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Helping People who use AAC to attend ISAAC 2012

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 24th May, 2012 at 9:02am

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Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland, the network of AAC specialist centres in Scotland, have a small amount of money available to help people who use AAC in Scotland to attend the ISAAC 2012 conference in Pittsburgh, USA. The ISAAC conference is a great opportunity for people who use AAC to find out more about the latest technology and approaches that can be used to support their communication and provides opportunities to meet people in a similar situation from all over the world to compare experiences and develop friendships. The money available from Augmentative Communication in Practice is not enough to pay for any one person to attend, but could provide a useful boost for somebody who has already raised some money towards the cost of the trip.

The simple application form is available from the Augmentative Communication in Practice web site, but must be returned by 31st May.

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AAC: Can it ever be effective?

By Allan Wilson on Friday 11th May, 2012 at 11:48am

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The AAC Scotland Special Interest Group is meeting to discuss current topics in Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the Auchterderran Centre, Cardenden, Fife KY5 0NE on Wednesday 30th May.

Topics include:

"Can AAC ever be effective?" with Dr Joan Murphy

"Impact of the Scottish Government's AAC Report" with Janet Scott and Sally Millar

"Effective AAC for Transition" with Karen Kerr

Further information is available here.

If you have any questions, contact Jane Donnelly at FACCT. Tel. 08451 555555 Ext 441951, Email jane.donnelly@fife.gov.uk. 

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Come to CALL and learn about Proloquo2Go Version 2.0, FREE training session 24 May

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 8th May, 2012 at 12:53pm

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You are invited to come to a FREE training day in CALL on Thursday 24 May, to learn more about the widely publicised App for communication, for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone -  Proloquo2Go (the new Version 2.0)

This is a brilliant chance to learn more about this widely publicised and award-winning AAC App. The training will be done byAnne Verhulp of AssistiveWare.

Morning session - 10.30 - 12.30 is an introduction and overview of Proloquo2Go V2.00, plus a look at Pictello, and is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Afternoon session - 1.15- 3.30 is a hands-on session (numbers limited to 12 - priority to ACiP:S and ICTSLS colleagues) for AAC specialists who are likely to be training and supporting others in their use of P2Go.

To book your place, please contact CALL as soon as possible:  Rebecca.Gow@ed.ac.uk  (0131 651 6235) stating clearly if you want to come morning only, afternoon only, or all day. Please be understanding that there may not be places for the afternoon session for all that request them.

We are grateful to the developers, AssistiveWare and to Logan Technologies, the new UK distributor of P2Go, for making this training available, free of charge.

Refreshments will be provided by CALL. Lunch for all-day attendees will be provided by Logan Technologies.

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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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Why, if and when to move to BoardMaker Studio...???

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:46pm

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Here's a 'changing over to the new Boardmaker Studio?' discussion that I imagine quite a few establishments will be having over the next wee while.

***

Original Enquiry

I have a bit of a predicament and would really appreciate your help! In this city, we are about to refresh all our current computers...There are bound to be issues at refresh with new software and resources being required. The biggest issue for us is Boardmaker. In this special school, we are (I think!) advanced users of Boardmaker Plus!, using it to its fullest potential with lots of interactive activities and creating individualised resources for our children. We even make our communication passports using Boardmaker. However, we are using Mac versions and we need to move over to PC versions come refresh. The burning question is - Boardmaker 6 Plus! for PC or Boardmaker Studio? I have been trialling Boardmaker Studio, and I'm finding it hard to change the mindset of starting from scratch every time, to now using templates and adapting someone else's work / idea. Some of the interactive things I do currently can't be done without actual programming, or importing from the current version. I know you noted some reservations in your blog, and I was wondering if you had  any further thoughts about this?

Boardmaker is a wonderful resource, I could not teach without it, but I don't want to move to a version which is going to be a source of frustration at a time when there are lots of other changes happening.

Thanks in anticipation!

Kind regards

Principal Teacher, Special School

***

Answer from Sally at CALL

Yes this is a big dilemma for you, I understand.  There is no 'right answer' of course, as you already realise - it's a judgement call. And your school is perhaps a bit of a special case, as an 'advanced symbol-using special school'.

If you and your colleagues are finding that you can do everything you want to already with BM Plus, I think on balance I'd advise you to stick with it. Especially if you have cracked the whole interactive speaking, draggable IWB classroom resources bit (which is the sticking point for many others, who still only use BM for printable materials).  And also especially if, as you say, there are going to be lots of other difficult changes to cope with at the same time, concerning the refresh.

