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ICT for struggling readers and writers: let’s get on with it!

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 22nd May, 2013 at 3:19pm

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I had a call yesterday from a parent who was concerned about her 10 year old son who is dyslexic and dyspraxic. He has been receiving good support from the school staff, particularly with regard to his reading - his mum said that his reading age had been 1.5 years behind but that followed intensive work with staff, using Toe-by-Toe and other techniques, he was now reading at the same level as his peers.

However, she was concerned about his handwriting, which because of his dyspraxia, is difficult to read. He doesn’t like writing at all, finds it very hard to read his own writing, and is getting upset about it. The parent had raised the possibility of her son using ICT instead of handwriting with staff, and said that the school were not very enthusiastic.

Now, I don’t know the details and without meeting the pupil I wouldn’t be able to say whether he should  or should not use ICT instead of or as well as handwriting. But it does make me worried and so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts around this issue. Here’s what I think.

If someone in Primary 5 is dyspraxic and consequently has slow and illegible handwriting then it’s time to stop causing them grief and time to start helping them to access the curriculum. Forcing a pupil to continue writing by hand when there are easier, faster and more effective methods is not good practice. It risks disengagement, prevents them from accessing educational opportunities and creates low self-esteem. It’s not successful, not confident, not responsible, not effective and not what schools should be doing.

Here’s an example of a (different) pupil’s handwriting – he was in Primary 7 at the time:

Here’s a sample of his writing using a simple word processor (an AlphaSmart). Much easier to read, although the spelling is a bit of an issue.

befor you go you haf to make a traye. First get a peace of fishing line about 1  metre long.  Then get a reasnedul sised hook after you have got one big enuf and sharp enuf laiy it to your trais and then get a flote. put the end of the trais that does not have the hook thro the hole at the top of the flot then tiay a not.

And here’s a sample of his writing with a word predictor (Co:Writer). Readable and much better spelling:

First get a piece of fishing line about 1 metre long. Then get a reasonable sized hook.  After you have got one big enough and sharp enough tie it to your trace

No contest, really, is there?

It’s personal

ICT, in the form of a personal netbook, laptop, tablet or iPad is vital for pupils who have difficulties with reading or writing. It’s like an electronic jotter. You need to have a device on your desk, available at all time. Getting up from your desk to go to the back of the room to use the class computer is no good: you wouldn’t expect someone to get up and go to the back of the class every time they needed to use a pencil and write in a jotter, so why accept this with ICT?

It’s a skill that needs taught

We teach handwriting. We also need to teach keyboarding (ideally, touch typing, if possible) and ICT skills. We teach handwriting skills to develop speed, fluidity and automaticity – so that ideally, your thoughts flow direct from brain to page without having to think about the formation of letters. So too with keyboarding – the main reason for learning to touch typing, in my view, is not speed, but to develop the same automaticity.

Despite the notion of ‘digital learners’ young people are not born with innate ability to use a word processor or a word predictor. They have to be taught. By their teachers. This needs staff who know the technology, and time set aside for teaching.

Use it most or all of the time

It’s tempting to think that you only want to use the ICT for ‘extended’ writing, but there can be a few problems with this. It’s too easy to leave the device on the side and not have it ready and inevitably the battery goes flat and you get out of the habit and before you know where you are, the pupil is in S4 and about to use a scribe in his exams. Avoid this: make ICT the default tool, not the exceptional tool.

To do this we need to think digital: use ICT yourself to create resources and give the same resources to the pupil so they can access them on the device. Get digital versions of textbooks from the Books for All Database. Use digital reading books. Scan paper worksheets and other materials into the computer so that the pupil can complete them on the device. (Lots of programs can do this, from the free Foxit Reader, to for example Acrobat Pro, FineReader and more specialist software like ClaroRead, Read and Write Gold or Kurzweil.)

Let’s stop making life hard for ourselves and our learners.

Take a look at this video for some inspiration.

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Something positive to end the term!

