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An Open Letter to the Parent of a Child with Speech Delays

By Sally Millar on Monday 8th April, 2013 at 3:54pm

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Once again, the piercingly true words of a parent - therapists and teachers take note!

Dana Nieder, parent of Maya, urging parents and professionals not to 'wait and see' but to plunge in, as soon as possible, to the world of full strength AAC .

There is no time to waste - and there is nowhere for professionals to hide, these days, when the internet can provide such vast resources of information.

It's great that a parent is writing this stuff, because maybe other parents  - and let's be honest, there are many who are frustratingly reluctant to consider any alternative to speech, and just don't 'get' the importance of developing underlying language, and interactive communication skills - will accept it better from another parent than from a professional.

We all want the best for the child, but communication and language are complex functions and skills and there is no quick and easy solution. Both parents and professionals are needed to put all this together. And it's not just about speech and language therapists, who may see the child for a few hours over several months, but for school staff who see him/her for several hours every weekday........


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Best Simple Music Player App

By Joanna Courtney on Thursday 4th April, 2013 at 4:16pm

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Does your child like music? Do they love wading through your iPad music library to find their favourite tunes, perhaps deleting your favourites on the way?!

Help is at hand, from a cool little app called Kidzik and it only costs 1.49!

The app allows you to create a bespoke music library for your child, by first making a 'Kidzik' playlist in the iTunes Music Player app on your device.

The Kidzik app then 'picks up' the playlist automatically and presents it as a choice of album cover artwork choices.

The user then touches the album to select the single song or songs from that album and that's it!

They can play or pause by touching the selected album in the 'apple.' They can also choose tracks by touching the different colours of the 'worm.' The same colour will always be linked to the same song, so that the user will know that the 'green' song is their favourite, for example.

Really nice simple interface and great how it uses the album artwork for the choices, rather than cartoons, numbers or random shapes like the other music player apps I've come across.

Would be even better if it was switch accessible.....


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Top Interactive Story App, and top book!

By Sally Millar on Monday 1st April, 2013 at 3:06pm

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Wow! just wanted to share info about the stunning interactive story App for iPad that I just stumbled across - The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.

To me, this is what an interactive story App should be like - all the best of both a short film and a story book , somehow brilliantly integrated.

You can just read and listen to the story - fabulous graphics, bit retro, plus music  - or each page has interactive features that you can explore  - when you do, they somehow make the page turn into an animated movie.

This multiple award-winning animation by William Joyce and filmmakers (some from Pixar  - who, let's face it -  know what they are doing!) - is a beautiful tale about the value of stories. It's not exactly a 'starter level' story, but it's very accessible and the interactivity enhances engagement.

It comes with 'extras' -  a short film and a 'Making of this App' and it somehow incorporates both the Wizard of Oz and hurricane Katrina & Sandy with resonances of Up! and other well-known tales and films.

You can change most of the settings re audio, text, music etc. but unfortunately there is no alternative to a 'swipe' for turning the page. 

Well worth 2.99 anyway. Take a peek! (Also available as a real book or for Kindle - dearer, of course)

AND......while we're at it - here is a must-buy book-type book.  Charming! A gem! Guaranteed to make you smile,  and also effective to help children think about the differences between books and other forms of story formats 'It's a Book' by Lane Smith published by MacMillan Childrens Books AND - ironically - it even comes with an animated video trailer!


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Assembly of an iPad Mounting for a Wheelchair

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 26th March, 2013 at 9:37am

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I've put together a video and uploaded it to YouTube which shows how to mount an iPad to a wheelchair using components supplied by an American company called RAM Mount (which are available to purchase here in the UK).

There are also captions available on this video.


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Digital jotter for the iPad

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 22nd March, 2013 at 3:16pm

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Recently I met a learner in first year in secondary school with a physical disability . She doesn't have the strength to hold books and turn pages, and she gets very tired handwriting. After due assessment and consideration of various devices we all concluded that an iPad was most suitable device for her physically: it's small and light enough for her to handle, and she rests it on her knees and against a desk, so that her hands are in her lap, which reduces fatigue. The iPad on-screen keyboard is just the right size for her to type on without stretching, and since it's touch-sensitive, it seems to require less effort than a physical keyboard.

Essentially, she wants to use the iPad for everything: reading textbooks and resources; completing homework and assessments; taking notes in class; etc etc

So, next questions are:

  • which apps should she use for different tasks and purposes in school?
  • where can she get digital textbooks?
  • how does she receive and send materials to and from teachers?
These seem to be fairly basic and common questions, so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and findings.

For general note-taking in class ('digital jotters'), I looked at quite a few note-taking apps including the built-in Notes, Daily Notes, EverNote and Note Taker HD, to name but a few, and I  liked the look of Notability, which lets you:

  • Create notes that can contain formatted text, hand writing and drawings (with pencil and pen), sound recordings, photos (either from the camera roll, or taken and inserted directly), clippings from the web, and drawings.
  • Organise your notes into categories and subjects. 
  • Use different paper backgrounds (different colours, lined, square paper).
  • Search your notes.
  • Import and annotate PDFs.
  • Save your notes in cloud service such as DropBox and Google Drive.
  • Send your notes to other apps, and by email, as PDF or RTF. 

It looks ideal for taking notes in class, for gathering and sorting information for topic or research, and for writing short assignments. (In fact, I'm now using it myself for all my note-taking on the iPad.)

