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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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Black Light - Coloured Screen Filtering for the Mac

By Allan Wilson on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 4:20pm

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Low Cost / No Cost Software

We occasionally give advice and talks on free / low cost software that can be used to help people with reading and writing difficulties, or other disabilities. While we would never advise somebody who needed a commercial package to make do with free software that has less functionality, there is certainly a place for free software, particularly for home use, or where a person only needs a couple of accessibility features to enable them to make effective use of a computer. These talks usually focus on the excellent AccessApps and MyStudyBar suites of free software, or on a collection of Windows-based programs, including WordTalk and Natural Reader, as described in our Quick Guide on Low Cost / No Cost Software to Support People with Dyslexia.

Mac Options

When we give these talks, we are often asked about similar options for Apple Mac computers. Unfortunately, although the Mac has been designed to be accessible for users with disabilities, the range of software to enhance accessibility is quite limited. We recently produced a Quick Guide on Free Text to Speech Options for the Mac, and will try to provide information on other options as we find them.

Black Light is the free Mac equivalent of ssOverlay, which allows a coloured filter to be placed over the computer screen. Such filters can be very useful for people with Meares-Irlen Syndrome / Scotopic Sensitivity, and also for people sensitive to glare from a computer screen. It is a little more difficult to find your desired colour with Black Light, compared with ssOverlay, but the program has some additional useful features, including an option to invert the screen colours so that you have white text on a black backgrounf, instead of the usual black on white.

Black Light provides a filter that covers the whole screen - if you need an 'overlay' that can be configured to only cover the portion you require (like T-Bar), a Mac user would, as far as we know, have to purchase a program like the ScreenRuler Suite from Claro Software.


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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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New Equipment in CALL: Alternatives to the Mouse

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 27th October, 2011 at 5:03pm

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Some people struggle to use a standard mouse  on a computer, so various alternatives have been devised over the years, including track balls, joysticks and trackpads. The CALL Loan Bank of Equipment and Resources includes many examples of these alternatives. Additional funding from the Scottish Government recently gave us an opportunity to update and expand our stock of equipment for people who "hate those meeces to pieces"! Here's information about some of the new devices that we now have available for loan:

Single Button Mouse

Teachers of young pupils with additional support needs sometimes come to us looking for a solution to suit a pupil who keeps hitting the right-button of a PC mouse, by accident or design, potentially causing major disruption to an activity. There are various solutions, including 'surgery' to remove the micro-switch beneath the right-button, and various software solutions to disable the button. These can be awkward if different people use the computer and some want to be able to access the right-button. In the past we would sometimes recommend the use of a Mac mouse (the original iMac mouse was particularly suitable) as they only have one button, but in recent years the Mac mouse has become more complicated with the addition of a scroll button and other features. The Chester Single Button Mouse is a simple, small mouse with a single button, designed specifically for young children who can benefit from a simplified mouse. It has a USB connector which allows it to be quickly plugged into the computer and removed when no longer required.


A trackball can be seen as an 'upside down' mouse, with the ball on the top of a solid base. The ball is usually moved by the fingers or the hand, though it can be moved by whichever part of the body the user is best able to control it with. The most frequently borrowed trackball that we have is the KidTRAC / MaxTRAC. The KidTRAC has coloured coordinated buttons, including a 'drag lock' button which makes it easier to move objects about on the computer screen. It is possible to replace all or any single button with a switch to separate the 'cursor movement' and 'button press' activities, reducing frustration for many users with poor motor control. We purchased additional units with USB connectors to increase their availability.

We have also added a BIGtrack and the IT Roll Starter Pack to the Loan Bank. The BIGtrack is an upgraded version of the old KidTrack, now incorporating sockets allowing switches to be used in place of its buttons. It has a large (3" diameter) ball and is aimed at young children.The IT Roll is a wireless trackball, with accompanying receiver, which would be particularly suitable for use with an interactive whiteboard.


A joystick can be a useful alternative to the mouse, particularly as many children are used to using (or seeing) a joystick to control a wheelchair or a computer game. (Note that you can't use a 'games' joystick to replace a mouse without a lot of fiddling with specialist software.) A number of specialist joysticks are available. The one that we have found most popular in the past is the Roller Joystick II, so we've added a couple to the Loan Bank. It comes with a choice of handles - a standard joystick, a T-bar, or a sponge ball.