CALL has just heard from a PT at another Special School who says that they are sticking with BM 6 Plus! - no plans to change to Studio. Maybe partly money and partly a positive choice.  Indeed, there seem to be people here and in the USA that still use the decades-old original or very early versions of BM  (Mac and PC) quite happily, so there is no obvious need to rush to change to the newest version.

The only thing I can see that you'd lose out on with BM Plus! rather than Studio, is the possibility that more and more of the shared resources available on BoardMaker Share may start to be in Studio not Plus (and the complicated interactive ones are not usually 'backwards compatible') but to be honest I think it will be a long time before that starts to happen, and maybe your school materials are so specialised anyway that that wouldn't affect you unduly anyway. Interestingly, the new add-on 'Pre-Made Activities' (pretty cheap) coming out, see http://www.mayer-johnson.co.uk/pre-made/   - and these may well increase as time goes on - apparently run on their own, and don' t need BM Plus or BM Studio to run.

However, this is really a whole school / authority strategy issue, not just a choice for you as an individual teacher (or do you have designated responsibility for ICT, overall)?

I think Mayer Johnson's plan is to market BM Studio into schools that have never used symbols before, including Secondary schools, and to push the 'inclusive classroom/school' concept. I believe BM Studio was designed to make things easier for new users (especially teachers wanting interactive materials for IWB use). If a school or a member of staff is just starting out and thinking of using symbols for the first time, I am starting to point them to BM Studio, and they seem to recognise it as being 'like PowerPoint' or 'like Clicker' - and can also see that it could actually replace both of those as well, to streamline down to one single package (which might make it more likely to be used well than staff trying to use three or more packages).

For you, relevant considerations are perhaps (1) the 'user demographic' (sorry!) in the school . Do ALL the staff know and use BM Plus as well as you do? Is there training in it at this 'advanced' level for new staff coming in? Or are there just you / one or two 'experts' and all the others leave you to make all the material for the school?  And if the latter - what happens if/when you and your 'advanced' colleagues leave the school?  You should perhaps consider also what support other than from Mayer-Johnson you and other staff currently use / need / benefit from.  If you share materials with other schools and or have materials made for you by external specialists, then you might want to also consult them on this issue (probably you already have) and think about agreeing an overall strategy rather than potentially going off in separate directions.

And (2) the other software used in the school - and how widely and how well this other software is used?  If the school already has whizzo advanced expert users of Clicker and  Powerpoint then maybe there is no need for another package that does this kind of thing (with symbols inbuilt) but if these are under-used and you you think that some of these functions might enhance teaching and learning opportunities then BMStudio might have something to offer.

****

Finally there are always compromise solutions. I know it sounds a bit mad, but there might be a case to be made for buying a copy  (or some licences) of EACH version, so that different staff who might be at different points of expertise and experience, and might have pupils who are very different, could use the one that suits them best, and also have the opportunity to plan and build a kind of 'Boardmaker Transition Strategy' for the school / authority (for I fear that BM 6 Plus! may be set to disappear completely in a few years time….)

***

Sorry it's so complicated but hope this helps.

Best wishes, Sally

 ***

 

Response from Enquirer

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed response! I am happy for you to publish this on your blog or elsewhere, as it is a problem others will be facing.

I have a dual role in this is as ICT co-ordinator for my own school, but also as the special schools "champion" (unnecessarily grand title!) on the refresh team. There are 3 of us across the city trialling Boardmaker Studio over the next 6 months, and Mayer Johnson are keen to get some kind of package in place for refresh.

I would say that most staff have a good grounding in Boardmaker, and all classes are using interactive resources. There's probably an "expert" in each class, either teacher or member of support staff.

We don't use Clicker perhaps as much as we should, and are moving towards using Boardmaker for most things, including presentations.

I think your suggestion of using both versions to allow a period of transition is probably the best way forward.

Thanks again for your time and your support.

Principal Teacher, Special School

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Stand Up comedian with iPad communication aid

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:07pm

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 Here's a first! Lee Ridley is a young chap with CP and severe motor speech impairment using an iPad as an AAC system, to deliver his stand-up comedy routine.

Brilliant, good luck to him!

