East Lothian, Scottish Borders and Stirling, and the participants on the day were keen to continue the conversation and try out speech recognition. So, we thought - how can CALL help?

The Talking in Exams Project is our response, and this is the plan:

Create guidance materials for getting started with speech recognition.

We are creating web pages on the CALL site, with general information covering the SR software and links to tutorials, videos and research. The web pages initially cover Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech Recognition, WordQ+SpeakQ and Siri on the iPad, but later we will add more for MacOS Dictation, Android and Google Chrome tools. 

Build a community of practice where we can share what works and what doesn’t.

We will organise some more free sessions where we can get together and share experiences. We will set up online collaboration via CALL's web site, and/or via a Glow blog / wiki / Learning Space for project partners to talk and share. We anticipate running these sessions during this term so that work with students can start before the end of term. 

Provide (a limited number of) Dragon and SpeakQ+WordQ licences to schools.

Schools who take part in the project can use the free speech recognition tools built into Windows, MacOS and on tablets, but we also want to include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ+SpeakQ in the project, so we have a small number of licences for both programs that we can provide free to schools. We anticipate having more schools involved than we have licences and so we will probably choose who gets the software by drawing lots. 

Schools can use one or more of the above, e.g. Dragon NaturallySpeaking on one machine, Windows SR on another, and/or Siri.

Support schools to trial speech recognition software

As well as the web pages, we will organise (free) sessions to introduce the speech recognition tools. We’ll have these on a few dates across the country.

We will suggest a procedure for staff to follow to teach students and record results, possibly based on  Speech Recognition as AT for Writing, by Daniel Cochrane and Kelly Key, or the Speech Recognition Trial Protocol, by Cindy Cavanagh.

Gather and publish case studies / reports.

We hope that participating schools will share case studies or reports on their experiences and we intend to provide an outline format for schools to use to collect information about learners as they learn to use SR. The main question is whether SR is viable for implementation at the end of the trial.


If you are interested in taking part, register an interest by emailing by Thursday April 30th. We will get back to you after this date to discuss next steps. 


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Work at CALL!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 30th March, 2015 at 4:15pm

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Development Officer - Assistive Technology & Additional Support Needs

As a result of recent and upcoming staff changes, we are looking for a person to come and join the CALL team. This post is full-time and fixed-term until 31st March 2017 - although we hope and expect that funding will continue beyond this date. Secondment is also a possibility. If you would like to discuss the post informally please call Paul on 0131 651 6235 or email

The post details are on TES jobs.

"You will be a qualified teacher with extensive experience working with children and young people with disabilities and/or additional support needs. You will have expertise with specialist assistive technologies.

This post includes elements of research, capacity building, and knowledge exchange in addition to direct work with learners in schools. The post is diverse, exciting and challenging: it involves providing assistive technology assessment and support for learners with additional support needs in schools; developing and delivering Continuing Professional Learning; resource development; and the opportunity to develop projects and developments with schools, local authorities and national agencies. The post is an exciting opportunity to work in a rapidly changing field and to promote and develop good practice in assistive technology, both in Scotland and internationally. The post involves working across Scotland and you will have a car licence and access to a car.

CALL is based in the Moray House School of Education and is funded primarily by the Scottish Government to lead and support the use of assistive and communication technologies by learners with disabilities and/or Additional Support needs."


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New Large Print books from Inverclyde

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 30th March, 2015 at 3:48pm

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Bright Red to provide digital files for Learners with Print Disabilities

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 19th March, 2015 at 4:02pm

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We are excited to announce that Bright Red Publishing are the latest Scottish textbook publisher to agree to provide digital copies of their books for the Books for All Database. Bright Red publish Study and Revision Guides for Intermediate, National 5 and Highers and also SQA Past Papers. Over the next few weeks we will be adding their books to the database and we'll list the books on the blog and on the Database News pages as they become available.

This is particularly good timing since the 2015 exams are looming ever closer!