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 27th June, 2012 at 5:37pm

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Today I received a very positive evaluation back from a pupil and teacher who have been evaluating some equipment, and I thought I'd share it: seems like a nice way to end the term. (Mark is not his real name.)

Background

Mark is a Primary 6 pupil who attends his local primary school. Mark has cerebral palsy which affects his fine motor control, and although he has good ideas, he does tire easily when he writes by hand. He has support from staff to help him lay out his written work, and also on occasion for scribing, but this does mean he relies on staff and is not independent. Staff say that his reliance on others is also affecting his self-esteem. Mark has some difficulties with spelling and also with maths, organisation and spatial skills. Despite these barriers to learning, Mark is an enthusiastic member of the class.

Mark has tried specialist pencils and pencil grips, and writing adaptations. He was referred to CALL for advice on assistive technology to help him to learn and work more independently and productively.

Following an assessment, we loaned a Toshiba netbook computer with Co:Writer 6 and Inspiration software, plus an EasiSpeak microphone, for Mark and his teacher to evaluate. The assessment had shown that Co:Writer has the potential to help Mark write more independently, and with greater accuracy. Co:Writer should also reduce his fatigue and help him to produce higher quality work. (Click here to find out more about Co:Writer and word prediction).

Inspiration was suggested to help Mark organise his work. We loaned a headset microphone for Mark to record his ideas directly into Inspiration, and the portable Easi-Speak recorder, because his verbal output is currently better than his written output.

(Both Inspiration and Co:Writer 6 are available for reduced cost under a special licence for Scottish Schools, from Education Scotland.)

This is what Mark and his teacher thought of the technology.

Class teacher evaluation

1.    What impact has the netbook had on the pupil’s ability to access the curriculum?

There was an immediate impact on Mark’s enthusiasm and attitude to attempt and produce work.

Used for:

  • Word processing: planning, drafting and publishing. Mark is more able and willing to work independently on these three steps without an adult scribe. Mark is eager, and able, to be involved in adding to his Co-writer word bank. 
  • Typing answers to spelling activities – a task which Mark dislikes when he is writing by hand. He now produces work of a higher level.
  • Spelling has improved.

An adult currently scaffolds Mark’s work by asking questions about his text, to encourage him to develop his answers/writing. It is planned that if the teacher is checking/marking Mark’s work in his absence, s/he will insert the questions into his text. This will enable Mark to develop his work in line with his peers, working in their jotters.

Mark enjoys paired work with the netbook.  Previously, being left handed the mouse was cumbersome and this was awkward when he was working with a partner.

2. How has it impacted on his/ her written work (quantity and quality), in comparison with what s/he was able to produce without it?

Mark has immediate success which encourages him to keep on task. He is willing to expand and build on his work after further class discussion or  with an adult. 

Previously Mark found typing laborious but Co-writer is changing his attitude and he is very willing and able to type for a much longer period. He finds the netbook keyboard easier to manipulate. It is anticipated that this will be helped further with touch typing lessons.

Mark now copes with thinking up his answers/ideas, typing and spelling. This has resulted in better and lengthier pieces of work produced quicker. Previously these tasks were done separately.

Mark’s work is legible. He willingly shares it with peers, allowing them to read it independently of Mark.

3. Has it helped him/her to develop the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence?

  1. Successful learner.Mark is able to show and do the best he can.  He thinks of new ideas and is more interested in tackling writing activities by himself.
  2. Confident individualMark is happier and more confident. His  self-esteem has been raised.
  3. Effective contributorMark is no longer excluded by the position of the computer system. Previously he had to sit with his back to the class because of the location of the computer.Peers are more ready to allow Mark to tale a role in ‘scribing’ .Mark is able to type his ideas and share with peers, who previously found his handwriting very difficult to read.
  4. Responsible citizen.Mark is much more confident about working as part of a group during tasks that require planning/writing. Mark takes the responsibility of looking after the netbook seriously, and making sure it is switched on/off when needed.

