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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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Scottish Government Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Project

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 8th February, 2011 at 3:55pm

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Stakeholder Views: People who use AAC

The Scottish Government is supporting the development of national guidance for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). It will make recommendations on the provision and support for AAC. The guidance, for children and adults, will be directed to all statutory agencies in Scotland: Health, Social Work and Education.

Make your Voice Heard!

If you use AAC, or are the parent or carer of a person who uses a communication aid, you are encouraged to share experiences, and make comments and suggestions related to the question areas. Your comments will be subject to strict confidentiality. If you would like to help, please complete the questionnaire available from the Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland web site and return it to:

AAC Project
Adult Care and Support Division
Primary and Community Care Directorate
2ER
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Alternatively, email: Alison Gray, Project Manager (alison.gray@scotland.gsi.gov.uk).

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Protect and carry your iPad

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 11th January, 2011 at 8:57am

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Everyone loves the iPad but three of the (several, actually) things that make it less than ideal as a portable communication aid are lack of a carry handle and the fact that little fingers cannot resist self-distraction by constantly pressing the Home button. Also lack of volume, for loud and noisy environments. Amdi's brand new iAdapter seems to address all three of these with a rubbery protective cover, that includes a carry handle, a slide cover over the Home button and built-in amplified speakers (rechargeable battery). It also comes with a shoulder strap and a plastic stand for table top use. Not cheap, but.... We're looking forward to seeing it, and hoping a UK supplier picks it up quickly, will keep you posted on that.

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Ultra mini Windows PCs can be used as communication aids

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 15th December, 2010 at 3:19pm

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Portability is generally a key requirement of a voice output communication aid. A few dedicated communication aids come in 'handheld' size, and there continues to be much interest in iPods and iPads (cheapness is another attractive feature!) But amazingly, nowadays, you can buy a fully featured Windows 7 lightweight wifi PC with a 5" or 7" screen. There are touch screen only versions (X70, S5), or tiny clamshell with keyboard and touchscreen (N5). They have a fantastic 'instantly -on' feature and days of standby-time; battery life is pretty good (5-6 hours) but an extra speaker would be needed to give volume adequate for anything other than a quiet environment. The S5 and N5 are pocketable, the X70 is eminently hand-baggable. All are potentially switch accessible.

X70 (weighs 700 grams)

S5 (weighs 395 grams)

N5 (399 grams)

The leading manufacturer is Viliv, and these South Korean ultra mini PCs (UMPC) can be bought directly from the UK supplier, Think4 IT or from various online sources, eg. Dynamism , at around the 450 - 550 mark (ex VAT) depending on version & supplier. With communication aid software, symbol sets and communication vocabularies loaded, they can be bought from: SmartBox with The Grid 2; or Speaks4Me (premium added for software, support and extended warranty etc.). Check it out!

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New Autumn ContAACt newsletter

By Joanna Courtney on Wednesday 17th November, 2010 at 3:01pm

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Issue 4 of the ContAACt newsletter is out now!

Full of AAC news and views from people who use AAC in Scotland!

Look 'In the Diary' to find out what AAC events are coming soon, read about Barry's trip to Barcelona and get advice from the "Speak Out Group" on the best places to go in Dundee!

Why don't you click on Autumn ContAACt newsletter and read all about it!

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Speech Bubble - Database of Information on Communication Aids

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 10th November, 2010 at 8:53am

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Our friends at the ACE Centre in Oxford have now launched their SpeechBubble web site, providing a database of detailed information about almost all of the communication aids and software available in the UK. 

You can search for devices that fit into a number of categories, e.g. 'Simple Aids with one Message', or 'Computer-based Aids with Touchscreen', or try to find devices that have a particular feature, e.g. Visual Scanning or Recorded Speech. It is possible to combine search terms to find, for example, a device that can be accessed by using Morse Code, with synthetic speech that can be used for texting. (the DynaVox V and VMax fit the bill!).

This is NOT an assessment tool which parents will be able to use to buy their child a communication aid 'off the shelf', but it will be an invaluable tool for therapists looking for a suitable device for a client with specific requirements, offering suggestions that they might not be aware of.

This is a great resource that will save therapists a lot of time and effort and we would like to thank Mark Saville and colleagues at ACE for the huge amount of work that has gone into this exciting new facility.

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Is sushi on the menu?

