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My Hospital Passport

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 12th August, 2014 at 4:42pm

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A variant of Personal Communication Passport has recently been published, designed for use by people with autism who might need hospital treatment and/or who need to communicate their needs to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

This was developed by Baroness Angela Browning - an NAS Vice President - in collaboration with The National Autistic Society.

Read more about the ideas behind it, and download the Hospital Passport Template and Guidance for its use, on the National Autistic Society website.

Check out Personal Communication Passports, the dedicated CALL mini-site, for more information about Passports ('Creating / Making Passports' for Templates)



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Using Balabolka to Read e-Books

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 6th August, 2014 at 6:04pm

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Balabolka is a very powerful, free text to speech program that can be used for a lot of different tasks, including basic text to speech, changing the appearance of text to make it more accessible, reading eBooks and creating audio files. This blog will focus on the use of Balabolka to read eBooks in different formats.

When you open Balabolka, it can look complicated, with a busy screen and lots of functions, but don't worry, we can simplify the display - and you won't need many of the available functions for reading eBooks.












Configuring Balabolka

The first step to take is to set up the voice that Balabolka will use. Balabolka searches automatically for all of the voices installed on your computer. SAPI4 voices are old, low quality voices so it is best to choose a SAPI5 voice. At the time of writing, there seems to be a problem with the Heather and Stuart voices, available from the Scottish Voice web site, but we expect this to be resolved very soon. Choose the voice you want to use, and adjust the Rate, Pitch and Volume.












Now click on View and Show, and then uncheck Configure Voice. You can also uncheck the Status Bar if you want, but keep the Toolbar. This will simplify the appearance of the program.












You can make the program appear less complicated by removing buttons you are not wanting to use and making the remaining buttons a little bigger. Do this by clicking on View and Buttons, then unchecking the ones you don't want. This is an example of a more simple set of buttons:




Reading your e-Book

Balabolka can read text from most e-Book and document formats, including AZW / MOBI (Kindle), EPUB (iBooks and lots more), PDF and DOC / DOCX (Word). You may have the files you want on your computer, download them from an online store of e-Books, or have them on an e-Book reader. See my previous blog and the Finding Books section of the Books for All web site for more information. There are various ways in which a file can be transferred from such devices to a computer. A Kindle, for example, can be connected to a computer using its USB cable and will appear as an external disk drive. You will find the books available on the Kindle in the Documents folder. Copy the book file onto the computer. There isn't space here to go into all of the possibilities for other devices - if in doubt, use Google to search for something like "Transfer file from iBooks on iPad to computer".

Open the file using Balabolka (click on File, then Open and navigate to where you copied the file). This is what the Kindle version of 'Diary of a Nobody' looks like when first opened:












You can change the appearance of the text by clicking on View, followed by Font and Colours. You can now choose a font and size for your text and you can change text and background colours. You can also increase line spacing by adjusting Line Height.












Once you have set up your preferences, your book may look something like this:












You can now have Balabolka read the text to you by inserting the cursor at the start of the text you want to have read and then clicking on the green 'Play' button. Balabolka highlights the word that is being spoken at any time and changes the colour of text that has been read (by default, from black to blue, but this can be changed), to make it easier for you to see where you are.












What else can Balabolka do?

  • Creating Audio Files - Balabolka can convert text files into audio files in MP3 and other formats. If the original text has been structured properly, Balabolka can be set up to automatically create a new file for each chapter in a book.
  • Translation - Balabolka can use the Google Translate facility to translate text from one language into another and, if you have an appropriate foreign language voice on your computer, will let you hear the translated text in a suitable voice for the language. We recommend foreign language voices from Ivona or Cereproc.



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Communicative Competence for individuals who require AAC

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 5th August, 2014 at 12:18pm

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Communicative competence was defined by Janice Light (1989) as:

"– the state of being functionally adequate in daily communication and of having sufficient knowledge, judgment, and skills to communicate effectively in daily life."