We've added an Optima Joystick and a Mini PointIt joystick to the Loan Bank. The Optimax is a wireless joystick, similar to the Roller Joystick, though with a lower profile. The Mini PointIt is a small, accurate joystick, suitable for somebody with limited movement, but fine motor control.

Digitising Pad / Tablet

The digitising pad is a device with a smooth reactive surface that can be used to control the mouse pointer by finger (like the pad on most laptops) or with a finger. Finger control can be suitable for someone with limited movement, while the use of a stylus can sometimes help a person with RSI-related conditions arising from overuse of a mouse. The Wacom Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch Tablet can be used with either a finger or a stylus.

Other Options

This article has focused on some of the new additions to the CALL Loan Bank. Go to the CALL Equipment Bank and search for 'Mouse or Alternative' to see some of the other options that we have available. If you are looking to find out about commercial options currently available, we suggest looking at the Inclusive Technology, QED and Keytools web sites.

Using the CALL Equipment Bank

The CALL Loan Bank contains a wide range of equipment that can be used to support the communication needs of people with disabilities. Equipment available for loan includes:

  • simple communication aids
  • complex communication aids (note that in some cases these can only be borrowed if adequate speech therapy support is available for the loan)
  • switches, interfaces and mounting systems
  • specialist mouse and keyboard alternatives
  • reading and writing aids
  • switch-accessible toys

Loans are made for evaluation purposes and generally last for up to two months. There is no charge for loans. Most loans are made to Scottish schools for use by pupils with additional support needs, but the loan bank can also be used to support adults with disabilities in the community in Scotland. Further information is available in the Equipment Bank section of this web site.


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Hello from Craig!

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 27th October, 2011 at 11:59am

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Craig says hello.I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Craig Mill and I recently started working for CALL Scotland as an Assistive Technology Officer. I’ve always admired and respected the work of CALL so having the opportunity to work alongside knowledgeable, skilled and experienced colleagues is a real privilege and a great pleasure.

For those of you who don’t know me I’m probably better known for developing the free and open source portable programs such as AccessApps, MyStudyBar and Create&Convert which make up the EduApps suite of software.

Breaking down barriers

Like my colleagues at CALL I have a love and passion for technology. It still amazes me how technology can break down barriers to learning and provide real opportunities for learners with additional support needs to learn and live as full and independent lives as possible. And the good news is that technology is ever-changing constantly improving and helping to break down barriers for those who embrace it.

As everyday technology such as mobile phones, tablets and e-books become more powerful, affordable, and increasingly ubiquitous with integrated accessibility features as standard, inclusive and universal design are set to become the standard. What was once seen as ‘assistive’ or ‘accessible’ technology is gradually converging into mainstream. 

These are undoubtedly exciting times for all who work in education and technology. Set against a backdrop of economic cuts they are also challenging. While I’m a fan of commercial software I’m also acutely aware of the role that open source and free alternatives can play. Working at CALL will provide an opportunity to explore and develop the role and benefits that open source and free alternatives can offer to schools on tight budgets. You can see an exmaple of how schools are already using open source and free alternatives on the Education Scotland website.  

Apps, Apps and away...

Another area of change is the multitude of cheap and affordable ‘apps’ for both the iPad and Android platforms. Apps, iPads and Android tablets also offer both opportunities and challenges; particularly in the way devices and apps are managed, integrated and used within the curriculum. This is an area which still requires a great deal of research.

As you can see, there is much to do but ultimately my role is to support you in any way I can. If you’d like to discuss any of the issues I’ve highlighted or would like to find out how CALL can offer a range of support – then don’t hesitate to get in touch.



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Confusing Labels!

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 27th October, 2011 at 10:46am

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There was an interesting presentation by Professor Amanda Kirkby from the University of Wales at the Dyslexia Scotland Adult Conference 2011 held earlier this week. She made the point that 'labels' given to a child following a diagnosis of a condition such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism or ADHD can depend on who carries out the assessment. A teacher may suspect that a pupil has ADHD, but an educational psychologist may diagnose dyslexia and an occupational therapist may diagnose dyspraxia. Three different labels for the same child - all very confusing! In reality, the child may have all three conditions.

