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Comparison of AAC Apps

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 5th March, 2013 at 4:35pm

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Carol Paige from the South Carolina Assistive Technology Programme has compiled a pretty comprehensive chart comparing various apps that can be used for augmentative and alternative communication. It will be very useful, but you might need a magnifying glass to read a printed copy!The same site has a number of other useful lists of apps, including:

  • Apps that make life easier
  • Concept Mapping Apps
  • Note Taking Apps
  • Reading / Writing Apps
  • Voice to Text Apps
  • Web Browser Apps
  • Word Prediction Apps
  • ... and lots more!

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Load2Learn database of accessible textbooks is now free!

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 5th March, 2013 at 10:08am

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Load2Learn is a database of downloadable accessible textbooks and images that has been set up by RNIB and Dyslexia Action with funding from the Department for Education. It's similar to the Books for All Database (we gave them some input and it's actually hosted by Scran, same as B4A) but when it was first set up, there was a membership subscription. Happily, it's now FREE! and so anyone who is working in schools with print-disabled pupils should join immediately and start getting access to more accessible titles.

To join, one member of staff in a school or service applies for membership to create a School group and then invites other staff to join the group. Then members of the group can search for and download books and images.

Since it's funded by the Department for Education, many of the secondary school books are the (English and Welsh) National Curriculum - AQA, GCSE etc - and so not relevant for most Scottish schools, but there are also many titles which are.

For example, Nelson Thornes have made a lot of their books available as PDFs - New Maths in Action; Scientifica, and there are many novels and primary textbooks available too.

Recently I was looking for accessible digital copies of Kes and Blood Brothers for a pupil and neither were available on B4A or Seeing Ear, but both are on Load2Learn.

The Load2Learn titles are offered in a range of different formats:

  • PDFs, which look just like the paper book and so will suit some learners;
  • Word files, which can be read on screen or converted into other formats such as Large print or Braille;
  • ePUB, which can be read on iPads, tablets and smartphones;
  • audio books. 
So we now have three sources of books in accessible formats for schools in Scotland:

plus of course commercial eBook venders such as Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith and the iBook Store.

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ICT for Inclusion - a European perspective

By Stuart Aitken on Friday 1st March, 2013 at 12:14pm

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CALL Scotland contributed to the EU project ICT for Inclusion, providing the EU Agency team with a snapshot Scotland-wide perspective. The project, managed by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education used a country survey to collect information on five areas. These  explored both policy frameworks for ICT for Inclusion as well as current practice. 

The five themes, reflecting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), are:

  1. ICT should be considered as a key tool for promoting equity in educational opportunities.
  2. Access to appropriate ICTs should be considered an entitlement.
  3. Training of educational staff in the use of general and specialist ICT must be considered a priority area.
  4. The promotion of ICT research and development requires a multi-stakeholder approach.
  5. Data collection and monitoring in the use of ICT in inclusion should be considered an area requiring attention at all levels of educational provision.

The CALL report Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Inclusion - Scotland is very much a snapshot and we would be delighted to receive feedback from others.The ICT4i project will in future present detailed case studies from which they will highlight best practice in ICT for Inclusion at the European level. 

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WiFi in Schools - Is it Safe? (Yes!)

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 27th February, 2013 at 1:25pm

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We were asked today if there are any safety issues associated with the use of WiFi systems in schools. Given the increasing use of WiFi, it is actually a little surprising that we haven't been asked about it earlier.

Our first stop for information on Health and Safety issues is generally the Health and Safety Executive. Their web site includes a set of FAQs on 'Non-ionising Radiation'. This refers mostly to mobile phone masts and the use of mobile phones, but also includes a short section on WiFi, with the following information:

"Are there health risks from exposure to wireless computer technology (WiFi)?"

"When developing a view on WiFi safety HSE consults the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which advises Government on this issue. The HPA’s current position is that there is no consistent evidence that exposure to WiFi adversely affects the health of the general population.

"What is HSE’s advice on using WiFi equipment in offices?

"HSE sees no health and safety reason why offices should not use WiFi equipment. If new evidence about WiFi safety comes to light, and the HPA advice changes, HSE will review its guidance accordingly."

There's more information on the Health Protection Agency's web site, including details of a school-based research project that they have been carrying out.