There are a few things which could be better with Notability:

  • ‘Speak Selection’ does not work and so you can’t read your notes with text-to-speech.
  • Text cannot be inserted directly on top of a PDF, so you can’t use it very easily to type answers into PDF exams, assessments or homework.
  • It does not have ‘snap to grid’ for easily drawing straight lines. 
  • You cannot easily edit your notes on a desktop or laptop computer: you can only save them as PDF, RTF or text. (For me, if it could share and sync notes with Microsoft OneNote, it would be perfect.)

But of the apps I looked at, and read about, it looks ideal for the secondary school context.

For word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and particularly for importing and exporting Microsoft Office files, we suggested Apple's own Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

For reading textbooks in PDF (e.g. Hodder Gibson books from us, or scanned books from the Books for All Database), we went for PDF Expert, which has good study and search facilities, and lots of tools for annotation and commenting. It's also good for completing assessments such as the SQA Digital Question Papers. (Why PDF Expert in particular rather than others? While you can read PDFs with iBooks on the iPad, you can't annotate them; the free Adobe Reader app does let you annotate, but PDF Expert has better file management; and I liked PDF Expert's text annotate tool better than iAnnotate's, because you can type directly on the PDF rather than into a separate text field. (iAnnotate has features that PDF Expert doesn't, though, such as voice comments so pupils and staff can record audio notes into the PDF.)

For sharing work with staff, the only practical method in the school at this time is use of email, which is better than nothing but not as good as a file transfer/sharing method such as Edmodo, Dropbox or Google Drive. (The school doesn't use Glow.)

Feedback from the learner about these apps is so far very positive, so we'll see how they work out over time.

How about you? Which apps and techniques have you found helpful in a mainstream secondary context?


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New: 'Tobii PCEye Go' and 'Inclusive Eye Gaze Learning Curve'

By Gillian McNeill on Friday 22nd March, 2013 at 2:36pm

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Tobii PCEye Go

Tobii, the world leader in eye gaze and eye control technology, has just announced their most recent Windows computer access product the PCEye Go (Cost 2995). This replaces the PCEye and is 85% smaller (dimensions are 184 x 28 x 23 mm), powered with a single USB connection (no need to be plugged into the mains, making it a portable eye gaze solution) and is easy to use with either a standard monitor or laptop screen.

The PCEye Go has a simple mount with a slim magnetic mounting plate which is taped onto the bottom section of the monitor surround. This plate is designed to remain in place permanently, but given its slim design, should not interfere when laptop screens are closed.

Tobii’s product information describes the PCEye Go as being most suitable for monitor sizes under 19, but can be used with those up to 24.

Once we get our hands on one here at CALL Scotland, I’ll be keen to try it out with our different PCs including netbooks and tablets, with the potential for an even more portable communication solution for AAC users!

For those wishing to use eye gaze with a larger monitor, such as within a classroom environment, Tobii have announced that the PCEye Pro will be available later in the year. This is more than twice the length (dimensions are 400 x 28 x 23 mm) making it more suitable than the PC Eye Go for monitors sized 20 or larger, but is described as having an excellent suitability across a wide range of monitor sizes.

In the meantime, the PCEye Go ought to suit the requirements of most eye gaze users, whether a single user transporting between home and school/college/workplace, or swapping between users on the same site with different computers.


Inclusive Eye Gaze Learning Curve

Inclusive Technology, suppliers of special educational needs software, has just circulated details of a brand new Windows software suite, Inclusive Eye Gaze Learning Curve, described as:

"a collection of over 54 fun and engaging interactive activities specially created to teach early eye gaze access and develop choice making skills. This collection takes children on the learning curve from assessment and cause and effect understanding through to using eye gaze for communication, learning and leisure".

Useful for teachers and therapists as an eye gaze assessment and teaching tool, the suite comprises 3 CDs, titled Attention and Looking, Exploring and Playing, and Choosing and Learning. Together they are designed to help children to progress from their first steps in using eye gaze, by improving accuracy and understanding of eye gaze, in preparation for using communication and learning software.

With Inclusive Tecnology's excellent track record in providing hardware and software to help people with special needs, this ought to prove another valuable resource for a variety for professionals. 

Can't wait to try this out too!

Cost: 150 for each CD or all 3 for 399.


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Scottish Book Awards, 2012

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 7th March, 2013 at 3:42pm

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Congratulations to the winners of the Scottish Book Awards for 2012, which were announced today in Dundee. The winners were:

  • 3 - 7 years - John Fardell for The Day Louis Got Eaten
  • 8 - 11 years - Jonathan Meres for The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts
  • 12 - 16 years - Barry Hutchison for The 13th Horseman

Over 30,000 children in schools throughout Scotland voted for their favourite new book to decide the winner of each category.

CALL Scotland's Books for All project provided copies of the books in electronic accessible formats for 55 pupils with a print disability in schools throughout Scotland to allow them to join their friends in voting for their favourite book.


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Augmentative Communication News - a great resource, now free!

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 6th March, 2013 at 10:01am

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The entire archive of Sarah Blackstone's superb 'Augmentative Communication News' newsletter is now available free online.

The newsletter, typically 8 - 12 pages in length, was published 6 times a year for over 20 years between 1988 and 2009. Each issue would focus on a particular topic, e.g. Using AAC in a classroom, AAC in the Intensive Care Unit, gathering together current research and resources on the topic.

This valuable resource has now been made available for people to download free from the Augmentative Communication Inc web site. Given the passage of time and changing technology, some of the information may now be a little out f date, but the principles on which it was based are still sound and very relevant. Many of the individual newsletters can still be regarded as the best sources of information on their topic.

Sarah Blackstone deserves the thanks of the entire AAC community for her years of work on the newsletter, and for making it available to all.


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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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