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CALL Annual Report for 2010 - 2011 now available online

By Allan Wilson on Friday 27th January, 2012 at 4:46pm

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The CALL Scotland Annual Report for 2010 - 2011 is now available online.

Some highlights of the year include:

  • Closer links with key players in Scottish Education, including the Scottish Government, HM Inspectorate of Education and Learning and Teaching Scotland (now Education Scotland), the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Scottish ICT Dvelopment Group.
  • Partnership Agreements with 13 local authorities.
  • Input into development of new Scottish Government policy for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
  • 2,000 requests for digital papers in the 2010 diet of SQA exams.
  • 915 items listed on the Scottish Books for All Database, accessible through Glow and SCRAN.
  • 69 Hodder Gibson text books made available in accessible format from the CALL Books for All web site.
  • 15,042 downloads of the WordTalk utility to add text-to-speech to Microsoft Word.
  • 190,866 visits to the CALL web sites.
  • 81 pupils with additional support needs provided with assessment and support.
  • 99 support sessions delivered to schools.
  • 635 teachers provided with on-site training in local authorities.
  • 128 teachers attended courses in CALL.
  • 519 enquiries received and given a response.
  • 294 items added to the Loan Bank.
  • 142 new equipment loans made to children and adults with disabilities in Scotland.

Read about all this and more in the CALL Scotland Annual Report!


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iBooks 2, iBooks Author and digital textbooks

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 20th January, 2012 at 12:15pm

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Yesterday Apple launched iBooks 2, a new version of the iBooks app for iThingys; iBooks Author, a program for the Mac which is for writing and designing iBooks, and a range of interactive textbooks. The video about the interactive textbooks video a well worth a look - very promotional but also inspiring, and particularly relevant for those of us involved in supporting students with print disabilities.

Coincidentally, yesterday we ran a course for the first time on eBooks, Kindles and iPads. Preparing for it was an educational experience for Stuart, Sandra, Craig and I, and we learned a lot about the features and also limitations of Kindles, iPads and commercial eBooks.

A few observations, just from this one course:


  • Over half the teachers on the course owned a Kindle.
  • A teacher from a Primary unit for pupils with visual impairment has 6 Kindles and she says she's almost stopped using paper large print completely - she emails the materials to the Kindles and the pupils use large font sizes on the devices instead. It saves a lot of paper, printing and therefore money, and the pupils prefer the Kindles to most (not all) of the paper large print books (books with large colour diagrams might not be that good on the Kindle screen). It's also a lot quicker - printing out 800 pages of 36 pt text takes a long time, whereas emailing the file to the Kindles takes seconds. 
  • Another teacher on the course has a son who is dyslexic. He used to need coloured overlays to read books and was never a great reader, but he can see the Kindle screen display: she says he now spends hours reading books on the Kindle whereas before he never read for pleasure.   
  • Participants generally felt that the Kindle, iPad, iPod etc have a considerable 'cool' factor, which is of course a big issue. And because they are mainstream devices, you don't look that different if you use one to read books.
  • The eBook formats and readers are definitely becoming more accessible - bigger range of fonts, options to change colours and font sizes, better access with text-to-speech software.
  • Some public libraries (Edinburgh, Dundee and South Ayrshire, at least) are now offering eBooks on loan. You can borrow a book and read it on your computer, iPod, iPad, Android device etc.
  • The most exciting thing, for me, is the huge increase in the availability of books and materials - as well as Kindle, we have iBooks, WH Smith, Google Book store. Although the commercial eBook formats and readers may not give us everything we want in terms of accessibility (yet), they are getting there, and we are already seeing how the technology can give print disabled pupils access to learning materials in a way that is quicker, cheaper, easier and more independent than what we had before.
PS If you've not seen this fine example of a new page-turning technology, take a look - it's fun.




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Orang utans and iPads

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 17th January, 2012 at 12:18pm

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Well - the iPad is truly everywhere these days. Watch these fascinating videos - turns out that orangutans also like iPads!

They like to watch videos, paint, play kids' Apps, watch other orang utans via Skype, ebooks etc.

I have always been very interested in primate language studies and I'm now intrigued by how the situation has evolved. It started with  having the primate brought up as child in a psychologist's home with the careful teaching of sign language over many years - with interminable Behaviourist teaching & analysis of language 'performance'.  Now people are just using technology as a day to day tool for stimulation  - and the animals don't get ANY 'rewards', just the pleasure of intercting and playing with the device (take that, Skinner!)