Light's model of communication competence has become a cornerstone of AAC theory and practice. 

You can view and download here a copy of Light and McNaughton's excellent presentation at ISAAC 2014 , updating and developing the model of Communicative Competence for individuals who require AAC: Revising the definition and strategies.


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Helping People with Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties to Access Books

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 29th July, 2014 at 3:11pm

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Following on from Stuart's blog on Changes to Copyright Law (10th July). we've had a series of emails seeking clarification of the practicalities of access to books for people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. A lot of information about this is available on CALL's Books for All web site, but we thought it would be useful to summarise some of the existing information, and add some new material that is particularly relevant to adults who don't necessarily have access to the same resources that are available to schools.

How can a book be made more accessible?

Most people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties find it easier to read text if the space between lines and words can be increased and if the size of print can be increased (reducing the number of words in a line). Some fonts are easier to read than others and many people find it hard to read black text on a white background, preferring a coloured background. Different people have their own preferences so it is hard to produce one single type of paper books to meet everybody's needs - it is good to be able to personalise the book to meet your own needs, which can be done if you have an electronic copy. More information on this is available from the book, Accessible Text: Guidelines for Good Practice by Fran Ranaldi and Paul Nisbet, available free from the CALL web site.

Many people find it easier to follow a book if they can hear the text being read, particularly if the book is available in an electronic format which can be read using a high quality voice such as the Stuart and Heather computer voices available for use by people with disabilities in Scotland from the Scottish Voice web site.

There are definite advantages to being able to get a book in an electronic format!

e-Book Readers

Kindle e-book readerVarious portable e-Book readers have been developed in recent years, such as the various Kindle devices from Amazon, the Kobo (from WH Smith) and the Nook. These devices all have different facilities to support people with reading difficulties, e.g. ways to change font size, line spacing etc., and there is usually a (limited) choice of fonts, but the available options won't necessarily meet everybody's personal preferences. There's a good comparison of the various features within each device on Wikipedia.

Apps are available for reading e-Books on iPads and other tablets. These may provide additional facilities compared with the stand-alone e-Book readers. Note that you don't have to own an e-Reader to access e-Books for the device. For example, you can use the free Kindle app to read a Kindle book on an iPad, or you can download free Kindle software to read it on a PC or Mac computer. There is more information on e-Books on the Books for All web site.

Getting hold of an accessible copy of a book

As of June 1st 2014, UK Copyright Law Regulations allow the creation of an accessible copy of a book (and other copyright materials) for a person with dyslexia (or other disabilities that make it hard to read a standard book).

There are various stages you should go through to see if an accessible copy of a book is available, before you think about creating your own accessible version:

  1. Is a suitable accessible version commercially available? If the book is available in a format you need, e.g. for a Kindle you should buy this version, rather than a traditional paper copy. In addition to the various commercial sites, there are also various free sites, such as Project Gutenburg where electronic copies of out-of-copyright books can be found. More of these sites are listed on the Books for All web site. A good way to search for an e-Book is through Calibre, a very useful free program that can be used to search the main online e-Book sites for a particular title. (Calibre can also be used to translate between different e-Book formats - see the CALL Quick Guide, Using Calibre to Read eBooks and Convert EPUB files for the Kindle.).
  2. Can I get a copy of the book from a library? Many libraries now provide loan copies of e-Books that you can download and read via the OverDrive service. The OverDrive books are EPUB format which you can read on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, smart phones etc. On a computer you read the books with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which also reads PDF versions. For iOS, Android and e-Book readers or smart phones, you read e-Books and listen to audiobooks using the OverDrive Media Console app. The Books for All web site has more information about borrowing e-Books and the services provided by libraries in Scotland.
  3. Has somebody else already made an accessible copy? Over the years various people have been making accessible copies of textbooks for use in schools, colleges and universities, and of a few novels for general enjoyment. These copies have been made available through various databases: Books for All Scotland, Load 2 Learn, The Seeing Ear and can be downloaded from these sites, though there are restrictions on who can access the material.
  4. Can I get an accessible copy from a publisher? The process of publishing a book can involve the production of an electronic PDF file, which can be read out loud by a computer or tablet with appropriate software. These files are not necessarily 'fully' accessible, as they were designed for a different purpose, but they are still useful. Details of contacts within academic publishers are available from the JISC TechDis Publisher Lookup site. Many of the publishers listed are the same ones used by schools. Note that there may be an administrative charge for this service and it may not be possible to get older titles due to changes in print technology, or files getting lost over time.
  5. Can I make my own accessible copy? As a last resort, it is possible to make your own accessible copy from a paper copy of a book by, for example, scanning into a PDF or Word file using a flat-bed scanner with appropriate Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. If you are scanning a book with a mixture of text and pictures and you want to retain this formatting, it is usually better to create a PDF, which generally retains the appearance of a document pretty well. Word is fine if your document is mainly made up of text. Scanning a book can be a long and laborious process. If you need to scan a few books, you can save a lot of time by using a commercial scanning company, such as DDSR, but note that they will remove the spine of the books in order to run them through a high-speed scanner. You can also make an accessible copy from an intermediate file (a file ready to be made into other accessible formats), but if you want to share this you need to be what is known as an 'authorised body'. More information about scanning books and making accessible copies is available on the Books for All web site.

Once you have an electronic copy you can use appropriate software to read the book out loud. Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader both have built-in software for reading text, but there are better options. We generally recommend WordTalk for use with Word and Ivona MiniReader or NaturalReader with Adobe Reader for reading text from a PDF document.

If you have an e-Book, e.g. for a Kindle or an EPUB file for another e-Book Reader, but want to read it on a computer, then Balabolka is a great free program that you can use. This will be the subject of my next blog.



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Changes to Copyright Law from 1 June 2014

By Stuart Aitken on Thursday 10th July, 2014 at 10:49am

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A welcome change to the law on copyright came into force on 1 June 2014. The new Regulations affect disabled people's access not only to print materials such as books, but also music and other media including video.

Now a person is considered as disabled if the disability prevents the person from enjoying the work to the same degree as a person who does not have that disability. This is a substantial shift from the criterion that was in effect prior to 1 June 2014. Until that date copyright exemption for print materials could only be made for visually impaired people (technically, the definition was broader than visual impairment to include physical disability). For them, accessible copies could be made - large print, Braille or audio for example - without breaking the law. Prior to 1 June, it was possible to extend copyright exemption for others such as pupils with dyslexia. In order to provide this exemption, however, special licences had to be set up, or individual agreements made with publishers. The presumption now set in law is that so long as the exemption criteria are met, an accessible copy can be made.

The relaxation of copyright exemption applies not just to print but also to other kinds of work such as music, film, video. Now a disabled person, whose disability prevents him or her from enjoying the work to the same degree as someone who isn't disabled, can have an accessible copy made.

A further change in the law is also helpful. Now, if a licence term imposed by a publisher for a disabled person is more restrictive than what the law permits , then that licence term is unenforceable.

Full details of the changes to the law are set out in The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014 

A detailed FAQ has been provided by JISC Legal team and many of the questions and answers are applicable beyond Further and Higher Education.


The full definition of a "disabled person" is now

- a person who has a physical or mental impairment which prevents the person from enjoying a copyright work to the same degree as a person who does not have that impairment, and “disability” is to be construed accordingly. (The only exception from this exemption is if your vision can be corrected with glasses or contacts which does seem very reasonable.)



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Talking Point Website re-launched

By Sally Millar on Thursday 19th June, 2014 at 7:01pm

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Looking for information about about children's speech, language and communication development?

ICAN and The Communication Trust are relaunching the informative Talking Point website this week. Talking Point provides valuable information and resources for parents and professionals about many aspects of speech; language and communication, and how to stimulate and support children in their development.