4. Any further comments....

The netbook and software have much more potential for enabling Mark to be included more into the class and to access literacy activities.  As I, and assisting adults, become more familiar with it, and Mark learns to touch type, I foresee that we will be able to take full advantage of the equipment.

Mark’s evaluation

This form is to help you think about the use and effectiveness of the writing tools you have tried out and to compare the technology with handwriting and jotters.  Fill in the evaluation form when you feel you have a good idea about what it is like to use the devices(s). Please send a copy of the form to CALL.

Use a scale of 1 to 10. Score 1 if that factor is so bad that you would not dream of ever considering it. Score 10 if it is so brilliant that you could not do without it.

 

Handwriting & jotter / paper Score 1 to 10 1=rubbish 10=brilliant

Netbook & Co:Writer Score 1 to 10 1=rubbish 10=brilliant

Writing / typing speed

5 sometimes 4

10

Legibility / quality of writing

4

10

Spelling

5

10

Effort needed to write / type

5

10

Portability (weight / size) lines/size

2/3

10

Ease of use

5

10

Ease of getting a paper copy

-

10

Screen (size / text size / clarity)

-

10

Keyboard

-

10

Battery life

-

10

Word processor & software

-

10

Appearance / cool factor

1

10

Opinions of friends

3

10

Opinions of family

4

10

Opinions of teachers

4 + occasionally10

10

Your opinion!

1

10

OVERALL SCORE

39 approx

160

Please write any other comments here:

1. Makes me feel I can keep up when working with the rest of the class.

2. I am really missing being able to use Inspiration to plan my writing and make a summary of what I read. [This was because Mark had been using a school netbook without Inspiration for a short time.]

3. Co-writer and inspiration really help me to get on with my work. I am looking forward to using it again in Primary 7. 

4. I don’t mind sorting mistakes and making my ideas bigger and better.

Thanks Mark and his teacher for these positive and helpful comments!

Paul

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Looking forward to the Family Fun Day 2012!

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 22nd March, 2012 at 10:00am

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We're gearing up for the Family Fun Day which will be held here in CALL this Saturday March 24th. The Fun Day is a day of general mayhem where children and their families have a chance to try out lots of different technology and activities in an informal way. The day is staffed by CALL, FACCT, KeyComm, SCTCI, TASSCC and their friends, families, relatives, mates and anyone else who happens to be passing. There appear to be 184 children and young people and their families coming (eek!) to play with toys, switches, computers, video games, smart wheelchairs etc and to make art, music, cakes, and a most satisfying all round mess. Take a look at this video that Craig made last year to see the sort of thing that is going to be happening......

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Cartoon Video introducing Assistive Technology

By Sally Millar on Monday 3rd October, 2011 at 10:08am

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This fun little cartoon video explains much of what is important about assistive technology for disabled users, in a clear and pretty cool way.

Update: 

I should clarify. The CALL Scotland team did not make this video, though I would be very proud if we had. We are just passing it on for wider appreciation. It was made by a team led by Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies. You can view the original at http://inclusive.com/AT_boogie/at30.swf

 

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New Video Case Studies on Assistive Technology from ACE Centre

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 1st September, 2011 at 11:54am

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Our friends in the ACE Centre in Oxford have recently produced a series of short video case studies illustrating different examples of the use of assistive technology to support learners with disabilities. There are 8 videos in the series:

  • Aroob - The use of an iPod Touch with a communication app to support a mainstream primary pupil with aphasia following a stroke.
  • Claire - A university student with cerebral palsy who uses a ruggedised tablet computer, accessed with a joystick and switch, to support her studies.
  • Sandip - An adult with cerebral palsy demonstrates the impact that using a Lightwriter SL40 has had on his ability to communicate.
  • Tamsin - A pupil in a mainstream primary school uses eye-pointing with a Look2Talk communication book to communicate with her peers and also uses a Tellus communication aid to access the curriculum.
  • Tiago - A pupil with cerebral palsy uses a Tobii C12 eye-gaze system to communicate with staff and his fellow pupils and to access the curriculum.
  • Darren - A Proxtalker communication aid finally provides a student with autistic spectrum disorder with an effective communication method.
  • Kalvin, Mayar and Craig - Three secondary students with physical disabilities and learning needs use switches and low tech communication systems.
  • Patrick - A pupil in a primary school uses an alternative keyboard and mouse to access the same software as his peers.