Here are the Key Points from the HPA web site:

  • There is no consistent evidence to date that exposure to RF signals from Wi-Fi and WLANs adversely affect the health of the general population.
  • The signals from Wi-Fi are very low power, typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts), in both the computer and the mast (or router) and resulting exposures should be well within internationally-accepted guidelines.
  • The frequencies used are broadly the same as those from other RF applications.
  • Based on current knowledge, RF exposures from Wi-Fi are likely to be lower than those from mobile phones.
  • On the basis of current scientific information, exposures from Wi-Fi equipment satisfy international guidelines. There is no consistent evidence of health effects from RF exposures below guideline levels and no reason why schools and others should not use Wi-Fi equipment.

I don't fully understand all of the science in the summary of the research report, but there was one sentence that I found particularly reassuring:

"The reported SAR value in the head represents less than 1% of the SAR previously calculated in the head for a typical mobile phone exposure condition." (SAR is the "Specific Absorption Rate" of energy in the body.)

The Guardian had a very readable and informative article about wifi safety in September of last year. It suggested that "the intensity of a Wi-Fi signal is around 100,000 times less than that of a microwave oven", which, again, is reassuring. The comments on the article included a detailed response offering a contrary point of view, with a link to a web site. I wasn't convinced by the arguments, but it is certainly worth having a look at the information.

Direct Experience

Paul has had direct experience arising from the use of WiFi while working with a CALL client in a hospital setting. When he set up internet access for a pupil, hospital staff didn’t allow a mobile dongle within 10m because of the risk of interference with his vent, but WiFi was OK, so he connected  his tablet via WiFi to a dongle with built-in wifi receiver and put it in the family room which was far enough away.

Conclusion - No Need to Worry (but let's keep an eye on it!)

In conclusion, current research suggests that WiFi signals are very low power and unlikely to be a safety issue for most people. Nevertheless, it is important that there should be ongoing research in this area to monitor future developments. 

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Useful resources

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 27th February, 2013 at 9:48am

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We've just caught up with the easy-to-read and helpful resources published by the National Children's Bureau. They will be very helpful for parents but also for school staff. Here are a few of the many titles;

Information about multi-sensory impairment

Information about multi-sensory impairment

Information about autism spectrum disorders

These are all part of the National Children's Bureau's 'Early Support' initiative.

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Health and Well Being App

By Sally Millar on Monday 25th February, 2013 at 11:57am

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Smiling mind (iPhone)  -  free App designed to support mental health and well-being. Or use web based version

Designed by psychologists for relaxation and 'mindfulness'. Aim is to "help you feel more clear, calm and content". You get a trial session then need to log in with an email address.For different age groups: 7-11; 12-15; 16-22; or adult. Material is presented orally - Very basic relaxation and 'meditation' sessions (lying on floor or seated) last about 7 minutes. Could be delivered to individual or to a small group or class. Requires the ability to stay still, quietly, and listen.

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New SQA Guidance, Answer and Data booklets for Digital Question Papers

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 22nd February, 2013 at 11:55am

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New Guidance

SQA have published new guidance documents for schools who intend to use the SQA Digital Question Papers and Digital Answer Booklets in this year's exam diet. They have up to date advice on how to set up computers and software, and revised guidance for candidates:

  • ‘Digital Question Papers: Guidance for Centres’ 
  • ‘Digital Question Papers: Guidance for Candidates’.

and can be downloaded from the SQA web site.

There are also new versions of the Digital Answer Booklets. These are used by candidates answering 'question only' papers (i.e. papers that do not have the red answer boxes - mostly for Standard Grade Credit, Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher papers). Most of the Answer Booklets in Word format are now single pages that expand as the candidate writes (saving paper when they are printed, because there will be fewer blank pages at the end), and there are new booklets for maths and business management.

The Answer booklets are available in PDF and Word formats. Most candidates will probably be best to use the Word versions because:

  • the Word formatting and editing tools are better;
  • text flows from page to page;
  • writing support tools such as word prediction and speech recognition are more reliable;
  • learners can use equation editors such as Efofex to create scientific and mathematical formulae, and graphs.

Data Booklets

Digital Data Booklets in PDF are now available for Chemistry, Physics and TechnologicalStudies. The booklets have bookmarks (table of contents) so that candidates can easily find their way to the relevant tables. These should be particularly helpful for candidates with physical disabilities who may find it hard to handle the paper booklets, or those with visual impairment, who will be able to magnify the data on the screen.