Parents and practitioners report that it is hard to find help and information to support a child's speeech, language and communication difficulties. The Talking Point website has been revamped with these requests in mind; a database of resources and a searchable map of local services have been added. The whole site, including the popular Progress Checker, is now easy to use on a mobile or tablet and new content is being added, thanks to Department for Education funding.


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Boardmaker from Toby Churchill - Studio now allows 2 installs

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 27th May, 2014 at 1:45pm

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There have been many changes lately for Mayer Johnson and Boardmaker products, in the UK. The latest news is that the Assistive Technology division of the Swedish company Tobii have bought DynaVox and that both DynaVox products and Mayer Johnson products  - including the Boardmaker software range  are now available in the UK from Toby Churchill Ltd.

A new development is that Boardmaker Studio now allows two installs per disk - so that you can use it on two different computers (but not at the same time!) e.g. at school and at home. No CD required, once installed.


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Check out the TalkSense website: ideas re literacy and AAC

By Sally Millar on Monday 26th May, 2014 at 3:58pm

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Acquiring literacy is notoriously challenging for learners with complex communication support needs, who use AAC. 

Have a look at Tony Jones' inspiring web-site TalkSense, for 101 ideas that may support literacy teaching and learning for learners who need AAC, in your setting. 


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CALL Scotland's new AAC Apps Wheel

By Sally Millar on Friday 23rd May, 2014 at 12:07pm

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The new CALL Scotland AAC Apps Wheel is now officially 'launched' and available for free download and sharing. Enjoy, and pass it on! 

The AAC Apps wheel is in .PDF format and was designed for display in A3 poster size but it works equally well (only smaller!) as an A4 leaflet. The App names on the electronic version are 'clickable' links, taking you directly to more information about the individual App on the UK iTunes site.

This new 'Wheel' authored by Sally Millar and Gillian McNeill of CALL Scotland, provides a categorised guide to iPad Apps for people with complex communication support needs, who may need to use some form(s) of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

There are many hundreds of communication apps, and deciding how to categorise them – never mind identifying the best fit to meet the needs of an individual user – is a bit complicated. We define some Apps (from 12 o’clock round to 6) as potential full ‘expressive’ communication systems. Whether text and/or symbol based, these tend to be highly featured, and include text to speech, a built-in symbol library, at least one or two sample pre-stored user vocabulary sets, and an onscreen message bar to allow for sentence/message building.

Other Apps (from 6 o’clock round to 9) are identified as more ‘simple’ forms of communication. These may provide basic, functional ways of expressing needs and making choices, or for recording news or stories. They contain limited, if any, starter content and will be customised for the user from ‘bottom-up’ using familiar photos and pictures, and recorded messages. Others may use the iPad to mirror and add speech output to particular low tech communication approaches such as PECS.  Finally, many are useful for building basic vocabulary and sentence construction skills, receptively as much as expressively.

The CALL Scotland AAC Apps wheel does not include every App available in each category. It shows Apps that CALL finds useful: i.e. reliable, relatively straightforward to use; reasonable/good value for money; and / or that stand out in their category for some reason.

Users may use a ‘set’ of various Apps from different categories at different times – there is no single ‘best’ App for communication. It can be a mistake to jump directly to the most complex and powerful full communication system App, without trialling simpler App(s) first to evaluate ability levels and communication needs, and to build basic skills.

All the Apps are controlled by direct touch, and many (but not all), will also run under switch control within iOS 7 Accessibility settings. A few were specifically designed for switch access, which tends to offer better switch access features, and these are marked in this wheel with small red ‘s’ (beside App icon).



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Sharing Learning Resources in Word between Windows and iPad

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 13th May, 2014 at 11:36am

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Last week at the CALL Scotland RTC launch I presented a workshop on iPads and Dyslexia, and one of the topics we considered was sharing of learning resources between Windows and iPad. Many teachers use Microsoft Word to create curriculum resources, and so a fundamental question is “how can learners access my DOCX files”? (One might ask whether one should be taking advantage of more creative and exciting multimedia tools and formats available on the iPad to engage your learners, but for this blog let’s assume we are in a learning environment where files created in Word are the norm.)  