A study of a large group of children diagnosed as having dyspraxia (developmental coordination disorder) showed that 27% presented only with dyspraxia. 19% had dyspraxia and dyslexia, while a further 19% were eventually assessed as having dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD and autism. The remaining 35% were considered to have various other combinations of the four possible conditions.

Professor Kirkby's presentation is available from the conference web site.


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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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Free Text to Speech Options for the Mac

By Allan Wilson on Monday 10th October, 2011 at 4:04pm

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We've updated our quick guide to Free Text-to-Speech Options for the Mac. Rather than trying to cover all of the available options equally, the main focus is on the use of the built-in Apple text-to-speech system and on the free version of NaturalReader. Both of these programs will speak any text that you can select with a mouse. In the case of the Apple system you select the text to be spoken and press a key that you define to speak it. NaturalReader can speak text as soon as you select it, or when you press a button on its MiniBoard. NaturalReader can highlight text as it is spoken - changing the colour of the text as it is read out.

We've been finding that NaturalReader is prone to crash under Mac OS 10.7. Has anybody else been experiencing this problem?

We also look in a little more depth at the use of the Read Out Loud facility in Adobe Reader 10 for reading text in PDFs. This has improved compared with earlier versions of Reader, which offered options to read the whole document, or the current page (and was often very random in selecting text to be read!). Reader can now read out a single paragraph of text if you click in it. There is no highlighting so it is not always easy to see what is being read, but this is still a significant improvement on earlier versions. The program also seems to have a problem with reading text with a web link, just skipping the text and the link and moving on to the next word. Unfortunately Adobe Reader 10 cannot be used with older Macs with a PowerPC processor.

Download the Quick Guide from here.


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New Equipment in CALL: Keyboards

By Allan Wilson on Monday 3rd October, 2011 at 3:48pm

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Some people struggle to use a standard keyboard, so there are a number of alternatives available to support a variety of potential users. The CALL Loan Bank of Equipment and Resources includes many of these alternative keyboards. Additional funding from the Scottish Government recently gave us an opportunity to update and expand our stock of keyboards. Here are some of the new keyboards that we now have available for loan:

Jumbo Keyboards

There has always been a demand for keyboards with big, 'chunky' keys, with large lettering that are accessible for children with low vision, learning disabilities, or who have a physical disability that makes targeting difficult on a standard keyboard. Jumbo keyboards have been aiming to meet this need for a number of years, initially positioning themselves to compete with the more expensive Big Keys keyboards. The Jumbo has most of the keys present on a standard keyboard, only missing the numeric keypad, the Print Screen key and a couple of others; the Function keys are present, but have been reduced in size. The standard keys are enlarged, measuring 2.5 cm at the base, tapering to just under 2 cm at the typing surface. In some models, the letters (available in UPPER and lower case script) fill the space available, making them easy to read. Keys are colour coded, with consonants in green, vowels in purple, numbers in red, punctuation in yellow and the 'modifiers' in blue. Unlike some other alternative keyboards, there are Shift keys on both sides, allowing the user to attempt to use the 'correct' fingering for typing, though the size of the keys makes it unlikely that anyone could use the keyboard for 'touch' typing.

We have a number of different models available for loan:

  • White keyboard and keys, with black UPPER case lettering
  • White keyboard and keys, with black lower case lettering
  • Black keyboard, coloured keys with white UPPER case letters
  • Black keyboard, coloured keys with white lower case letters

We also have keyguards for a couple of the keyboards. A keyguard is a rigid sheet of clear Perspex (for the BIGKEYS) or non-transparent metal (for the Jumbo) fitting over the keyboard, with holes cut to match the position of the keys. Some peoole think the non-transparent keyguard is less distracting, visually. A keyguard isolates individual keys, making it easier to hit the right key without mistakenly hitting others en route, and also allows the user to rest their wrists / hands on the keyboard while they find the key they want.

Large Print Keyboards

We have also added to the range of Large Print keyboards that we have. Large Print keyboards are standard keyboards, but with the lettering on each key using a bold font and filling the space available. (The lettering on a standard PC keyboard typically uses only a quarter of the space available.) Different colour combinations are available, including white lettering on black keys; yellow on black; black on yellow. Similar effects can be achieved using keyboard stickers, but it can be less hassle to use a pre-printed keyboard, avoiding problems with stickers falling off.

