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The Scottish Male Voice is chosen!

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 14th June, 2011 at 3:54pm

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Well the votes are in and we can now reveal that the winner is....... SPA!

We emailed samples of six male voices out to people who had downloaded Heather, to key contacts in local authorities, FE colleges and Universities, to ICTSLS, members of SICTDG, members of Augmentative Communication in Practice Scotland, and to children and young people who use Assistive Technology.

We received feedback, comments and scores from 82 people. SPA got the highest overall score, and was also the voice that most people preferred as the first and second choice.

 

SPA went into the recording studio a few weeks ago to start recording about 30 hours worth of reading, and we understand that he has just finished the recording. It will take CereProc a few weeks to process the recordings and create the voice, and we hope to have it available for download from our Scottish Voice web site by the start of the new school term.

We now need a name... and we might have a vote for that too... so watch this space.

Thanks to everyone who listened to the voices and gave us the feedback.

Paul

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New Kindle for PC software has text-to-speech

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 31st May, 2011 at 12:57pm

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The Kindle for PC Accessibility Plugin is now available for UK customers (and also for users in Australia, Canada and the U.S.). Kindle for PC is free software for reading Kindle eBooks on your Windows PC. The main feature of the new plugin is a text-to-speech tool which means that blind, visually impaired and severely dyslexic readers can listen to the book being read out by the computer. Kindle for PC Accessibility plugin has:

  • Text-to-speech reading with adjustable voice settings
  • Voice-guided menu navigation
  • Large font sizes
  • High contrast reading mode
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Accessible shortcuts

The Kindle reader software can be used to read out the text of the book, and blind readers can use Jaws or NVDA to read the menus and navigation instructions.

The software comes with two American voices - one male and one female - which are OK but not as good as Heather, for example. You can start, pause and stop the speech and read the current, previous or next sentences (see the list of shortcuts below). You can't use other voices on your computer with the Kindle software, and it doesn't highlight the text as it reads.

Like the standard Kindle reader, the font size can be massive (up to about 90pt), and you can change the colours (white on black, black on white, black on sepia).

For keyboard only users, there are keyboard shortcuts to navigate around the software and the eBooks.

The new Kindle reader is a significant step towards making commercial eBooks accessible for readers with print disabilities. There are now over 700,000 books available from the Amazon UK website and so it's a huge source of digital books.

I've updated our Kindle Quick Guide with the new features and you can now download it.

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Funding for a male Scottish Voice approved!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 7th March, 2011 at 2:29pm

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We are very pleased to announce that the Scottish Government has awarded us funding to work with CereProc to develop a male Scottish computer voice: a 'brother for Heather'. The funding will also pay for a licence for the entire public sector in Scotland, so that the voice can be used by school-age pupils, further and higher education students, workers in the public sector, and NHS patients.

Heather has been very well received by Scottish learners and pupils and we hope that the new male voice will be just as successful. It should certainly provide a better option for Scots boys with speech and language difficulties who use voice output communication aids, because at present they have a choice of speaking with very adult and very English voices, or one of a few rather low-fi Amercian children's accents, or with a female voice.

CereProc are currently advertising for a voice actor to provide the 'male voice of Scottish education'. A short list of suitable voices will then be drawn up and then the most suitable person chosen. The 'chosen one' then goes into a recording studio and spends many hours reading from texts, and then CereProc's engineers use these recordings to create the computer voice.

We'll keep you posted on progress.

In the meantime, if anyone has suggestions for a good name for the male Scottish voice (Euan? Ian? Hamish? Graham? David? Jimmy? Angus? Rab? Rhuaridh?) why not post a comment to let us know!

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New symbolised Oxford Reading Tree books from Help Me Read

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 21st February, 2011 at 3:03pm

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A few years ago Aileen MacIntyre, who teaches at Croftcroighn School in Glasgow, produced some 'symbolised' versions of Oxford Reading Tree books for pupils in the school who were struggling to learn to read. Aileen's books and work was featured in Examples of Best Practice in the 2007 Books for All Report. The idea of adding symbols to books intended to help children learn to read might seem unusual, but staff at Croftcroighn have found that the books help children with engage with the text, and they are sure that the books have improved the childrens' reading and word recognition skills.