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Free AAC Resources on Visual Systems

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 14th February, 2012 at 4:14pm

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We received an email today from Dolly Bhargava, a Specialist Speech Pathologist working in Australia, with information about some resources she has created in conjunction with School for Parents. The 'Getting Started' series currently consists of five downloadable books and video material, available via YouTube, illustrating different aspects of the use of Visual Systems to help parents develop their child's communication skills. The five titles are:

  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote communication
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote play
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote an understanding of cyber bullying
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to provide positive behaviour support
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to support the development of self-esteem

The first book describes different types of visual supports and visual systems and explains how the appropriate supports can be used by parents and teachers to encourage speech and language development. The other books in the series focus on their particular topic (play, cyber bullying. etc) and illustrate how the use of Visual Systems can make the material more relevant for children with communication difficulties.

The books were produced with funding received by School for Parents from the Non Government Centre Support for Non School Organisations of Western Australia. The books and videos can be downloaded FREE from the School for Parents web site.

Great Stuff!!!

 

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Orang utans and iPads

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 17th January, 2012 at 12:18pm

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Well - the iPad is truly everywhere these days. Watch these fascinating videos - turns out that orangutans also like iPads!

They like to watch videos, paint, play kids' Apps, watch other orang utans via Skype, ebooks etc.

I have always been very interested in primate language studies and I'm now intrigued by how the situation has evolved. It started with  having the primate brought up as child in a psychologist's home with the careful teaching of sign language over many years - with interminable Behaviourist teaching & analysis of language 'performance'.  Now people are just using technology as a day to day tool for stimulation  - and the animals don't get ANY 'rewards', just the pleasure of intercting and playing with the device (take that, Skinner!)

And for communication, now just sticking photos on an iPad under its nose and saying "show me the 'x' "(hang on to the end to see iPad use).

Not too sure what to make of it all, though. Next step, it seems,  may be social networking?...(I can only fantasise about orang utans themselves signing up to Avaaz and all the online petitions against habitat-grabbing for palm oil plantations!)

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New text-based communication aid from Toby Churchill

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 1:45pm

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Toby Churchill Ltd. are preparing to launch a new communication aid, the Lightwriter Swift  - a pocket sized dedicated text-to-speech communication device - reportedly the smallest device of its type in the world.

You can see the new device on it's UK Launch Tour, in Edinburgh, at the Corn Exchange on 7th February 2012. Get the date in your diary now.

Sign up ASAP for a free morning, afternoon or evening (6pm) seminar - or just drop in to the 'Swift Cafe' between 10 am and 8 pm.

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iPads and specialised communication aids

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 11:06am

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Words of wisdom from the wonderful Jane Farrall, SLT at Spectronics in Oz. Everyone needs to read this. Keep reading into the second half of this short article. In summary, the iPad is fabulous but it is NOT necessarily the miracle answer to every aspect of all children's communication needs. Thanks Jane!

Jane's words reflects my own experience. It's really not an 'either / or' scenario. These days I often find myself recommending a complex specialised communication aid for school and as the 'main' resource for developing language and communication AND - yes!, why not? - a lovely iPod / iPad  (which often parents have already bought or are happy to buy themselves) for use at home/ for fun / in social situations/ out and about / when travelling etc.

But I get scared and angry when I hear about someone who has apparently recently 'advised' Scottish Government and local authorities that nobody needs an expensive communication aid any more, because an iPad and free or cheap Apps can do it all. This is an over-simplified and dangerously misleading approach that is not in the best interest of vulnerable children and adults who cannot easily speak up for themselves. People with complex communication support needs require the most appropriate and the best solution(s), not just the cheapest / most fashionable.

 

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Tarheel Reader Books on iPad

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 10:32am

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Jane Farrall in Melbourne Australia has just published on her blog a really useful step by step instructions for how to get a free book from the Tarheel Reader site into an iPad. Good way to make appropriate materials available without having to make them yourself. (You could also run the book online, which would be even quicker and easier, but downloading it as a powerpoint into iBooks means it can be always available and stay there for the child to enjoy again and again.

If you don't know about the TarheelReader site, go and have a look. There are many short and very simple stories there, freely useable and downloadable, made in Powerpoint, all with picture and speech support, one line of text, ideal for our emergent readers and learners with complex additional support needs. For example , see here, 'my cat is fat' (choose a voice on top left and off you go). (The quality can be a bit variable, so you do need to check before you select a book for a pupil. Some are a bit too 'American- mind you, there's nothing to stop us uploading our own books to the site, good idea!)

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Copying from BoardMaker Studio

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 6:32pm

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I have been weaning myself  - slowly  - off BoardMaker 6 and on to BoardMaker Studio. I love many of the clever new 'gadgets' for interactive use, though it's taking me a while to get to grips with some of the more complicated ones. I'll post a more comprehensive evaluation soon.