Large Print keyboards are aimed primarily at people with low vision, or who require high colour contrast. They are much more suitable than large key keyboards (like the Jumbo) for somebody to learn to touch type.

Key Needs Special Keyboard

This is a large keys keyboard, similar to the Jumbo, but with a more restricted key set. There are no Function keys and there is only one Shift key. Lettering is in a child-friendly font, similar to Comic. This keyboard is aimed at young children who need enlarged keys, but do not require the added complication brought by Function keys. We have versions with black, upper case lettering on white keys and with white lettering on coloured keys.

Other Keyboards

The keyboards mentioned above were all purchased recently. We have many others that are also available for loan, including:

  • Compact / Mini keyboards - we have a number of different models, all with a standard keyboard layout, but with small keys positioned close together. They are suitable for somebody typing with one hand, or who has limited finger movement.
  • One handed keyboards - these are specialist keyboards (like the Maltron, FrogPad and CyKey) designed specifically for use by someone who is only able to type with one hand. While they generally have clever design features and are useful for some people, we generally find that people with physical disabilities prefer the familiarity of a standard keyboard layout, albeit they may consider using a compact keyboard.
  • Ergonomic Keyboards - these are aimed primarily at touch typists and encourage the user to hold their hands at an ankle most likely to reduce problems of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

Using the CALL Equipment Bank

The CALL Loan Bank contains a wide range of equipment that can be used to support the communication needs of people with disabilities. Equipment available for loan includes:

  • simple communication aids
  • complex communication aids (note that in some cases these can only be borrowed if adequate speech therapy support is available for the loan)
  • switches, interfaces and mounting systems
  • specialist mouse and keyboard alternatives
  • reading and writing aids
  • switch-accessible toys

Loans are made for evaluation purposes and generally last for up to two months. There is no charge for loans. Most loans are made to schools for use by pupils with additional support needs, but the loan bank can also be used to support adults with disabilities in the community. Further information is available in the Equipment Bank section of this web site.


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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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Speech recognition and SQA Digital Question Papers

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 23rd September, 2011 at 11:58am

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A common question we get from staff, parents and students is "Can I use speech recognition software to dictate my answers into the computer in an examination?" and so SQA funded us to spend some time trying to answer this. We've written a report with the results of the tests we've carried out on Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows 7 speech recognition, and WordQ+SpeakQ and you can download it from here.

We found that:

The accuracy and reliability of speech recognition software has improved considerably in recent years and all the programs tested were functional and seemed effective when dictating into a word processor. So if you want to use speech recognition to dictate extended answers into Microsoft Word for the Standard Grade English Writing paper, or Higher History, for example, then all of the programs can be used.

However, Windows speech recognition is not functional for dictating into SQA digital question papers, and so we do not recommend it for use in examinations unless the candidate is only intending to dictate into a word processor.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the most well known speech recognition program and can be used to dictate into both digital question papers and to a word processor. It is probably the most accurate, is relatively easy to train and use and gives voice control over formatting and over the computer in general. Dragon has text-to-speech for reading back the dictated text, and the Premium version can also play back a recording of the dictation to help with finding and correcting errors. For single user copies, Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium is available with an educational discount (£68) and the 100-user Professional school license at £895 would seem to be relatively good value for schools who wish to make the software available to a large number of pupils. The educational discounts are availabel through Pugh or

WordQ + SpeakQ is speech recognition software specifically designed for users who have difficulties with literacy. It uses the Windows speech recognition system, but accessed using a different, simpler interface. It has text-to-speech to help get through the training process; it can read back each phrase as it is dictated; it has text-to-speech for proof-reading; and it provides word prediction. SpeakQ can be used to dictate into SQA digital papers and also to word processors. WordQ + SpeakQ is arguably simpler to use than Dragon and the integrated text-to-speech and word prediction does make it a more attractive option for writers with reading and writing difficulties. WordQ + SpeakQ requires use of the keyboard and so it is not suitable for users who wish to control the computer completely by voice. A single user license for WordQ + SpeakQ is £199 and a site licence is £1995 from Assistive Solutions.