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AAC Do's and Don'ts

By Sally Millar on Thursday 21st February, 2013 at 11:57am

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Great resource from Lauren Enders  - a  freely downloadable one page poster to support AAC implementation.

This poster should be on every classroom, home and therapy room wall, for the benefit of all those learning to communicate using AAC.

Thanks to Lauren for generating such great stuff, and acknowledging collaboration of her BCIU colleagues Pat Mervine of Speaking of Speech.com, Melissa Skocypec, and Cathie VanALstine.

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New resources in Switch IT Maker

By Sally Millar on Friday 8th February, 2013 at 12:27pm

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Lots of people have the lovely easy-to-use switch accessible software from Inclusive Technology, like SwitchIT Maker 2 and ChooseIT Maker 2. But it is disappointing to see how few schools manage to find time to make their own resources, to create personalised exercises that individual children or groups can enjoy and use as valuable learning & practice, as part of curriculum topic or theme work.

To help you, from Ian Bean of SENICT, amongst other freely downloadable goodies here, there are two simple and easy-to-use help sheets, with step by step instructions for: -

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Handwriting with the iPad

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 30th January, 2013 at 9:07am

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You might think it strange to be talking about handwriting in connection with a portable tablet device, with a built in keyboard, but there are a lot of times when there are definite linkages between handwriting and the iPad, from a young child practising letter formation to a student wishing to annotate a diagram with written notes, or convert from handwriting to printed text.

From Scribbles to Letters

Traditionally, young children have often developed and improved their letter formation (and then handwriting) skills through finger painting or forming letters and shapes in sand. The iPad can provide a similar tactile experience without the mess! There are lots of free, or very cheap, drawing apps that allow young children to start off with random scribbling, leading on to attempts at more formal drawing and practice at letter formation.

Finger PaintInclusive Technology have just released Finger Paint with Sounds, a free app that can play music, or random sounds while a child is drawing on the screen with their finger. It can either be used with a single finger, or in 'multi-touch' mode - single finger is obviously better for letter formation. The app is engaging and fun, though I found it irritating that the opening screen just leads to a web page with information on other Inclusive products which can only be avoided by a two-fingered double-tap in the top left corner.

I quite like Draw 4 Free, which, once you get past the opening advert, has a very simple interface - a blank screen, with a 'pencil' icon in the bottom left corner that allows access to options for saving / opening a picture, changing pen thickness and changing colours. You could create a picture with horizontal lines, and possibly outlines of letters, as a background that a pupil could use to practice writing with their finger.

PaperIf you are looking for something a bit more 'artistic', or 'calligraphic', then you could try Paper. You can create some really nice writing and drawing effects with this app, which was awarded the title of 'App of the Year' for 2012 by Apple. Individual pages are presented as partly-folded notes, which you can expand to full-size by touching on the screen. Note that while the basic app is free, you have to pay for additional pens and colours.

Forming Letters

There are a few apps available that help with letter formation - they generally provide a stencil for a letter or word with a 'route' that should be followed to form the individual letters.

BT Handwriting (Build and Teach, not British Telecom!) provides individual UPPER or lower case letters for the pupil to copy, along with numbers and an opportunity to copy a name. There is a free version, which just provides upper-case letters. The direction and sequence of strokes required to make up a letter are indicated. There is also a facility for taking a screenshot to record how well the letter has been copied.

Touch and WriteTouch and Write provides practice in writing letters and words, by following a route on a template. It is more flexible than some of the other apps in this area, offering a range of backgrounds (though they are not all very useful) and a facility to create and use your own word lists. On the other hand, the review and reward provided at the end of each word is long and repetitive. This could become tedious for a pupil who is keen to progress to the end of the task. I have been in touch with the developer, who will consider changes for a future version.

iWriteWords is a similar app for letter formation, providing practice with individual letters, numbers and short words. It has a very simple design, but offers less flexibility than Touch and Write, for example it does not seem possible to edit the words that are presented, or to change their order. A child needing practice with M and P could become bored with forever writing A..N..T. One nice feature in iWriteWords is the use of numbers to indicate the direction of writing to form a letter, though this depends on the child being familiar with numbers.

What can you write with?