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The case against Assistive Technology

By Sally Millar on Monday 8th August, 2011 at 6:16pm

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Here's a wee film called 'The Case Against Assistive Technology' to get everyone going at the beginning of the new session.

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ICT and Inclusion - Latest News!

By Allan Wilson on Friday 11th June, 2010 at 10:05am

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It's not too late to book a place at one of next week's free ICT and Inclusion days, run in conjunction with the JISC Resource Centres, though we may not be able to guarantee lunch if you book very late:

  • Tuesday 15th June - Invercarse Hotel, 371 Perth Road, Dundee DD2 1PG.
  • Wednesday 16th June - CALL Scotland, Moray House School of Education, Paterson's Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ.
  • Thursday 17th June - The Bruce Hotel, 35 Cornwall Street, East Kilbride G74 1AF.

The Exhibition, featuring many of the UK's leading suppliers of assistive technology and software for pupils and students with additional support needs runs from 9 am until 4pm each day and is accompanied by a series of presentations. Timetables can now be downloaded from the ICT and Inclusion web site, where you can also register to attend.

Late additions

There have been some late additions to the list of suppliers and organisations that will be attending:

  • Ink Learning are joining the exhibition in Dundee. They will be demonstrating their Primary Steps Maths and Primary Steps Phonics programs that can be enjoyed using a dance mat. Great fun, educational and good exercise!
  • Ability World and Steljes will be coming to Edinburgh and East Kilbride. Ability World will be bringing their innovative, Uni-tech system and Voice Ink software, which enables you to 'print' spoken words and sounds onto your teaching resources and communication boards. Steljes will be demonstrating their latest Smart Table, which brings a revolutionary approach to group learning, and other products.
  • Pass IT On / U Can Do IT and the Scottish Sensory Centre will be providing information about their work in the Edinburgh exhibition. Pass IT On provide access to computers for people with disabilities in partnership with U Can Do IT, who provide training. The Scottish Sensory Centre provide training and support for teachers of pupils with visual or hearing impairments. 

 

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Gate those joysticks!

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 12th May, 2010 at 5:05pm

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We’ve been looking at methods of computer access for a young boy (age 7) with athetoid cerebral palsy, and he’s evaluated quite a few options. The most promising method was an old Interface Designs switched joystick connected via a USB Mouse Mover interface, which he controls with his right hand. He clicks with a head switch. ‘Billy’ (not his real name) has been using this in school since January 2009 and he is now an expert: he can write using Clicker (both with a word bank and an on-screen keyboard); he can draw and paint with 2Simple Paint; he can access the internet; he can get navigate folders, use the Start menu to start programs, choose menu items, and adjust settings. I'm not quite sure how he manages it, but he does, and very quickly and accurately too.

The problem with this joystick is it’s no longer made, so I wanted to find an alternative that we could actually buy. Most joysticks are not like this one though - most are smaller, analogue (i.e. the more you push the stick, the faster the mouse pointer moves), and ungated.

So why does this stick work for him compared to, say, a Roller Joystick, which doesn’t, at all? I think there are three reasons:

  • The joystick is large and clunky with a ‘gate’ – slots for forward, back, left and right. Billy has difficulty with fine motor control which means the Roller Joystick is almost impossible, whereas he can push the Interface Designs stick in the correct approximate direction and then the gate guides it into place.
  • The stick has a long handle which he manages with relatively gross movements.
  • The Mousemover interface has adjustable acceleration, which means the longer Billy pushes the stick, the faster the mouse pointer moves. This gives him really very good accuracy by pushing the stick for a short time and then releasing it, yet also quick movement around the screen by holding the stick on.