Speech recognition software may have considerable potential to enable some candidates to work independently and to rely less on scribes, and we are thinking it would be useful to organise some trials in schools to investigate this potential and to look at the practicalities of using speech recognition in exams. If you are interested please contact us.


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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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PDFaloud to be discontinued

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 19th September, 2011 at 4:22pm

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TextHelp, publishers of Read and Write Gold and PDFaloud, have decided that they will no longer sell PDFaloud as a standalone program. Since 2008, Scottish schools have been able to buy a site licence for PDFaloud for £295 from Learning and Teaching Scotland, under a special licencing deal. We helped set up this scheme because we felt that PDFaloud was a simple and easy to use tool for reading digital exams and other PDFs, and £295 for a secondary school licence we felt was relatively good value. I believe that Education Scotland still have two boxed sets still in stock so contact them quick if you want to get PDFaloud.

So, what are the alternatives if you want to have your digital papers or PDF textbooks read out by the computer? Here are some of the options:

Adobe Reader Read Out Loud

Adobe Reader has a basic built-in free text reader. Click on View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud. You can listen to the current page or the whole paper but a better method is to choose the ‘Select’ tool (Tools > Select and Zoom > Select Tool) and then click on some text. Read Out Loud will read the text where you have clicked. It won’t highlight the words, it usually reads a whole paragraph (and you can’t tell it to only read a sentence or individual word) but it’s free and built in to Adobe Reader.

Read and Write Gold

TextHelp's Read and Write Gold includes PDFaloud, and some schools or local authorities already have Read and Write Gold.  You need Read and Write Gold 8.1 or later because earlier versions can't read from Adobe Reader 8 or 9. Read and Write Gold can read from anything, not just PDFs, and the program has lots of other tools for suporting reading, writing and studying. However, Read and Write Gold is more expensive than PDFaloud at £320 for a single user licence, £1,150 for a primary site and £1,995 for a secondary site. TextHelp are offering to upgrade a secondary PDFaloud site licence to Read and Write Gold version 10 for £1,350. Read and Write Gold can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.


The latest version 5.7 of ClaroRead is much better at reading PDFs than previous versions, and it now does a good job of reading and highlighting the text in the PDF as it reads. Like Read and Write Gold, ClaroRead can read from anything including for example Microsoft Word and internet browsers. It also comes with good voices and tools such as word prediction, spellchecking and scanning. ClaroRead costs from £49 for a single user licence and various site licence options are available, e.g. £795 for up to 250 students, £1,050 for up to 1,000 students. ClaroRead can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.

Co:Writer 6

With the latest version of the Co:Writer word predictor you can select some text, click the >> button in the Co:Writer window and choose Speak to have it read out. The text is not highlighted as it is read. Co:Writer costs £39 per licence for Scottish schools, from Education Scotland.

Penfriend XL

The Penfriend word predictor can read text from a PDF. You select the text, copy it, and then Penfriend will read and highlight it in a separate window. Penfriend costs £24.99 per user for Scottish schools from Education Scotland. When you copy the text from the PDF, it adds a paragraph mark after each line, which means that the voice hesitates when it comes to the end of the line. This can be off-putting compared to PDFaloud and ClaroRead, which don't generally hesitate at the end of each line. Penfriend can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.

Free text readers: Natural Reader, IVONA Minireader and Balabolka

There are many free text readers available and we like Natural Reader, Ivona Minireader and Balabolka because they are straightforward and easy to use and work with the Scottish voices. With Natural Reader and Ivona, you select the text you want to read and then click the 'Play' button or press a hotkey. The text then gets read out, but it is not highlighted in the PDF as it reads. Like Penfriend, these programs generally hesitate at the end of each line of the PDF because they think there is a paragraph mark.

Alternatively, you can copy the text to the clipboard and then Natural Reader and Balabolka can read it out, and highlight it, in a separate window. This takes up space on the screen and is not as good as having it read and highlighted in the document itself. There is a 'portable' version of Balabolka which runs from a USB stick. Balabolka is also part of the AccessApps and MyStudyBar suites.


