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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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Speech Recognition Top Tips - Part 1

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 19th March, 2014 at 4:10pm

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[This is the first blog in an occasional series considering different aspects of the use of speech recognition]

We had some interesting feedback today from a school about a recent loan of a laptop with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software installed for trial use by one of their pupils:

"J had copious notes to write and with time we had thought that the Dragon Naturally Speaking would be the answer but J found it difficult to slow his speech down and would forget to say 'go to sleep' and hilarity would break out as his comments were recorded.

"Although this was an excellent resource J became frustrated as whenever he saw an error on the screen he would make a comment and of course this would then appear on the screen - he was happier to go back to writing!"

This illustrates a couple of key issues about using NaturallySpeaking (and other speech recognition programs::

Image showing Hot Key options in NaturallySpeakingFirst of all, it is important to have a key on the keyboard set up to act as a 'hot' key that can be used to turn the microphone on and off, provided that the person using the system does not have a physical disability which means they have to rely on their voice to control the computer. Using a hot key is usually faster than a voice command and you don't have to worry about a 'go to sleep' command being misinterpreted and appearing as unwanted text. The default is to use the NUMkey +, which is very hard to find on a laptop. We usually suggest using something easy to find, like the Right-Arrow-Key, which is on the bottom right corner of many laptops. In NaturallySpeaking, go to Options and Hot Keys to make the change.

Secondly, it is good to get into the habit of switching off the microphone when you are not dictating. When people are learning to use speech recognition, we encourage them to adopt a strict procedure for dictating:

  1. Think of the sentence you want to dictate.
  2. Turn on the microphone.
  3. Dictate the sentence.
  4. Turn off the microphone.
  5. Check the sentence and decide whether you need to make any corrections.
  6. If you are making corrections by voice, switch on the microphone, correct the text and then switch off the microphone.
  7. Go back to Stage 1 for your next sentence.

Over time it is possible to be more flexible, dictating longer pieces of text, checking as you are dictating, but remember that speech recognition takes a lot of concentration!

Using Speech Recognition to produce text is a serious writing task - you're not having a friendly chat with a computer. The computer tries to interpret anything you say, so avoid laughing and making comments on mistakes.


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Scottish Children's Book Awards 2013 Winners

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 18th March, 2014 at 4:09pm

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CALL would like to congratulate the three winners of this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards, who were announced earlier this month. The Awards, run by the Scottish Book Trust, allow pupils in three age categories in schools throughout Scotland to vote for their favourite books by Scottish authors over the past year. This year over 38,000 pupils read the shortlisted books in each category and voted for their favourite.

The Book Bug (Age 5 - 7) category was won by Chae Strathie for his book, Jumblebum. Janis Mackay won the Younger Readers (8 - 11) award with The Accidental Time Traveller, while Ferryman was the winner in the Older Readers (12 - 16) category for Claire McFall.

Accessible Formats

CALL Scotland produced CDs with accessible versions of the books in each of the three categories for use by pupils with a print disability who find it difficult to use a standard book. Teachers were able to request accessible copies for individual pupils who needed them through the Books for All web site. Pupils with a visual impairment, dyslexia and other reading disabilities, or physical disabilities were able to use the accessible copies to take part in the scheme along with their classmates. This year, CALL received 105 requests for CDs, compared with 89 last year. The table below provides a break down of information on the CDs that were distributed by age group and disability.

Age Group Dyslexia Learning Disabilities Visual Impairment Multiple Disabilities Not Stated Totals
5 - 7 13 5 2 2 7 29
8 - 11 21 1 2 1 39 64
12 - 16 2 0 3 0 7 12
Total 36 6 7 3 53 105







CALL Scotland hopes to work again with the Scottish Book Trust to produce accessible copies of the shortlisted books for the Scottish Children's Book Awards 2014, aiming to have the CDs available in September.


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How to raise Literacy Attainment at National 3 and 4

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 3rd March, 2014 at 5:08pm

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Literacy is a mandatory Unit for all learners at National 3 and 4 and assessment covers the skills of reading, writing, talking and listening. Where reading is being explicitly assessed, the use of human reader is not permitted, and similarly, where writing is being assessed, a scribe cannot be used. Many learners with additional support needs have difficulties with reading or accessing text, and with writing and recording, and so to enable these learnerws to achieve the literacy standards, ICT and assistive technology can be used in the literacy assessment.

For example, a learner with a visual impairment might read the assessment text on screen with magnification; while a learner with dyslexia could use text-to-speech to read the text and a spellchecker or word predictor for the writing assessment. There is more information on how on our web pages on using ICT for literacy assessment.

We know that many learners with additional support needs or disabilities have difficulty with reading or writing and so some learners will not be able to achieve the literacy standards at National 3 and 4 without support.