Teachers might have concerns that children will rely on the symbols rather than learn to read the text, but the exact opposite seems to happen: for example, one teacher at Avenue End primary says:

"It is having a huge impact on their reading. It has helped with their recognition of high frequency words. They can now identify a lot of these words without the symbols. This is improving their reading and is now transferring to their writing."

Another advantage of the books is that they motivate children who are struggling to learn the words. Another teacher remarks that:

 "These children were struggling with the reading scheme being used in class and were showing signs of losing confidence. Use of this innovative symbolic approach as an aid to word recognition has helped the pupils regain their enthusiasm for reading with definite signs of progress being made by them.

 Aileen has now set up a company called Help Me Read to publish the books, together with worksheets, communication boards and record sheets to support teaching in class. The books are high quality publications, similar to the standard ORT books, and have Widgit symbols printed above the text.

The web site has information about who might benefit from the books, how to use them, an online ordering facility, and examples of how they can be used to support children with additional support needs, reading difficulties or English as a second language.

Most people think of alternative formats as being for example, Large Print, Braille, audio or digital books: Aileen's publications are a great example of how symbols can be used to make books more accessible in a different way.

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Burns needs a 'barry' voice!

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 25th January, 2011 at 3:44pm

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Today is Burns Night and so we'll all be reading, reciting and singing songs from the bard. You can even download a free App to help you remember the words and find out what they mean (See An App's an App for a that).

So, I was thinking, what about children who use voice output communication aids? How can they join in the fun? 

Well, I suggest they need a decent Scots voice for their communication aid for starters. So girls are maybe OK, because they can get Heather, provided free of charge courtesy of the Scottish Government. So click below to hear Heather reciting the first verse of A Red, Red Rose:

O my luve's like a red red rose,

That's newly sprung in June.

O my luve's like the melodie,

That's sweetly play'd in tune.

Not quite Eddie Reader, but better than some of the alternatives, especially if you want a bloke's voice ....

Here's Microsoft Sam performing the first verse of Address to a Haggis.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o' a grace

As lang's my arm.

 

Not pleasant.

Or we could have delightful Daniel assuring us that a man's a man for a' that:

 

Is there for honest poverty

That hings his head, an a' that?

The coward slave, we pass him by -

We dare be poor for a' that!

For a' that, an a' that,

Our toils obscure, an a' that,

The rank is but the guinea's stamp,

The man's the gowd for a' that.

 

Hmmm. Loses something I feel.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said:"Robert Burns is Scotland's greatest cultural icon, recognised and celebrated all around the world. His legacy is of incalculable value to Scotland and the country's image abroad."

What we need on Burns Night is a high quality MALE Scottish computer voice! Then boys who use voice output communication aids can have their say too!

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Seeing Ear digital library now open to all print disabled people!

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 20th January, 2011 at 5:06pm

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The Seeing Ear library is a free online library with about 2,300 books in digital format. Until recently only visually impaired or physically disabled people, or staff  working them, could join, but Seeing Ear has a new CLA licence which means that it can now be used by any person with a print disability, which includes dyslexia.

This is great news for pupils in Scotland and the UK because the library has files for loads of books by popular children's authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, J.K. Rowling, Eoin Colfer, Michael Morpurgo, and many more.

To join the libary and download books go to the Seeing Ear web site.

Most of the books are 'Plain Text' (.txt) files which can be read using almost anything on your computer, but you'll probably want to open them with Microsoft Word  or another word processor like OpenOffice and then change the font and font size to your own preferance. Then read them on screen or print them as e.g. Braille or Large Print.

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Including All Children in the Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book Awards

By Robert Stewart on Monday 29th November, 2010 at 10:11am

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The 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books is an innovative nationwide reading project in which children and young people from every corner of Scotland read and vote for their favourite Scottish children's books of the year. Last year:

  • Over 31,000 children were involved and an amazing 15,014 votes were cast;
  • Over 400 schools and libraries in every corner of Scotland, from Aberdeen to Dumfries; Shetland to Arran, took part;
  • The 2009 awards ceremony brought 650 young judges from across Scotland together to see their peers act out the winning books.

The Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books were originally set up by the Scottish Arts Council in 1999 and are now run by Scottish Book Trust.

Children can vote for their favourite book, from a shortlist in each of three categories, either as individual readers or as part of a reading group in a school, library or bookshop. The shortlisted books are:

Early Years (0 - 7 years)

Younger Readers (8 - 11 years)

Older Readers (11 - 16 years)

But what about disabled children who can't read the books?

CALL Scotland has worked with the Scottish Book Trust and the authors and publishers to create accessible digital versions of the nine shortlisted books. The idea is that children and young people with physical, visual and reading or dyslexic difficulties, who can't read or access the paper books, can read the digital books instead and take part in the awards.

  • Children with spinal injury, cerebral palsy or other physical impairments can click a switch or press a key on a computer, to turn pages and read the books by themselves.
  • Dyslexic readers or children with visual impairments can change the font size and/or colours on screen, or use text-to-speech software to read the books.
  • The books can be read out by the computer using "Heather", the high quality Scottish computer voice that is available free for schools and pupils from CALL Scotland's The Scottish Voice web site.

The books are available free of charge. Readers and schools can request accessible digital copies of the book(s) they wish to read via the Books for All website or phoning 0131 651 6236.

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Manfred the Baddie rides again!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 22nd November, 2010 at 11:00am

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During November 2010, all Primary 1 children in Scotland will receive a free copy of Manfred the Baddie from the Scottish Book Trust. Manfred won the 0-7 age category of the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books last year, and over 11,000 children voted in this age group. The books will be delivered to local authorities for distribution to every P1 class in the area. The author, John Fardell, is 'on tour' meeting pupils and will also be taking part in a Glow Meet on Thursday 25th November from 1.45 to 2.45. The Scottish Book Trust web site has more information and also videos and teacher resources and posters.

However, some children won't be able to read or access the books. Some pupils can't hold the book or turn the pages because of physical disability; some pupils with sight loss won't be able to see the book; others, with learning difficulties, will struggle with the text.

Last year we produced accessible digital versions of Manfred so that pupils with these 'print disabilities' could read the book and take part in the awards. Pupils with physical disabilities can press a key, click the mouse, or hit a switch to turn the pages, while children with other difficulties can listen to an audio narration of the story.

If you have any children in your class who won't be able to read the Manfred paper books and you would like a digital version for them, download a request form (PDF format or DOC format) and send it to us, and we'll send you a CD.

Note that these digital books are only for children who can't read or access the paper copy.

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Accessible copies of 2010 Royal Mail Award Shortlist

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 18th November, 2010 at 5:32pm

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We are pleased to say that we will soon be able to provide accessible digital copies of the nine books shortlisted for the 2010 Royal Mail Book Awards. The books have been produced in cooperation with the publishers and The Scottish Book Trust. Last year over 31,000 children were involved in the awards and 15,014 votes were cast. The accessible digital versions are for children with 'print disabilities', who canot read the ordinary paper books.

For example, children with physical disabilities who can't hold the book or turn the pages themselves (because of spinal injury or cerebral palsy, for example) can click a switch or press a key to turn the pages of the digital books. 

Dyslexic readers, or children with visual impairments can change the font size and/or colours on screen, or use text to speech software to have the books read out by the computer.

The books will be available on CD, free of charge, from CALL: details should be upon the Books for All web site by the end of November.

RNIB Scotland have also produced Large Print, Braille and audio versions of the books, for children with visual impairments.

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Dyslexia Scotland Education Conference Saturday 25th September

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 27th July, 2010 at 3:24pm

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If you teach or support children and young people with dyslexia, you will be interested in the Dyslexia Scotland Education Conference which this year will be held on Saturday 25th September at the Edinburgh Conference Centre at Heriot-Watt University.

The theme of the conference is "Innovative Practice in Dyslexia: A New Decade". The conference is again chaired by Dr. Gavin Reid and speakers include Rob Long (Chartered Educational Psychologist); Laura Ann Currie (HMIe); Fran Ranaldi, Dr Margaret Crombie, staff from Lochaber High School, Jennifer Drysdale (PT Learning Support, Fife) and yours truly. There are also panel sessions and an exhibition.