A few weeks ago I made a plastic gate for a Roller Joystick and Billy tried it out. It was much, much better than an ungated Roller Joystick but still not quite as fast and accurate as the Interface Designs/MouseMover combination – mainly I think because there is no control over acceleration (the Roller moves at full speed because Billy can’t do anything other than push it all the way).

I’ve been involved with lots of people like Billy over the years who can successfully control a gated stick but who struggle with an ungated, standard analogue stick and so this blog is to remind us all that Gates are Good (and could manufacturers please offer gates for their joysticks and/or come up with something similar to the Interface Designs device.)

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Technology Discovery Day: 13th March 2010

By Robert Stewart on Thursday 21st January, 2010 at 4:28pm

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For People Who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Time: Saturday 13th March 2010, 11am - 4pm

Location: CALL Scotland, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

Webpage: Technology Discovery Day

It's FREE and refreshments will be provided. Drop in, or stay all day!

The day is run by expert staff from Ayrshire and Arran AAC Resource, CALL Scotland, FACCT, KEYCOMM, SCTCI, TASSCC and other specialist centres and funded by Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland.

  • Try out new computers, software, websites, music, communication aids, environment controls, and games and technology for fun and communication! (Remember to bring YOUR communication aid!).
  • Make new friends and contacts. Get help and ideas from specialist professionals from AAC services and other centres across Scotland.
  • You’ll need to arrange your own transport and bring someone along to help you and join in the fun!
  • Refreshments (eg. sandwiches, tea, coffee, juice) will be provided. If you have special dietary requirements, please bring what you need.

Registration

If you would like to come:

  • Visit the Technology Discovery Day and read more about it and use the online form to book your place;
  • OR telephone CALL Scotland, 0131 651 6235 to book a place;
  • OR fill in a paper copy of the booking form and return it to: CALL Scotland, Paterson’s Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ.

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Moray House PGDE ICT Conference 2009

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 22nd December, 2009 at 10:56am

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Last Friday we gave a couple of talks on assistive techology and AAC, to students on the Moray House Primary Postgraduate course, and here's the powerpoint presentation. It is a whistle-stop tour through Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning. The presentation is a PDF and the notes for each slide can be seen by pointing with your mouse to the organe speech bubble in the top left hand corner of each slide.

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Scottish Schools Browsealoud trial

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 18th December, 2009 at 6:08pm

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This is a chance for you to help improve the accessibility of Glow. If Glow is to fulfil it's aims it needs to be accessible to every pupil in Scotland and one way of helping many pupils with visual or reading difficulties is through 'text-to-speech' software, so that pupils can have material on Glow read out to them by the computer. There are many text-to-speech programs for reading different types of digital text, such as:

  • Rod Macaulay's WordTalk (which you can download free from CALL), can read out Word documents, for example, or
  • TextHelp's PDFaloud, which can read PDFs such as digital textbooks or SQA exam papers,

but we also need a program for reading text from the web itself.

Again there are several options (see Allan's Reading the Web guide at  http://www.callscotland.org.uk/Resources/Publications/Information-Sheets/) , and one of them is Browsealoud from TextHelp Systems. Browsealoud is a free program that reads 'speech-enabled' web sites and also Word and PDF files on the web sites.TextHelp have agreed to 'speech-enable' the CALL Scotland and LTS web sites and also Glow until the end of January 2010, for us to evaluate. CALL’s speech-enabled web sites are:

All LTS web sites (http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/) and also everything accessed through the Glow portal are speech-enabled.The pilot Books for All Scotland Database at http://www.booksforallscotland.org.uk/ is also speech-enabled.To read the web sites with Browsealoud you need to download it from http://www.browsealoud.com/page.asp?pg_id=80004.Jennifer MacDougal from LTS has agreed to set up a discussion forum for the Glow users and so once you have tried out Browsealoud on Glow, go to My Glow Groups > ASN Group and add your comments about it to the discussion. The direct URL for this is https://portal.glowscotland.org.uk/establishments/nationalsite/Additional%20Support%20for%20Learning/Lists/Pages/Discussions.aspxBrowsealoud is essentially a tool for reading web sites with text-to-speech software. It can help pupils with visual impairment, dyslexia, reading and learning difficulties or pupils who are not fluent English readers access information on web sites. It can speak using a number of different voices including Heather, the Scottish voice. To take part in this trial, download and run Browsealoud and then test it on Glow or on the CALL or LTS websites, and then log any comments or issues on the Glow group. If you can’t access Glow send an email to CALL at callscotland@ed.ac.uk. LTS are currently looking at how the accessibility of Glow can be improved, and a text-to-speech facility could be extremely useful, if not essential, for thousands of pupils in Scotland (not much point in having a national intranet if it isn’t accessible to all pupils in Scotland). Browsealoud is only one option for reading the web and so you might also like to look at some others such as Click Speak, a free add-on for Firefox, but it  is really important that we all have a chance to test this particular tool to find out if it does what we all want. Please comment on whether you think Browsealoud would help pupils access Glow, as well as any problems that you come across. Take a look at the video tours and user guides on the Browsealoud web site as well – see http://www.browsealoud.com/page.asp?pg_id=80006We’re aware that you won’t have much time before the end of term, but no doubt some keen people will be unable to resist the temptation to play with Browsealoud over the break, and there will be a few weeks at the start of next term for you to try it.Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

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CALL helps the University of Edinburgh celebrate 40 years of commercialisation

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 4th December, 2009 at 4:13pm

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Prince Philip talking to Paul Nisbet next to the Smart Wheelchair.

The University of Edinburgh celebrated 40 years of commercialisation with an exhibition and reception in the Playfair library on November 16th 2009. The Smart Wheelchair was Mr (or should that be Miss?) 1987 - the year when we started work on the first protoype. The event was attended by His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had a narrow escape from being run over while watching the Smart Wheelchair following the track around the stand. The Duke remarked that a big problem with wheelchairs is the low height of the seat, which he said is a bit of an issue at cocktail parties: I'm not sure there's much of a market for a cocktail-shaking Smart Wheelchair with powered elevating seat but who knows, I'll add it to the wish list....

The DVD and booklet produced to mark the occasion feature the Smart Wheelchair and also CALLTalk, the communication vocabulary developed by Sally Millar and Janet Larcher. Thanks to Derek Waddell, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) from Edinburgh Research and Innovation Limited (ERI), for inviting us to the event. A video report is available and CALL's work was also featured in the latest edition of Infinite, ERI's annual review.

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Keep up to date with the latest communication aids + Free Lunch!!

By Sally Millar on Monday 2nd November, 2009 at 10:28am

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Act NOW and book a place at one of the forthcoming Scottish Communication Matters Road Shows. It is completely free, and you get a free lunch as well! Choice of three venues (all 9.15am - 3.30pm, or 'drop in'):

  • Tuesday 1st December - Edinburgh (Murrayfield Stadium, with CALL)
  • Wednesday 2nd December - Aberdeen (Pittodrie Football Stadium, with TASSC)
  • Thursday 3rd December - Glasgow (Hampden Park Stadium, with SCTCI)

This is THE opportunity of the year to find out about all the equipment and software available to support people with complex communication support needs. Suppliers of communication technology exhibit their wares and highlight any new products. As well as each giving a short presentation - you choose which you wish to attend - product experts are on hand all day to answer any questions you may have, demonstrate equipment, supply catalogues and literature, give you mini 1:1 tutorials. Unlike with visits from one particular company, you get the chance to 'compare and contrast' systems. Staff from the local specialist AAC services in Scotland are on hand to help to point you to local sources of informaiton and support, and you will also be able to 'network' with like-minded colleagues. Hope to see you there!

To find out more and to book online, go to Communication Matters Road Shows. Or, you can email Communication Matters or ring 0845 456 8211, giving your name, full address with postcode and contact telephone number. You will receive an acknowledgement of your booking.

You are also always welcome to contact CALL for further information, on 0131 651 6235 or 0131 651 6236.

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