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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.



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


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, 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.


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



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Get-together day for People who use AAC

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 21st September, 2011 at 2:30pm

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Your communication: Your rights

  • Where? Edinburgh: The Faith Centre, Gilmerton (directions will be supplied, on booking)
  • When? Monday 7th November, 10.30 am - 3 pm (lunch provided)
  • Who? Adults (16+)in Scotland that use AAC;  Claire Edwards and Shirley Young, Inclusive Communication in Scotland project;  Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland folk (CALL, KeyComm, FACCT, TASSC, SCTCI, Ayrshire and Arran)
  • Why? To have a nice get-together with AAC friends. To get an update on things that are happening. To give your views on things that are important about communication, out and about in the community.
  • How? Book your place and your lunch by 24 October - phone, email or return the booking form to: CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh, Paterson’s Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ. Tel - 0131 651 6235, Email or book online at the Augmentative Communication in Practice Scotland website (after 23rd September);
  • See the event flyer for more details. If you need help, in order to be able come, get in touch and ask, we'll do what we can to help.


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New! CALL DataBase of Apps for Communication

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 12th September, 2011 at 10:20am

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Over the past few months there have been more and more 'apps' available to buy, which could be useful tools for communication for some children and adults. These apps are available for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad and vary in their features, possible uses and cost.

Some of these apps have synthesised voice output (text to speech) as well as symbols and can be used as comprehensive AAC solutions (e.g. Touchchat AAC); some allow you to record speech along with symbols and photos to create a system similar to a 'communication book' or medium tech AAC device like a Go Talk (e.g. Tap Speak Choice); and some can be used very effectively for 'photo stories' or 'talking books' using photos, symbols and video to create personalised resources like social stories, communication passports, visual scene prompts and interactive photo albums of special events (e.g. Scene & Heard).

CALL has been keeping a keen eye on these developments and has started to compile a database of the apps we have found most useful or show most potential in the field of AAC.

We will be updating the database as new AAC apps come out and are tested out by CALL and will also be including apps for reading, writing and literacy in the coming weeks.

Check out the apps we have included so far on the CALL App Database


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New Equipment in CALL: Tobii C12 and C15

By Sally Millar on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 3:10pm

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CALL has recently added the Tobii C12 and the Tobii C15 communication aids to its equipment loan bank. These are both high-end, fully featured PC Windows 7 based communication aids, that can be controlled in many ways, including the built-in touch screen, keyboard, mouse, headmouse, switches, joystick, or the optional eye gaze control unit, the Tobii CEye which slots on to the bottom of the device.

The C12 and the C15 are essentially the same, except for size. The C12 has a 12.1 touch screen and weighs 6.5lbs. (2.9 Kgs), while the C15 is larger, with a 15 touch screen and weighing 8.9lbs (4 Kgs). Both are ‘mountable’ on a table or wheelchair mount, rather than ‘portable’ (N.B. adding the eye gaze control unit increases the weight further and means that the device must be mounted can’t use the integrated stand.)

Both devices come with Tobii’s own communication aid software installed (Tobii Communicator with Symbol Stix symbols), and the possibility of using the Tobii Sono Suite (for text and computer access). However, CALL has also installed The Grid 2 software, which is more familiar to many users (and has Widgit symbols built-in). PCS symbols can be added. Users can choose which software they prefer to use for personal communication via symbols and/or text. Either software gives access to e-mail, text messaging and chat, internet access and access to other computer applications. CALL has added the Scottish Voices, Heather and Stuart, to both devices.

These devices seem to be proving popular across the AAC community. The Tobii hardware offers: long-lasting hot swappable batteries; powerful processor (Intel Core Duo U2500); shock-mounted hard disk drive (60 GB); silent operation; 4 powerful stereo speakers; and a built-in camera. Infra-red environmental control facilities are also built in. The OS appears to be stable. The devices have a streamlined look, with a moisture-sealed surface, and no buttons on the front to distract the user. There are interchangeable side panels in different colours (though small gripe these don’t seem to fit too well, on our C15.)

The C15 might be a replacement for the original My Tobii P10 eye gaze computer, (no longer made) in that the large 15 screen area allows display of more symbols and text - or larger, more legible symbols that are easier to see and select. The large screen also provides more screen estate for running other Windows applications.

(But if you only want to run Windows applications, and don’t want a communication aid, the other P10 replacement you might want to look at is the PC Eye - which CALL has also just bought for the loan bank see separate CALL Blog item, coming soon!)

The C12 is comparable in size & weight to its nearest AAC competitor, the DynaVox V Max + (which also allows attachment of an eye gaze unit) but for d irect access users, the C12 is significantly bigger and heavier than the DynaVox Maestro or the Vantage Lite.