DOC & DOCX format

One approach is to save your Word file in a cloud storage such as DropBox, Glow, OneDrive or Edmodo, or email it to the student, who can then open it using an app that can read and edit Word files such as Pages, Word for iPad. Other apps are Doc2, or CloudOn.

Pages is now supplied free with iPads and for older iPads costs £6.99. Pages is a great app and can import Word files, but the layout of files with elements such as floating text boxes and images may be altered when you open them in the Pages app. This may be an issue if you want to send files back and forwards between the iPad and a PC.  

Word for iPad is a new app from Microsoft, and is probably the best app for maintaining the layout and properties of the original file. To edit a Word file with Word for iPad you need a subscription to Office 365 either as a home user or through your school, college, university of business. Learners in Scotland now have Office 365 subscriptions through Glow and so Word for iPad should be a good option (provided your Glow account gives you access).

Sticking with DOC or DOCX is a good option for resources where learners will be editing or re-formatting the text, and for extended writing. However, for worksheets, assignments and assessments, PDF has some advantages.


PDF is a good format for booklets, assignments and assessments because the visual layout of your resource is maintained, and because learners can use apps like ClaroPDF or PDF Expert to add highlights, comments and drawing, type answers and insert photos and audio notes. Also, the latest Adobe Reader XI provides commenting tools that can be used on any PDF which means pupils can annotate, type in answers and record audio on a Windows computer as well. The use of audio notes is particularly helpful for learners with literacy difficulties because the teacher can record instructions or comments into the PDF, and likewise the learner can respond by recording their own audio notes. (Pages does not have a facility to record audio notes.)  

PDF is also cross-platform in that files can be opened on almost any device and operating system (Windows, MacOS, iPad, Android etc) and so if you are working in a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ environment, PDF will give some consistency. Lastly, teachers can save PDF files directly from Microsoft Word 2010 and 2013 (File > Save As and choose PDF from Save as type). 

So, a workflow for digital resources in PDF therefore looks like this:

  1. The teacher creates the resource using Microsoft Word, saves it as a PDF and emails it or makes it available to the class via online storage.
  2. Pupils then access the resource on Windows, iPad, Android etc and use commenting tools to insert answers or otherwise respond. The pupil emails or saves the file.
  3. The teacher opens the students’ files using Adobe Reader XI on their computer (or uses ClaroPDF / PDF Expert / iAnnotate on an iPad), reviews the responses, and uses the commenting tools to mark the submission and provide feedback. The teacher’s comments can be typed, drawn or recorded as audio. The marked work is then given back to the pupil who can open it and read or listen to the feedback.













The participants at the workshop on Friday thought that the PDF option was the better option for learning resources where some sort of response is expected from the learner, because: the visual appearance is maintained; the student writes 'on top' of the PDF (there is no chance of accidentally or deliberately altering the assignment); it's possible to record audio into the PDF easily; and PDF can be read and annotated with almost any device.

There are many apps that learners can use to open, read and type or draw on PDFs, but I favour:

ClaroPDF (69p) because it has good, simple text-to-speech (e.g.. tap on text and it speaks); there is a Scottish voice (Fiona, costs £1.49 extra); you can tap and type anywhere; it has good drawing and annotation tools; it can be used to type into answer boxes on SQA Digital Question papers.

PDF Expert (£6.99) because is also has good text-to-speech, albeit slightly more complicated than ClaroPDF (and no Scottish voice); great annotation tools; and it can also access Digital Question Papers. PDF Expert can open and save files from a wider range of cloud services than Claro, and has better file management.