This conference is always a great event and if I wasn't otherwise engaged talking at the same time, I'd be at Margaret Crombie's session on the new Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit, and the workshop from the Lochaber team, who have created a web site with downloadable audio materials for revision.

To find out more and book, go to the Dyslexia Scotland web site.

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Accessible Formats from your local library

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 16th July, 2010 at 11:53am

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Forbes Smith, who is coordinating a working group looking at provision of accessible formats in East Dunbartonshire, emailed recently to say that East Dunbartonshire Library Service now has a service for providing downloadable audiobooks. So far they have over 560 titles available for immediate download onto PC, iPod or mp3 player and Forbes says they are adding 30 titles a week. Forbes says he signed up and then within half an hour of returning to his base, he had downloaded an audio book novel. There are an extensive range of materials available including lecture materials for university students.

To find out more, go to the East Dunbartonshire online library site, click on My Account, then on Audiobook Downloads.

Forbes' email prompted me to ask if other library services are doing the same thing, so I've just spent a few happy hours googling and exploring the online library catalogues in all 32 local authorities. I couldn't find many that have downloadable audio books, but almost all of them have audio books on cassette and CD, and also Large Print books.

South Ayrshire has downloadable 'eReads' (eBooks) as well as audio and Large Print, although they are Adobe ePUB format which is OK for readers with a physical impairment who need the book on screen, but not so good for people with visual impairment or dyslexia because the maximum font size is quite small and you can't read the book with text-to-speech software.

I've made up a table with the contact details and we'll add it to the Finding Books page on the Books for All web site.

So, when looking for books in accessible formats, don't forget your local library service!

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Tah dah! CLA Print Disability Licence is now available!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 12th July, 2010 at 12:25pm

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On 28th May we blogged that the CLA announced a new Print Disability Licence to replace the 'VIP' licence, and today we received our copy of this new licence. Why is this good news? Well, the Print Disability Licence is for:

  • "an educational establishment or a body that is not conducted for profit" who
  • "wishes to make and to distribute multiple copies of copyright material in a format accessible to persons who could not otherwise read or access such copyright material by reason of visual impairment or other disability where no such format is commercially available."
This means that holders of the Print Disability Licence can now legally make, for example, digital copies of books for pupils with dyslexia, learning difficulties, autism or hearing impairment. Some of the terms and conditions:
  • You must legally possess an original copy of the book from whch you make the Accessible Copy.
  • You cannot make an Accessible Copy if one is commercially available in a similar accessible format.
  • Your Accessible Copy must contain "a statement that it is a copy of the original Work made under a CLA licence for the personal use of an Authorised Person".
  • Your Accessible Copy must contain the title, name of author and publisher, and the published edition from which you have made your Accessible Copy.
  • You can add facilities for navigation around digital formats and you can enlarge, reduce or change colour of text or illustrations, provided these changes do not "amount to a derogatory treatment of the Work".
  • You can give an "Intermediate Copy" to other CLA licence holders. An Intermediate Copy is a copy which you have made as part of the production process - for example, it could be a digital file which you made in order to create a Large Print or a Braille copy.
  • You must keep records of copies made, and send the records to CLA annually, on 1st May each year. The report should list the title, ISBN, author(s), publisher, edition, format, number of copies created and the date they were created.
This new licence will lead to big changes and developments because the potential 'market' for Accessible Copies is now much larger and more diverse. It means that charities like Calibre can lend all their audio books to dyslexic readers as well as those with visual impairment, that dyslexic readers will be able to download text files of books from The Seeing Ear, that local authority transcription services can share Accessible Copies far more freely than before, and importantly, it also means that all Print-Disabled pupils can download and use Accessible Copies of books from the Books for All Scotland Database.

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New Copyright Licence including ALL print-disabled people is here at last!!!!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 28th May, 2010 at 4:50pm

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We're really very happy indeed to report that today the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) launched a new ‘Print Disability Licence’ to replace the old 'VIP' licence. The new licence has been extended to include all people with a 'print disability' - the previous licence was restricted to people with visual impairment or physical disability. This was clearly inequitable (as we pointed out in the 2007 Books for All Report) and so we are delighted that the new licence addresses this inequality. It means that dyslexic people are now covered under the licence.