However, research and experience tells us that assistive technologies can help learners with, for example, dyslexia or literacy difficulties to read and understand text at a higher level than they can manage when reading unsupported, and that supportive writing tools can enable learners to produce longer and more accurate pieces of work.

Therefore, by providing ICT (and by teaching learners how to use it), schools should be able to raise their overall levels of literacy attainment at National 3 and 4. By using ICT, learners who might not achieve the standard will be able to do so: conversely, if you don’t get your ICT and assistive technology organised, your school’s attainment levels at National 3 and 4 will almost certainly be lower than they would be if you made good effective use of ICT.

Here’s a very good example from Peter Graham at Denny High School. Peter was presenting at one of our recent courses and described a 6th year pupil with severe reading difficulties who is now using a netbook with text-to-speech software (Ivona MiniReader) to great effect. Peter thought it would be interesting to compare her reading ability with and without the text-to-speech and so carried out an assessment using the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability.

Reading by herself, the pupil scored 6 years 2 months for accuracy and 6 years 9 months for comprehension. With MiniReader, her comprehension score was over 13 years (measuring accuracy is not appropriate with text-to-speech).

Without ICT, this learner would almost certainly fail the reading assessment at National 3 or 4; with ICT, she would almost certainly pass it.

By using ICT, more learners in your school will achieve the literacy standard and you will raise your overall attainment (not to mention giving the young people a massively important life skill and a means of reading and accessing the curriculum independently).


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AAC Apps - Proloquo2Go is not the only app!

By Sally Millar on Friday 28th February, 2014 at 2:43pm

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Had a great day yesterday on the CALL course 'iPads and Communication - fully featured AAC apps from symbols to text' . It can be hard work ploughing through a range of complex apps that all look somewhat similar but actually have a wide variety of different features, strengths and weaknesses. Luckily we had a strong group of participants and we all survived smiling!

Interestingly, most participants had all heard of/tried the widely advertised and powerful Proloquo2Go, and many were suffering pressure from parents determined that this was what their child needed. They had signed up for this course at least partly because they did not find Proloquo2Go to be suitable for 'their' clients, and wanted to explore alternative AAC apps. Happily, participants discovered a few that they were keen to try further with their clients. Amongst the favourites that emerged (both of the following offer free 'cut-down' versions, for trial), were GoTalk Now



and Widgit Go 

P.S Widgit Go (free Lite and £54.99 full versions) is also available for Android. Turns out that - unlike on the iPad which does not provide access to the Scottish voices -  it will run with the Scottish voices Heather or Stuart, that can be bought separately for Android for only £1.19 each.


And of course, the completely free Sounding Board



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Generating Graph Paper

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 12th February, 2014 at 1:41pm

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Incompetech logo



We just found out about the Incompetech web site, where it is possible to generate a huge variety of graph papers, lined papers and papers with a multitude of shapes as PDF files - all for free! For graph paper, you can specify the size of paper, margins, spacing between lines, thickness and colour of lines.

Other available options, included varous styles of lined paper, paper for musical notation, hexagonal grids and lots more. Some examples are shown below.

If we'd known about this site earlier, we could have saved ourselves some time when producing graph paper for accessible versions of maths books for the Books for All Scotland database!


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Further clarification that MiniReader CAN be installed on school computers

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 7th February, 2014 at 5:34pm

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Text-to-speech is one of the most useful accessibility tools for learners with and also without literacy or access difficulties. Pupils with dyslexia or reading difficulties can use text-to-speech to access digital text; pupils with English as a second language, or with language or learning difficulties can use text-to-speech to aid their understanding; learners with visual impairment who have difficulty seeing the text can use it to read faster and with greater comfort; and ALL learners, with or without additional support needs, can benefit from using text-to-speech to proof read and improve their work.

In our view, text-to-speech is an accessibility essential and all school computers should have a text-to-speech reader available, along with the free Scottish computer voices.

There are a many text-to-speech programs available, but if you need a free, simple program for windows, take a look at Ivona MiniReader. I introduced MiniReader in a previous blog and on our MiniReader web page:and the purpose of this blog is to reassure local authority and school staff that it is legal to install MiniReader on school computers.

On 12 November 2012, I asked Ivona whether MiniReader could be installed on all the computers in a school and was told that:

"Of course you can use MiniReader at schools. I hope that it will be good promotion for our other products like IVONA Voices and IVONA Reader."

On 16 September 2013, following some questions from local authority technical staff, I emailed Ivona to ask:

"Can you confirm again that it is acceptable for your free MiniReader software to be installed on school computers in Scotland?"

to which Ivona responded:

"Minireader is free so it can be installed on school PC's."

And on 7th January 2014, a colleague in a local authority asked Ivona to clarify whether they could use the MiniReader with the school's own computer voices. Ivona said:

"Our Minireader is for free. You can download this product by clicking "Free download" on"

I hope that this provides clarification and reassurance! Let's get on with reading.....