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CALL is an Apple Regional Training Centre

By Stuart Aitken on Friday 9th May, 2014 at 4:45pm

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CALL Scotland is delighted to announce that today we became an accredited Apple Regional Training Centre. CALL is now one of the 100 or so learning hubs across the UK that promote collaboration and sharing of resources and best practices with teachers and the wider education community.

At a conference held in Moray House School of Education a series of excellent speakers shared some of the exciting opportunities that are changing the face of learning and teaching.

As well as Apple's team of Steve Bunce, David Ryan and Gillian Penny we heard from:

  • Jenni Robertson, Tynecastle High School's teacher with responsibility for supporting learning through innovative ICT use, on brilliantly imaginative uses of the iPad as a way of engaging the curiosity of learners in a multitude of ways.
  • Sue Fletcher-Watson, Chancellor's Fellow at Moray House who not only summarised evidence-based research to show the advantages of digital learning and iPads, but also provided a fun tour of apps that can extend the skills of children with autism  and autistic spectrum disorders. Sue's DART website includes a simple Autism Apps Wheel.
  • CALL's own Paul Nisbet who described many of the tools, accessibility features and apps that support and extend the learning of pupils with dyslexia. CALL Wheel of Apps for Dyslexia
  • Sally Millar of CALL Scotland reviewed the use of iPads and a 'bundle' of different types of apps for pupils with complex communication support needs, and launched the brand new CALL Wheel of Apps for AAC.

For Twitter users find out more about the conference at:


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Text to Speech and Reading Books with Mavericks

By Allan Wilson on Monday 21st April, 2014 at 2:23pm

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We had a couple of enquiries last week about different aspects of 'text to speech' on an Apple Macintosh computer so it is probably a good time to put together some updated information, particularly relating to the Mavericks (10.9) Operating System. The first related to general text to speech facilities for a pupil with dyslexia, particularly interested in reading past exam papers. The second was more specific to using the computer to read books, particularly Kindle books.

Recent Mac operating systems have included a reasonable text to speech facility, but we have generally recommended the free version of NaturalReader, particularly for somebody with a reading difficulty who might want to click on a mouse button to speak text, rather than remember a keyboard command. Unfortunately, the free version doesn't currently work with the latest Mavericks operating system so the best 'free' alternative is to use the built-in facility.

Accessing Text to Speech with Mavericks

Text to Speech on a Mac running Mavericks is accessed through the Dictation and Speech System Preferences. (Click on the Apple icon in the Menu bar [top, left of the screen], then System Preferences, then Dictation and Speech [You may have to click on Show All in order to see this.). Now select the voice you want to use. The Mac defaults to using one of six American voices (see below, left), but you can access many more by clicking on Customize (below, right). Simply tick the voices you want to have available and 'untick' the ones you don't want. The additional voices include a good quality Scottish voice, Fiona, which you can use free. Note that there are also Mac versions of the Scottish computer voices, Heather and Stuart. The Scottish voices are generally free for use by people with disabilities in Scotland through the Scottish Voice web site, or can be purchased through Cereproc.

After you have chosen the voices you want to have available, click on System Voice again and choose the voice you want to use. Speaking Rate can also be adjusted at this point to suit the user. People with an auditory processing difficulty may benefit from a slower speed, while people with a visual impairment might prefer a faster speed, particularly if they are used to Text to Speech. Finally, choose a key or key combination to 'Speak Selected Text'. Choose something that you will remember, and which is not already used by something else.

Once Text to Speech has been set up, select text in any application with your mouse and press the key you have chosen to Speak Selected Text to hear the text read back to you. Note that words are not highlighted in any way as they are read. If this is important, you would need to use a specialist Text to Speech program, such as GhostReader or Read and Write Gold.

What about Reading an Electronic Book?


Most Mac users would think of iBooks as their first option for reading electronic books. There are over 2 million books available and a basic Text to Speech facility is built into the program. Select the text you want read, then click on Edit, Speech and Start Speaking.









If the book is available as a PDF, then the text to speech options in Adobe Reader can be used. See the CALL Quick Guides to Using Books on the Books for All web site.