If a user can access the smaller device, the C12, successfully, it is obviously desirable to have the most compact device possible, and also means the user’s face is not as ‘blocked off’ from communication partners, as it might be by a big device (better for wheelchair driving, too).

As with all CALL’s comp lex communication aids, these devices will be available on loan to CALL assess ment clients (as a priority) and to others who have undergone training in their use. However, these devices are on ‘restricted’ loan in that they will be being used a lot by CALL for assessment, and for demonstrations and training, so not available to people who might just want to ‘have a look’. (NB. The CEye eye gaze control unit is a separate equipment item, and CALL only has one of these, so it can only be attached to the C12 or the C15 at any given time, not both.)


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New Equipment at CALL: Tobii S32

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 2:55pm

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Tobii S32 Scan

The Tobii S32 comes in Touch and Scan models. CALL has the Scan model, which is more expensive but has more features, so is good for assessments.

The Scan model can be used with direct touch to the buttons and a set of 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 16 or 32 keyguards, which come with it , or by 1 or 2 switch scanning.

The S32 Scan plays back pre-recorded messages, or IR signals and environmental controls and has up to 60 hours of recording time.

It works by using a barcode system, so you can record hundreds of messages or sounds into the device, but it will only play back messages that relate to the overlay that is inserted at the time.

Overlays are made using Tobii SymbolMate software, which comes with the device and has to be used to make the overlays (rather than e.g. Boardmaker), as it prints out a unique barcode along the top of the overlay so that the correct recordings can be recognised by the device.

Symbolmate comes with over 15,000 Symbolstix symbols, but also supports PCS, Widgit and other symbol sets, which need to be purchased separately. CALL's Symbolmate software uses the Symbolstix symbols.

There are a variety of switch access settings and auditory recorded prompts can also be used for those with processing or visual difficulties.

The scan light is a small green light at the top right of the cell, which is not especially clear or easy to follow.

The device does have some nice additional features like 'function cueing' where you can have from 2 to 6 buttons pressed in sequence and then spoken out in full at the end (to encourage sentence building). However, it is a rather expensive for a paper-based recorded speech device and requires getting familiar with new overlay-making software and keeping track of all the overlays which are created.


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New Equipment at CALL: Tobii Communication Devices

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 10:19am

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Tobii Communication Devices

Tobii are best known for their 'MyTobii' eye gaze technology, but actually make a range of devices

  • the original P10 eyegaze computer
  • the new C12 and  C15 communication aids
  • CEye eye gaze control unit (for use with C12 and C15)
  • the PCEye control unit for eye gaze access to a computer
  • portable communication aid called the C8 (no eye gaze access)
  • medium tech aid with recorded speech called the S32

CALL have recently purchased this whole range of devices, which are available on 'restricted loan' to assessment clients and will also be used for demonstrations and training.

The following few blogs will give an overview of each of the devices, what they can do and who they may be suitable for.

Tobii C8 communication aid

The Tobii C8 is a computer based communication aid with an 8.4 inch (20.5cm) touchscreen. It is lightweight (1.8kg) and powerful and can be used either as a portable or wheelchair mounted device. It has long battery life ( 6hrs ) and also has hot swappable batteries so you can charge the device without having to turn it off and take it away from the user. The interchangeable coloured side panels make it easy to customise (green, pink, blue, purple) and the two powerful stereo speakers give the C8 great sound quality. It has a stand and a removable carry strap, but no built-in handle.

The main difference between the C8 and the larger C12 and C15 devices is that it has 2 speakers (they have 4) and that while the C8 can be used with a variety of access methods (direct touch, 1 and 2 switch, joystick, etc)  it cannot accommodate eye gaze access (whereas the C12 and C15 can).

This device could be suitable for users who need a light-weight portable device with synthetic speech and who would like to use additional Windows based software and Sapi 5 Scottish voices, which cannot be used with designated communication devices at a similar level e.g. Vantage Lite.

The C8 comes with Tobii Communicator Standard edition package, which includes several communication programs allowing communication using text or with over 15,000 Symbolstix symbols. The CALL device includes the upgrade, Tobii Communicator Premium, which includes email, text messaging and environmental control. Acapela voices are included with the device and you can also use recorded speech, if required. The device also has a built-in camera so that the user can take photos and use them on their communication pages.

As the C8 is Windows 7 based, other communication software can also be installed and CALL's C8 has the Grid 2 as an alternative option to Tobii Communicator. Being Windows based also means that Sapi 5 voices like 'Scottish Heather' and the soon to be released 'Scottish Stuart' voice are installed on this device ready for use, as well as on the C12 and C15.


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