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New Maths in Action Large Print Books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 3rd February, 2014 at 11:10am

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Thanks to Marie Lawson from the Vision Service in Shetland for contributing a new 18 point Large Print copy of New Maths in Action S22. It's available as two parts and you can find them on the Database by clicking the links below: 

Marie previously contributed Large print copies of New Maths in Action S1-1 and S1-2Click here to see all the New Maths in Action books on the database.

Remember also that you can get some Nelson Thornes Maths in Action books as PDF files from the Load2Learn database. Load2Learn currently has PDFs of New Maths in Action S2/2S3/2 and S3/3 and also PDFs of the new Curriculum for Excellence titles - Maths in Action: National 4 and Maths in Action National 5Load2Learn is like a 'sister' database of Books for All and is run by RNIB and Dyslexia Action. 


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National 5 Specimen papers with answer boxes are now available

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 6th January, 2014 at 4:03pm

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The SQA Question Paper team have added 'answer boxes' to the National 5 specimen papers and these can be downloaded from the SQA Digital Question Paper pages. Feedback from students is that it is much easier to type in answers directly on the paper, than to use a separate digital answer booklet. Papers in question-and-answer format that have answer boxes include for example Biology Section 2, Computing Science, Drama, French Reading, Gaelic Reading, Music, Physics and Philosophy.

Papers that are not in question-and-answer format (such as English and History) do not have answer boxes, and learners either hand-write their answers into a paper answer booklet, or use use digital versions of answer booklets which can be downloaded in PDF and also Word format.

The papers and answer booklets can be freely downloaded by teachers, parents and learners for revision and practice. 

To find out more about how to use Digital Question Papers visit the CALL Digital Assessment web site and refer to SQA's Digital Question papers Guidance pages.


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What's the sign for....?

By Sally Millar on Friday 13th December, 2013 at 2:57pm

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Maybe others already know all about this already but I just stumbled upon a really useful online sign dictionary  (search for videos of BSL signs)

As both Makaton and Signalong are based on BSL, this site can offer rapid support to staff and family who may not have instant access to an SLT  or sign tutors or materials to plug any gaps in their sign vocabulary knowledge.

How often do staff just avoid or give up on using signs, - even though they really know that a child REALLY NEEDS this visual support to help language comprehension -  just because they just can't quite think of the right sign....?  

(NB. you MUST make sure you've used the 'change language' window, top right on the screen, and got the Union Jack flag symbol ticked to get BSL, or you might wander off by mistake into a different European language or different version of English, such as ASL) is also available (free, I think) as an app for iPad or Android.

(and I really like how the signer in this clip looks so like the wee PCS / Boardmaker symbol guy! lol)




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Using Word Grids in the Clicker Books App

By Allan Wilson on Friday 13th December, 2013 at 9:15am

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My colleague, Craig, quite likes the Clicker Books app, particularly the word grid/bank support, but it took a while to work out how to create word grids/banks – unfortunately it isn’t very intuitive and not immediately obvious. Craig has now created a very, very quick guide.



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You CAN run your favourite websites on iPad

By Sally Millar on Thursday 12th December, 2013 at 9:54am

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Have you tried running your favourite websites on your iPad and then been devastated to find that they won't work?

I did - HelpKidzLearn  is a vital day by day necessity, as is Doorway Online.

They don't run on iPad, seemingly because these are Flash based websites, and iPads don't talk to Flash.

However, it seems 'zere are ways of making zem talk'.....

Well, maybe you guys all know this already, but I didn't, until my colleague Sandra told me! 

Go to the App store and get Rover - the Browser for Education (apparently free).

Then when it opens, go to the supermarket trolley at the top right of the screen and buy the £2.99 Upgrade.

(Without this paid upgrade, you will just get a message to say 'Website is blocked' when you try to open your site.)

Now type in the URL of the site you want to access in the browser window, Go / Search - and there you are!

Happy Bunny! 

P.S. it only works when you have a good WiFi connection, of course.


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The Scottish Voice: latest version available

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 10th December, 2013 at 10:58am

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The latest version (3.1) of the Scottish Voice is now available to download. It is available for both Windows and Mac (Intel). They will also work on the latest version of OS X (Maverick 10.9).

Once installed on your computer, you can use Heather or Stuart with most 'text-to-speech' programs to read:

It's recommended that you uninstall any previous version of the voice first. This can be done via:

  • Windows: 'Add/Remove Programs' on Control Panel;
  • Mac:or delete them from the Applications folder.

The voices are licensed for: State-run schools, pupils at home, Scottish Colleges, Scottish Universities, Scottish Open University students, Scottish charities dealing with pupils and NHS patients, Scottish Local Authorities, NHS Scotland, Scottish government agencies and the public sector in general.

The voices are not licensed for: Independent schools, private companies, Scottish students studying abroad and individuals not covered by the above. If you wish, you can purchase a copy from the CALL Scotland shop.



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