What can you do if the book you want is only available for the Amazon Kindle, or if you have a Kindle account and prefer to use that, rather than set up an iBooks account? There is a free Kindle app, available through the Apple App Store, which can be used to read Kindle books that have been purchased, or downloaded from the Amazon Kindle Store. Unfortunately, the Kindle App for the Mac is quite limited for people with reading difficulties - there is only one, unfriendly, font available, though text size and spacing can be varied, and there is no built-in Text to Speech facility. The Speak Selected Text method used to work (see video), but it no longer works in Mavericks. The best way we have found for adding Text to Speech to the Kindle app on an Apple with Mavericks is to use the Screenshot Reader in Read and Write 5 Gold (circled in red below). This allows you to select any block of text from the screen, including from the Kindle app, copies the text into a new frame and then reads the text back, highlighting each word as it is read. You have to read each page individually, which is a hassle, but at least it is possible to read the text out loud using this method.



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New John Muir Graphic Novel available in accessible digital format

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 16th April, 2014 at 4:58pm

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A new graphic novel based on the life of John Muir, the Scottish pioneering conservationist was launched by the Scottish Book Trust earlier this month. The novel is written by award-winning author Julia Bertagna and illustrated by Glasgow-based artist William Goldsmith, and free copies are being sent to every secondary school in Scotland for use by pupils in S1, S2 and S3.

So what about young people who can't read or access the free copies, I hear you ask? Well, the good news is that we have been working hard with the authors, the Book Trust, and the designers at Metaphrog to create an accessible digital version of the novel. 

This turned out to be quite tricky. Most graphic novels are PDF image files, and while you can zoom in and magnify the text, and turn pages and navigate on a computer or device, you can't  have the text read out by the computer. However, we wanted to have the option of text-to-speech because it can really help readers with dyslexia, visual impairment, hearing impairment or non-native English speakers. This meant that the novel had to have proper, selectable text, and so John and Sandra at Metaphrog created a special font to mimic William Goldsmith's handwriting, and then used this font to create a special accessible version of the novel. We also spent many hours working out the best way to get the text read out in the correct order by the free text reader in Adobe Reader, and John and Sandra went through every page checking and adjusting it. Lastly, they added bookmarks so that readers can see the table of contents and click to go to a particular section.

I'm pretty chuffed with the way it has turned out and grateful for the opportunity to work with the artists and authors and I think it is a good model for graphic novels in general. 

Apart from giving readers with print disabilities access to the book, it also fits with the general theme of conservation and sustainability, since no trees were harmed in the production of the digital copy.

You can download the novel from the Scottish Book Trust web site. (Make sure you get the accessible version and not the standard PDF which doesn't have readable text.) There are also teaching notes for use in different subjects across the curriculum.

You can read the novel on a computer or on an iPad or Android tablet, and I've written some quick guides: one for Windows, and another for iPad. To read it on a Windows or Mac, you just need the free Adobe Reader software which will probably be on your computer already. You can read the novel with the free Scottish voices.

For the iPad, we suggest reading the novel with ClaroPDF because it has good text-to-speech tools (including Fiona, a Scottish voice) and at 69p it's a steal. (Fiona costs £1.49 extra.)

If you have an Android tablet, try ezPDF Reader (£2.49) with the CereProc Scottish voices (£1.19 each).



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Dragon NaturallySpeaking on inexpensive laptops

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 2nd April, 2014 at 12:13pm

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Recently there has been renewed interest in the potential of speech recognition for learners with writing and literacy difficulties (partly as a result of the restriction on use of a scribe for assessing writing at National 3/4 Literacy). Dragon NaturallySpeaking is we think the best speech recognition software for Windows PC, and I was interested whether it would run on the relatively low powered Acer TravelNote laptop that is available from XMA through the Scottish Tablet and Notebook Procurement Scheme. (There are of course scores of lightweight laptops around but it's often easier and cheaper for schools and local authorities to buy machines through this national procurement scheme.)