Early writing apps are designed for use with a finger, but at some point a child might want to progress to a stylus, which allows more control over fine lines. We have the Pogo Stylus available for loan, but I find that it isn't very good for precise work, a problem that increases as it becomes worn. I prefer the Cosmonaut, which is a bit like a child's thick crayon, but has a definite point.

More advanced writing.

FastFingaIf you want to continue writing with your finger for a little longer, there's a neat app, FastFinga, which allows the user to write at 'normal' size, but with the text automatically 'shrunk' to fit on a page. This has various backgrounds, e.g. 'notepaper' and sheet music which can be useful.

Annotation

This is where things start to get a little more serious! Suppose a pupil is sitting a digital exam provided in PDF format, or simply wants to add notes / drawings to a worksheet or text provided in PDF format. The Adobe Reader app has a basic set of tools for adding typed notes, and freehand drawings.  iAnnotate PDF provides additional facilities, including the ability to add notes and comments by voice. There may still be times when someone will want to add handwritten notes, using a stylus, which both Adobe Reader and iAnnotate allow.

Handwriting Recognition.

WritePadThe ultimate task in this blog is to have handwritten text converted into printed text. Handwriting recognition has been around with varying degrees of success for tablet computers for some time. There are a couple of Apps for the iPad that are worth a look:

WritePad provides fast on-screen recognition of handwriting, with the screen split into three sections: the bottom for writing into, the middle to let you see what the app thinks you wrote and the top part for the 'end product'. It is a nice idea, but I found the recognition was not consistent enough with my admittedly illegible handwriting for the app to work well for me.

Myscript Memo works better for me in terms of recognition. With this app you can fill a page with notes and then export what you have written as a text file. It is possible to edit the text before sending it. My biggest issue with this app is that it can only be used with the iPad in portrait mode, rather than landscape. It is easy to accidentally touch the iPad screen with the base of your hand as you are writing, interfering with the writing process. There is a built-in software 'writing guard' which is supposed to 'deactivate' the part of the screen where you are resting your hand, but I found it very flakey.

 

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Free Event: Developing Teachers in a Post PC Era

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 29th January, 2013 at 11:40am

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Dr. William Rankin holding an iPhone in a libraryAn opportunity for senior educational leaders to consider the requirements of preparing and developing teachers for the challenges and opportunities presented by the post PC classroom. The increasing presence of mobile technologies such as the iPad in our schools requires a new strategy in teacher development to realise the full potential of these new technologies. These technologies have the potential to support and meet the needs of learners across a full spectrum of abilities while transforming pedagogy and the whole learning and teaching process.

Keynote presentation from renowned international speaker Dr. William Rankin as well as presentations from Scottish Educators.

Early booking is advised so find out more and register!

Details

  • Cost: FREE
  • Date: March 22nd 2013
  • Time: 10.00am to 1.15pm (registration from 9.00am)
  • Address: St Cecilia's Hall, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh
  • Location map

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More 'Best Apps' for ASN: language and literacy

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th January, 2013 at 10:58am

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Another list of 'best Apps - this time from a US parents website, targeting Apps for language and literacy.

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Access to Work

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 23rd January, 2013 at 12:51pm

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Towards the end of last year we had a visit from Yvonne Baird, from the Department of Work and Pensions' Access to Work scheme. This was described in a recent report as "one of the best-kept secrets" within the Government. Money can be provided through Access to Work for people with disabilities in, or starting, employment. The money can pay for things like:

  • specialist equipment.
  • travel when you can't use public transport.
  • a communicator at a job interview.

To qualify for an Access to Work Grant, You must be disabled, 16 or over and either:

  • in a paid job or self-employed - you can’t get it for voluntary work.
  • unemployed and about to start a job or a work trial.

Support for Adults from CALL Scotland

CALL is funded, primarily by the Scottish Government, to support pupils with communication difficulties in schools in Scotland, and the staff who work with them, but we also get a small amount of money that allows us to provide limited support for adults with disabilities, through the Information and Advice and Loans services. Here are a few examples of the support we have provided in recent months:

  • Advice on different speech recognition systems for a speech and language therapist working with an adult in employment (who was probably eligible for Access to Work funding).
  • Advice (and loans of mini keyboards and a glidepad) to an occupational therapist with clients with MND wishing to access a computer in a day centre.
  • Information on use of Kindle software to allow an adult switch user to access electronic books (and loan of switch / interface).
  • Information and advice for adults with dyslexia looking for low cost software to support reading and writing.