Basically, the new licence allows not-for-profit organisations to make Accessible Copies of most published, copyright works and provide them to people with print disabilities who cannot read or access the printed copies. The Accessible Copy may be, for example, Large Print, Braille, audio (synthetic or recorded), digital (with or without text to speech), etc. The licence is free.

We've been waiting for the new licence for quite some time but now that it's here, it means that for example:

  • books on the developing Books for All Scotland database can be downloaded for any print disabled pupil, not just those pupils with visual impairment or physical disability;
  • books that we, or any other VIP licence holder has made, can be freely shared across the UK provided they are for use by print disabled readers;
  • schools and local authorities in the 15 Scottish local authorities who hold VIP licences will be able to make and share their accessible copies with a much larger and wider range of pupils.

For children and young people in schools with dyslexia, learning difficulties, hearing impairment, or who may be on the autistic spectrum, this is very good news.

The new licence is the result of a lot of work by CLA, the Right to Read Alliance (of which CALL is a member) and the publishers' Accessibility Action Group.

Read more about the new licence in the CLA press release.

Chuffed!

(Right, let's get sourcing, adapting, making and sharing these Accessible Books.....)

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New guide for teachers on how to create accessible resources

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 24th May, 2010 at 1:23pm

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Accessible Text: Guidelines for Good Practice, is a new publication from CALL Scotland on 'how to' produce accessible resources. 

Making your learning materials accessible to pupils with disabilities or additional support needs is not only good practice but is also necessary to meet equality legislation.  

Part 1 of the book, written by Fran Ranaldi, looks at the design of resources and covers issues such as the choice and size of font, use of images and colour and the visual layout and design. By following the guidelines in to the book, teachers should be able to create learning resources that can be more easily read by pupils with, for example, dyslexia, visual impairment, or learning difficulties.

Part 2, by Paul Nisbet, look at how resources can be made accessible in digital formats. Inceasingly, teachers are creating resources which will be accessed on screen as well as on paper, and this part of the book shows how digital accessibility can be built in when writing the material, with relatively little effort. 

You can download the book for free from CALL Scotland's web site. Altenatively, order print copies (10) from CALL’s online shop

Fran Ranaldi is an experienced teacher who has worked for HMIe on the Review of Education for learners with dyslexia, the Scottish Government on Accessibly Guidelines and within her education authority on several projects for dyslexia and accessibility across the curriculum.

Paul Nisbet is Joint Coordinator of CALL Scotland and works directly with pupils with additional support needs and takes a lead role in current projects to help pupils access curriculum resources, such as Books for All, SQA digital exam papers, and The Scottish Voice

Preparation and dissemination of the book is funded by the Scottish Government Schools Directorate.

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New Bookshare online introduction to accessible formats

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 4th May, 2010 at 12:55pm

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Bookshare has a new online learning module for people who want to learn more about accessible digital books and resources. It has a US focus, but has good examples, with video and audio clips, of why some pupils need books in accessible digital formats and why it makes a difference to their education.

Bookshare is a huge US database of over 70,000 titles in Daisy 3 and BRF (Braille) formats: it shows what you can do with $32 million over 5 years of federal money. Memo to Victoria Quay: any chance of similar funding for the Books for All Scotland Database?

About 5,000 of the Bookshare titles are available to readers and schools outside the USA - see the Bookshare UK and International Membership pages. Most of the books are fiction titles and so it's worth doing a search on the database (use the Advanced Search button and look for "Books available worldwide") to see if there are books which you want. If there are, you might want to join Bookshare. The cost of international membership is $25 initially plus a $75 annual fee; organisations such as schools and libraries and I think also local authority services can pay for individual pupils (at the individual membership rate), or by the number of books you want to download (30 books for $300, 60 books for $450, 100 books for $600). 

Membership also gives you free access to software for reading the Daisy books - Victor Reader Soft, which is probably best for readers with visual impairment, and Read OutLoud Bookshare Edition, which is designed more with dyslexia or reading difficulties in mind. With the BRF files, you can print out Braille copies.

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