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New Equipment in CALL: Handheld Spellcheckers

By Allan Wilson on Friday 16th September, 2011 at 11:24am

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Handheld, battery-operated spellcheckers have been around for many years. To some extent they have been overtaken by spellcheckers built into word processors, or web-based systems, such as, but the handheld devices can still be very useful in schools, particularly for handwriting tasks. The Franklin devices have always been good at finding the correct word from an incorrect spelling - particularly when a phonetic spelling is involved, but there is always the issue of having to transfer the correct spelling from the device to handwriting.

CALL Scotland has had various Franklins available for loan over the years, but we recently purchased a couple of new devices so that the models we have more closely represent the current market.

Franklin Talking Dictionary (KID-1240) This is a relatively simple device, most suitable for use with primary-age children. Type the word to be checked. If the word is in the 44,000 word dictionary a definition will be offered, to help make sure it is the right word. The definition can be read back - speech is slow, with an American accent. If the word is not in the dictionary, various alternatives will be offered one at a time in a scrollable list. There is no real support for homonyms, other than using the dictionary definition, nor is there a thesaurus. The Talking Dictionary also includes a rhyming word facility and various word games (Hangman, Jumble, Flashcards, Guess that Word and Tic Tac Toe.) The text on the display is large, but there are occasional irritating animations.


Franklin Speaking Language Master (LM-6000b) The Language Master is a more sophisticated device, combining a speaking dictionary with a thesaurus and grammar guide. The screen is bigger than the one in the Talking Dictionary, but the text is smaller, allowing up to seven options to be shown when an incorrect word is typed. The ordering of the list is slightly better than in the Talking Dictionary, for example 'Phone' is first suggestion for 'Fone' in the Language Master, but is second choice (after 'Fawn') in the Talking Dictionary. The Language Master has a 130,000 word dictionary, with 300,000 definitions and 500,000 thesaurus entries. It has 12 built-in games, providing lots of opportunities to experiment with and develop language skills.

Using the Language Master as a Communication Aid

The Language Master can be used as a simple, relatively low-cost, text to speech communication aid. Simply type the sentence to be spoken and press the Say key. Voice quality is not great and the keys are small, requiring good fine motor control, but it could certainly be used 'in an emergency' by somebody with good literacy and typing skills, who may be unable to speak.

Using the CALL Equipment Bank

The CALL Loan Bank contains a wide range of equipment that can be used to support the communication needs of people with disabilities. Equipment available for loan includes:

  • simple communication aids
  • complex communication aids (note that in some cases these can only be borrowed if adequate speech therapy support is available for the loan)
  • switches, interfaces and mounting systems
  • specialist mouse and keyboard alternatives
  • reading and writing aids
  • switch-accessible toys

Loans are made for evaluation purposes and generally last for up to two months. There is no charge for loans. Most loans are made to schools for use by pupils with additional support needs, but the loan bank can also be used to support adults with disabilities in the community. Further information is available in the Equipment Bank section of this web site.


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Speaking with a Scottish Voice

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 14th September, 2011 at 2:44pm

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‘Stuart’, the new male Scottish computer voice was launched today at Hill of Beath Primary School in Fife. The new synthetic voice will allow learners in schools and colleges throughout Scotland to listen to text read from computers by a voice with a realistic Scottish accent. It will also be possible to use the voice in many communication aids, allowing many boys and men with communication difficulties to speak with a local accent for the first time.

Speaking at the launch, Children's Minister Angela Constance said, "Seeing young people use the synthetic voice technology today has been an uplifting and informative experience."

Paul Nisbet from CALL added that “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has funded CALL to work with CereProc to create Stuart. Since 2008, Scottish learners have been able to use Heather, the Scottish female voice, and so it’s great to have gender equality!

“From today, pupils with visual impairment, dyslexia or reading difficulties will be able to have books and learning materials and exam papers read out by Stuart, and boys with speech difficulties who use communication aids will be able to speak with a high quality Scottish computer voice.”

Funding from the Scottish Government has allowed CALL to work with Cereproc to develop and licence the voice for use in schools and colleges in Scotland, and for use by learners with additional support needs at home. ‘Stuart’ complements the female ‘Heather’ voice that was first made available to schools in Scotland in 2008. Both voices are available from the Scottish Voice web site.

Further information about the launch, and a video demonstrating the use of the Stuart voice with WordTalk can be found on the Engage for Education web site.


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