By Sally Millar on Friday 29th October, 2010 at 6:14pm

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Kids with physical disabilities often need to use 'scanning'  (and switching) to access their communication and/or writing programs. Scanning is a widely misunderstood word.  A good definition was coined by David Colven and Simon Judge in  'Switch Access to Technology'. They say: "It's a bit like a 'Yo Sushi' bar. You can't reach all the dishes from where you sit, and so you have to wait until the one you want turns up in front of you."

I like that!  I'd like to bring in a 'restaurant metaphor' of my own. With  children who use low tech communication, I often get faced with frustrated staff who say  'he can't even answer Yes or No or make choices'. Then I watch, and see them say things like 'Freddy - do you want mince for lunch? Yes or no?' .    At that point I reflect on how I would feel if I went into a restaurant and the waiter said "Do you want chicken balmoral?"  I'd say "well maybe - I don't know - what else do you have on the menu, please tell me ALL the options and THEN I'll choose."  (And I might think 'what a useless waiter!')

So  - except with those few pupils who are known to cope with only one or two alternatives - I often suggest that staff should limit the use of yes/no questions and forced alternative questions (choice from 2)  and try using oral/auditory scanning instead. I have seen pupils learn to make successful choices from 3, 4 and even 6 or more items using this method.  It's especially powerful for children with visual impairment and really poor pointing ability - no pictures needed, just consistent oral presentation by staff and listening and simple signalling by the child.

Of course, things can get much more sophisticated by introducing symbols and even eye-coding systems to create a full 'partner assisted scanning system'.  A comprehensive handout by Linda Burkhart and Gayle Porter is available. And check out this video by Gail van Tatenhove to see how far this can go

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Boardmaker 6 Plus! (again)

By Sally Millar on Thursday 9th September, 2010 at 3:06pm

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CALL has previously alerted folk to the cheap deal on Boardmaker software available through LTS, for Scotland. Since LTS revamped their web site, the page link we gave before has become defunct. Look here for current prices    It's rumoured that the deal may 'run out' once a ceiling number have been sold, so if you want it, perhaps best not to wait too long.

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Communication Matters!

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 24th August, 2010 at 4:25pm

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Communication Matters (CM) SymposiumAnybody who is interested in augmentative communication for their pupils, clients or family member needs to be aware of the annual Communication Matters (CM) Symposium. This is a UK-wide conference - actually becoming increasingly international - held every September (26-28 September, this year, in Leicester). It may seem expensive but is actually excellent value considering that all accommodation and food are included.

The programme is relevant for both children and adult clients and always offers a great mix of practical, research, technical and AAC user-led presentations, for all levels of AAC experience. The conference is accompanied by a major exhibition of AAC equipment (free access). It's also a tremendous opportunity to network with AAC specialists. If you are interested, you can view or download this year's Programme.

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The Eyes have IT!

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 11th August, 2010 at 4:50pm

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This year's Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland study day, to be held in the Stirling Management Centre on Tuesday 9th November will focus on the use of Eye Gaze as an aid to communication.

Eye gaze has always been a useful technique for helping people with communication difficulties to express themselves, whether by eye pointing at objects, or at symbols on a communication board or book, or letters on an e-tran frame.

Recent years have seen exciting developments in technology allowing some people with severe and complex disabilities to control a computer or a communication aid by eye gaze. But the technology is complex and expensive and it is not suitable for everybody with a communication difficulty.

This Study Day will explore issues surrounding eye gaze within both low tech and high tech communication systems and will help to raise awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of such systems.Speakers will include:

  • Dr Mick Donegan from the University of East London. Mick was Coordinator of the User Requirements element of the COGAIN project, which led research into the use of eye gaze technology by people with disabilities
  • Janet Scott, SCTCI, will present a number of short case studies providing a glimpse of some of the people who have worked with SCTCI to use eye gaze as their means of access to communication.
  • Claire Latham, formerly from the ACE Centre in Oxford will describe their Look2Talk project on learning to communicate by eye pointing to low tech systems.

There will also be opportunities to find out about the various eye gaze systems currently available in the UK during short supplier presentations.

Further information is available on the Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland web site.

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Boardmaker Studio

By Joanna Courtney on Friday 6th August, 2010 at 10:54am

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Calling all Boardmaker users!

There's a new product about to be released by Mayer Johnson called Boardmaker Studio.