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Terrific new 'AACknowledge' resource launches

By Sally Millar on Friday 18th January, 2013 at 11:07am

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A terrific new AAC resource has recently been launched, in the form of the AACknowledge website. This is an outcome of Communication Matter's AAC Evidence Base project.

The new website provides a wealth of useful information for both experienced AAC specialists, who get summaries and links to all published research, and beginners, who get basic AAC definitions and case stories, factsheets, FAQs and more.

It's a actually a well-researched - and much needed and eagerly anticipated - comprehensive database of research and publications in the field of AAC - but cleverly presented in an informative and easy to use way.

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First Thoughts on the Kindle Fire

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 16th January, 2013 at 1:51pm

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I got myself a Kindle Fire HD earlier this week as it is hard to respond to inquiries about a piece of equipment that we haven't seen. Interestingly, Amazon could not deliver until the middle of February so I got one from our local branch of Argos for the same price - sometimes it pays to shop local!

The Kindle Fire (bottom left in the photo), with a 7" screen is roughly the same size as the old keyboard Kindle (bottom right), just a fraction wider), but it is nearly twice as heavy. It is significantly smaller and lighter than the iPad (top). The display has a very decent resolution (1,280 x 800 pixels) and is clear and sharp.

The onscreen keyboard is as good as most others and works in either portrait or landscape orientation, with white lettering on black keys. There is built-in word rediction, with predicted words appearing in a row above the keyboard.

Reading eBooks on the Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire can access the same Kindle library as other Kindle devices, but the colour screen makes children's picture books much more inviting. Some picture books have been provided with 'popups', enlarging small passages of text in a box with a cream background, using a standard, slightly enlarged, serif font to replace the various more graphical fonts used in picture books. Unfortunately, in the book I tried ('Twas the Night Before Christmas') it was not possible to further enlarge this text, or have it read out loud by the Kindle. I could not find any books in the Picture Book section of the Amazon Shop which claimed to be 'speech enabled'.

Books made up primarily of text can be read the same way as in earlier Kindles, with options to change line spacing, style and size of the text. Six fonts are available. Given that that the more 'traditional' Kindles available from Amazon (basic Kindle and Paperwhite) no longer provide text to speech support for reading eBooks, I was particularly keen to see how this performed on the Kindle Fire. To turn speech on, simply tap on the screen to bring up the Menu and choose Settings, then turn Text-to-Speech on. Tap again and press the Play icon at the bottom left of the screen to listen to the speech. Speech quality is better than on the earlier Kindles, but still isn't great.

I was disappointed to find that Immersion Reading is not yet available in the UK. This has been introduced for Kindle readers in the USA, allowing people to link their Kindle eBook to an audio book downloaded from Audible.com. Books can be read with a human voice (generally the author, or an actor), with text highlighted on screen as the words are spoken. When I tried to find out whether this would become available for the UK, the response from Amazon Support was somewhat cryptic: "We've made no announcement about implementing Immersion Reading in the UK, so unfortunately I can't answer your question."

What else does the Kindle Fire have?

The Kindle Fire HD has a dual-band Wi-Fi connection, which I have found to be pretty fast. The web browser is OK, but pretty basic, without any facilities for improving accessibility. You can connect to email, Facebook and Twitter accounts

Though the Kindle Fire uses the Android operating system, you are restricted to using apps available from the Amazon App Store. There's a good selection of mainstream apps available, many of which are free, but there's a shortage of the more specialist apps. Anybody looking for a budget communication aid will be disappointed.

The Kindle Fire has a built-in front facing HD video camera, aimed primarily at people using video chat - it can be used to take photographs, but it is awkward as you cannot see what you are taking a picture of.

Although it isn't documented, it is possible to take a screenshot of the Kindle screen by simultaneously pressing the Lower Volume and Power buttons. This can be tricky as it is easy to get it slightly wrong and just get the Volume Bar, or the Shut Down menu on screen.

The Fire can be connected to an external display, e.g. a data projector, by means of a micro HDMI cable (not supplied, but very cheap)

Overall Impressions

Basically, I like the Fire - screen quality is good, it is portable and has access to a wide range of facilities. Some tasks are pretty fiddly (like taking a screenshot) and I was a bit disappointed with the text-to-speech quality - and the absence of Immersion Reading, but overall I was pretty impressed, especially as it only cost 159.

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