So we did an experiment - I installed Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 12 on the Acer and on my own Dell laptop, dictated into both at the same time, and tried to see if there was any time lag or lack of response between the two machines. The Acer has a Celeron 1.5Gz processor with 2 GB of RAM, while the Dell has an i5 2.5 GHz processor and 4 GB RAM, so the Dell should be noticeably faster. Both machines were running Windows 7. I didn't bother to train Dragon to my voice, and the accuracy was pretty good 'out of the box'.  I looked like an even bigger prat than usual by wearing two identical headsets (Andrea NC181VM USB)... 

In fact, for basic dictation, we couldn't see much difference between the two. The Acer seemed slightly slower to load programs and Dragon said that the natural language processing facility wouldn't work because of the lack of RAM and processor speed, but apart from that it was fine. (The natural language commands let you give commands to Word in simpler English (e.g.. 'Turn on bold') but not having them is not a huge disadvantage because you can still usually use the more formal commands (e.g.. 'Set Font Bold')  for most tasks.)

The Acer costs £216; Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium Education is £99; so for £315 schools can get a lightweight laptop running a good speech recognition system. (You would probably need MS Office which your local authority would install, and we strongly recommend a USB headset like the Andrea at around £30 but the total cost still seems pretty good value.)

Alternatively, for about the same price you can get an iPad Air and try the free built-in Siri speech recognition - you do need an internet connection but we think it's just as good as Dragon and it seems more forgiving of strong accents and also very simple to use.





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SPEAK all! app for PECS users

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 19th March, 2014 at 5:10pm

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I've become interested in a communication app called SPEAK all! designed by researchers at Purdue University specifically for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who use PECS.   SPEAK all! is still somewhat in development, so I don't want to mislead by over-lauding its praises at this stage, for there are still a few steps needed to make it really usable / useful. Meanwhile, you can get a free version, to have a look at it (can ugrade via in-app purchase to a version that supports more users/ activities) and the developers provide support and welcome feedback and suggestions from users. Hopefully, it will soon be improved, providing an app that fits neatly into a very significant niche slot that has been waiting for it for some time - a simple speaking PECS book.

There are student videos showing Phase 1 - Phase 5  training, using the app within the highly structured PECS training format. 

The app's user interface is nicely uncluttered, basically showing a 'bank' of picture options, and a sentence strip. 

Unlike some other apps that claim to be ideal for PECS users, SPEAK all! mirrors really closely the exact PECS Stage 2 process of discriminating and selecting a picture with intention, and transferring it to a sentence strip (settings to let user select either by touching each picture or by drag and drop). To speak it out, the user can either touch each picture in turn (preferable, in my view), or hit a 'Speak All'  button. Once spoken, the user hits 'Revert to Original' (this button needs an icon on it, methinks) and the sentence strip empties again and returns the pictures to the 'bank', waiting for construction of the next message. The picture banks (termed 'activities') are fully customisable.

The row of 'activity folders' at the top is equivalent to topic or context-linked pages in a PECS book, and can be hidden by a semi transparent cover that leaves them accessible but minimally distracting. Beginner users will be fine with the vocabulary set within a single context-linked activity. More advanced users can explore the different activity folders freely to find the picture they want.

The 'Done' button at the top (that takes you out of the communication screen) can be hidden by a 'Lock Screen' setting (beware - this is a bit TOO efficient for now - you can get locked out of your iPad completely!) or by - safer for now - using Guided Access (download CALL's fact sheet on how to do this)

Watch this blog for news of future developments of SPEAK all!. It is just about  'workable' now with recorded speech only, but I think that to be a really serious contender in the crowded AAC app market-place it may need:

  • Access to a built-in symbol bank - as it is too time consuming for school staff to source every picture individually
  • Better synthetic voice options 
  • A 'screen lock' function that is not quite so fiercely effective! (coming soon, I'm told)
  • Back up and Sharing options


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