This promises to make creating resources even easier by providing studio starter templates and pre-programmed 'gadget' or function buttons which can be dragged onto a page in any activity. It also has more of a Microsoft Office look about it ( more user friendly?) and doesn't require a CD in the drive!

You can import activities from Boardmaker and Boardmaker Plus! v6 to edit and print out and also download activities directly from 'Boardmaker Share.'

The 'Boardmaker Share' activities and many of the Boardmaker Studio resources have a very American theme to them. When will we see some more UK themed resources available?

Boardmaker studio costs around 250, about the same as buying Boardmaker Plus! as a new product.

What we're now waiting to hear is whether there will be upgrade deals, will Studio be replacing Boardmaker Plus! and will this product make the whole 'Boardmaker Family' easier to get our heads around?

A 30 day trial version will be available from September 7th. We look forward to trying it out!

Is it worth it?

Watch this space.

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ContAACt newsletter issue 3

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 5th July, 2010 at 12:44pm

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ContAACt newsletterIssue 3 of the 'ContAACt newsletter' is out now!

Follow the link ContAACt newsletter to find out what's happening with AAC users in Scotland (Spring 2010)

The 'AAC Project Awards' on page 1 may be of interest to people wanting to fund AAC events or active participation by a person who uses AAC.

Barry Smith received part of his funding to give a talk at ISAAC in Barcelona this Summer, using his Lightwriter SL40, from this scheme.

Find out more about Barry's story.

In 'Places We Like' on page 4 , you can find out about the best things to do in Perth from local AAC users, who know best!

We'd love to hear more from people who use AAC about what you have been doing in your local area or any other items you'd like to share in the next ContAACt newsletter, due out in Autumn 2010.

Please send your items to enquiries@acipscotland.org.uk We look forward to hearing your news and sharing it with AAC users across Scotland.

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Paper materials that talk

By Sally Millar on Monday 21st June, 2010 at 2:51pm

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Amongst the new things seen at ICT and Inclusion last week were AbilityWorld's new  Uni-tech Voice Symbol and Voice Ink.  What’s innovative is that the special software prints sound as well as symbols and words on to paper (ordinary paper and normal colour printer cartridge). When the user touches the printed word or symbol on the paper with the special Voice Pen, it speaks (choice of synthetic voices). It can also play music/sound files or recorded voice.

With the Voice Ink software, when the user touches each word (or sentence, paragraph or whole page, depending on how the settings you choose) it speaks out, so you can use it just to check you've correctly read a few 'sticky' words, or to read whole work sheets, etc. A true 'talking book'.

The Voice Symbol communication software lets you make symbol boards or book pages, and record personalised messages, so it is a low-tech system that speaks as well! It also works through laminate.

The system is not exactly cheap, but comparable in price to some other recorded voice communication aids. Once you've got the software you can add more V-pens for more users at a reasonable price.

There is a link on the Ability World website to video clips on YouTube where you can see the Uni-tech system in use (albeit largely in Taiwanese...).

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Early evaluation of AAC on iPad

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 2nd June, 2010 at 4:33pm

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We are all wondering what the iPad is going to do for people who use AAC. Here is a useful early evaluation of Proloquo2Go on iPad, by a person with fine motor difficulties who herself uses a variety of different AAC and computer technology, in her daily life.

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Does your BoardMaker Plus! speech not work properly??

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 18th May, 2010 at 10:07am

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Many people have recently upgraded to v.6 Boardmaker Plus! Unlike the old Boardmaker, this version speaks and so can be used by pupils for both school work and as a personal expressive communication support (or even perhaps as a full scale AAC system). But some people have been experiencing problems getting the voice to work properly - it seems to 'skip' to the end of the message without speaking it out fully - with both SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 voices. Mayer Johnson's technical support team have released the following 'fix' to correct the problem (which apparently only affects PCs with Windows XP and earlier):

To correct the problem you need to reduce the hardware acceleration on the sound card:

  1. Open the Control Panel and double-click Sounds.
  2. Click on the Audio tab.
  3. In the Sound Playback box, click on the Advanced button.
  4. Click on the Performance tab (Win 2000/XP) and Troubleshoot tab (Win 98).
  5. Move the Hardware acceleration slider to None. Click on the Apply button, then click on OK.
  6. Restart BoardMaker and check the speech.
     

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