BUT the most annoying thing is how hard it's getting to simply copy and paste a symbol!

•  In BoardMaker 5 you just did a straight COPY from the Symbol Finder, and then PASTE into another document (nice transparent background)

• In BoardMaker 6, you have to click the symbol out of the Symbol Finder and then, from the drawing screen, Copy and then Paste it elsewhere. In the process, you lost the transparent background and acquired a white square background.

• But in Studio, you have to do all of the following:

File Menu > SetUp and Options > Symbols & Language > Symbol Manager > find the symbol you want > Edit in Image Editor (Paint) > select all > Copy. then Paste (or Save As) elsewhere (again, no transparent background).

(Or has anyone else found a better  / quicker way to do it??? Please tell me!)

Having to follow so many steps means it's a real pain to try and share visual information to communicate with parents or colleagues about which symbols are being taught and used etc.  and to adapt existing materials (eg. in Word) to be more Communication Friendly and Inclusive.

You have to wonder if Mayer Johnson have done this on purpose - they can't just have forgotten to include a Copy & Paste option!

Mind you - frustrated beyond words with this - on another occasion I ended up making my 'presentation in BM Studio instead of in Powerpoint, and it was very nice because it was actually quicker and easier to populate with symbols and other images, and also spoke (in the Scottish voice). So I learned to change my mindset (creak!) at least for that activity.

Which I suppose is the kind of solution that Mayer Johnson are aiming at.....  (But doing 'everything' in BM Studio will be hard for staff in schools that maybe only have one or two computers with it on.)

So  - I'd say Yes  - buy BoardMaker Studio and go for it!  Newcomers to BoardMaker certainly seem to love it. But don't upgrade ALL your copies - keep a secret copy of BM 6 somewhere in school. I'll be sticking with BM V6 for any graphic intensive work, for fast, detailed and fully independent symbol editing control.

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Technology and ASN: Information Day for Parents 12 November

By Stuart Aitken on Friday 4th November, 2011 at 11:57am

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There are still a few places available for any parent interested in coming along to Saturday's Parent Information Day on 12th November 2011. You can find out about and try many of the specialised technologies available to support children and young people with additional support needs. Following on from our everpopular annual Family Fun Technology Days, Saturday 12th November will have a similar format but this time it's just for parents.

The day will run 10.00 to 2.00pm at CALL Scotland and will be a mix of displays, presentations, hands-on and a chance for one-to-one sessions with CALL Scotland staff and, of course, meet other parents. Cost is £10 and a light sandwich lunch is provided.

 

Presentations

After consulting with parent members of National Parent Forum Scotland we’re running short presentations covering:

  • Overview of CALL services
  • Digital Question Papers
  • Apps for iPad, iPod, iPhone - we're delighted that parent Kate Farrell agreed to run this session and be available on the day
  • Books for All
  • Low tech to high tech communication aids
  • AccessApps / MyStudyBar / Windows 7 speech recognition

Workstations

Running in parallel with the presentations we'll have a range of workstations to try things out, discuss issues, have your questions answered. Topics include:

  • Software for dyslexia including NaturalReader, ClaroRead, Dragon Naturally Speaking, as well as information about Reading Pens
  • Digital question papers or digital exams - find out how many schools are using them, what teachers are doing to support their use and how successful they're proving with pupil in helping them to become independent, successful learners and confident individuals
  • Books for All - how this can help schools and authorities meet their duties under the Equality Act 2010 to provide information in accessible alternative formats
  • Apps for iPads, iPods, iPhones for symbols users, reading books, writing and a host of other education applications. 
  • AccessApps, MyStudyBar and speech recognition directly into PCs running Windows 7
  • Low tech as well as high tech communication aids - from symbol communication books, Personal Communication Passports through to dynamic screen display systems
  • Alternative access to computers - switches, switch interfaces, adapted mice, keyboards and much much more

To find out more download the timetable for the day and you can book a place online.

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A quick way to get Stuart to work with PDFaloud

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 4:29pm

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Following on from the previous post re PDFaloud not offering you Stuart, Robert here in CALL has written a script which finds all the PDFaloud safe voice lists on your Windows computer and adds Stuart to them.

Here's what to do: 

  1. Install Stuart first.
  2. Save the file to your computer.
  3. Find the file (it's called install-stuart-to-safevoices.zip.), double click on it to open or unzip it, and then double click on "install.cmd"
  4. It will then update the PDFaloud safe voices with Stuart.
  5. Restart Adobe Reader and PDFaloud should offer you Stuart.

 

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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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