Staff and learners should also check out the free Bright Red Digital Zone. This "is a fully interactive online resource where teachers can find useful information and students can put in that extra effort to help them get the best possible grades". The website has been developed in collaboration with Professor Bill Buchanan at Edinburgh Napier University.


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New books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 18th March, 2015 at 5:08pm

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Rebecca has uploaded some more books from VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. The new books are:




Home Economics 


Modern Studies


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New French books on the Books for All Database from VTSS in Edinburgh

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 3rd March, 2015 at 5:58pm

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Just before Christmas Mary Matson from Edinburgh and Lothians VTSS transcription team kindly gave us over 15,000 files to add to the database.

Rebecca Gow here in CALL, with help from James, a student, have gone through this treasure trove and sorted and edited the files into complete books. Some of the books are beautifully laid out Large Print, whilst others are scanned copies of paper books. The scanned files have been converted into text, but (as you can imagine) we've not had time to proof-read and correct them, so you will find some errors.

Over the next few weeks we will check and upload books for different subjects to the database and post a list of the new titles on the blog and on the Database News page.

The first batch are French books:


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tha e air beagan Gàidhlig?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 25th February, 2015 at 3:00pm

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We are pleased to report that we have received funding to work with CereProc to develop and license a Scottish Gaelic computer voice for the Scottish public sector. CereProc are a world-class text-to-speech company based in Edinburgh and the Gaelic voice development is funded by The Scottish Government Gaelic and Scots UnitScottish Funding CouncilScottish Qualifications Authority and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

The new Gaelic voice will be available to schools from The Scottish Voice website for the start of the 2015-16 academic session, alongside  Heather and Stuart, which are high quality computer English voices with a Scottish accent. We first licensed Heather from CereProc in 2008 and she was followed by Stuart, in 2011, and they are now used in computers in schools all across Scotland in a variety of ways by learners with additional support needs. For example:

  • students with reading difficulties use the voices to read digital textbooks, assessments or digital exam papers;
  • learners with visual impairment use the voices to read and access the computer screen;
  • pupils who have difficulties with communication use the voices in their electronic voice output aids for personal communication.

By licensing Heather and Stuart nationally, schools and other public agencies are saved the cost of buying the voices or buying computer reader software with high quality voices. We estimate that we have saved Scottish education at least £2 million compared with the cost of schools or local authorities buying the voices commercially. 

However, there is no Scottish Gaelic computer voice available and so Gaelic learners and speakers do not have the same opportunities as Scottish English speakers. The new Gaelic voice will we hope address this.

The Gaelic computer voice will not just benefit learners with disabilities and additional support needs:  anyone who reads Gaelic could find it helpful to read web sites, documents, or to check and proof-read their own letters or emails. The voice will be licensed for use by Scottish schools, colleges, universities, local and national government agencies, NHS units and for use at home by pupils and staff.



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How accessible are your school computers? Are we meeting legal obligations?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 4th February, 2015 at 6:01pm

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On 31 October the Scottish Government published Guidance on “Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education” which "describes the requirements the Act places on education authorities and schools to work to improve the education of disabled learners and to help ensure that they are properly included in, and able to benefit fully from, their school education."

The Guidance contains two appendices that refer specifically to measures that local authorities should take to improve the accessibility of school ICT and computers. It covers things like installing the Scottish computer voices; having text-to-speech software available; providing access to control panels so that students with disabilities can make adjustments to enable access; etc. The document is available here:

Now that the guidance is published, it would be helpful to get a snapshot of how accessible school computers are across the country, and what might need to be done to improve the accessibility of ICT used in schools.

To accomplish this, please help us by completing a survey that you can find here:

We know that in some parts of the country, learners have the benefit of readily-available accessibility software and adjustments, but in other schools the provision is not so good. By completing the survey you will help identify areas where improvements might be made. Please also pass the link on to your colleagues.

Many thanks,



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