And for communication, now just sticking photos on an iPad under its nose and saying "show me the 'x' "(hang on to the end to see iPad use).

Not too sure what to make of it all, though. Next step, it seems,  may be social networking?...(I can only fantasise about orang utans themselves signing up to Avaaz and all the online petitions against habitat-grabbing for palm oil plantations!)


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Communication Champion's Final Report

By Allan Wilson on Monday 16th January, 2012 at 3:10pm

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Jean Gross, Communication Champion for Children, has produced her final report as she steps down from office. Although her remit was restricted to England, 'Two Years On: final report of the Communication Champion for children' reflects on issues that are also very relevant for people with communication difficulties in other parts of the United Kingdom - and probably many other countries.

She was appointed to the post following the Bercow Review of 2008, which found that services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) were highly variable across England.

The report highlights a number of areas where there have been measurable improvements in services since 2008, but expresses concern about the actual provision that will be available for children with SLCN for the immediate future. There have been cuts to front line speech and language therapy services and to specialist advisory teaching services at a time when there has been a 58% rise in the number of children with SLCN.

Jean Gross spoke about the report on BBC Radio Four on 16th January, highlighting a number of issues.

The Report can be downloaded from the Communication Matters web site.


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Including All Children in the Scottish Children's Book Awards

By Robert Stewart on Monday 16th January, 2012 at 10:16am

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The 2011 Scottish Children's Book Awards is an innovative nationwide reading project in which children and young people from every corner of Scotland read and vote for their favourite Scottish children's books of the year. Votes MUST reach Scottish Book Trust by 5.30pm on Friday 27th January 2012 to be included in the final count.

Last year:

  • over 40,000 children registered and an amazing 17,000 votes were cast;
  • children and young people from every local authority in Scotland, from Aberdeen to Dumfries; Shetland to Arran, took part;
  • nearly 1,000 accessible copies of the books were provided to young judges by RNIB and CALL.

The awards were originally set up by the Scottish Arts Council in 1999 and are now run by Scottish Book Trust.

Children can vote for their favourite book, from a shortlist in each of three categories, either as individual readers or as part of a reading group in a school, library or bookshop. The shortlisted books are:

Early Years (0 - 7 years)

Younger Readers (8 - 11 years)

Older Readers (11 - 16 years)

But what about disabled children who can't read the books?

CALL Scotland has worked with the Scottish Book Trust and the authors and publishers to create accessible digital versions of the nine shortlisted books. The idea is that children and young people with physical, visual and reading or dyslexic difficulties, who can't read or access the paper books, can read the digital books instead and take part in the awards. For example:

  • children with spinal injury, cerebral palsy or other physical impairments can click a switch or press a key on a computer, to turn pages and read the books by themselves;
  • dyslexic readers or children with visual impairments can change the font size and/or colours on screen, or use text-to-speech software to read the books;
  • the books can be read out by the computer using "Heather", the high quality Scottish computer voice that is available free for schools and pupils from CALL Scotland's The Scottish Voice web site.

The books are available free of charge. Readers and schools can request accessible digital copies of the book(s) they wish to read via the Books for All website or phoning 0131 651 6236.


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Using Google to Search for Apps

By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 14th December, 2011 at 2:15pm

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The Teaching All Students site has an interesting Blog about using Google to search for Apps (iPad and Android).


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Slowing Down an Audio Book

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 13th December, 2011 at 12:27pm

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We were recently asked how to slow down the reading of text on an audio book by a teacher some of whose pupils have reading difficulties. She was using Barrington Stokes books, accompanied by audio on CD as her pupils found it easier to follow the printed text if they could listen to the audio recording at the same time. Unfortunately, the text was read too quickly for some of her pupils to follow easily.

If you are using Windows Media Player to play the audio recording of the book, it is possible to slow down the play back speed. 

  1. Begin playing a file.
  2. Click the arrow below the 'Now Playing' tab, at the top of the screen, point to Enhancements, and then click Play Speed Settings. (see image, right)
  3. Move the Play Speed slider to the speed at which you want to play the content, or click the Slow, Normal, or Fast link.

The full instructions are available online at:


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Can you use an App on multiple iPads?

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 6th December, 2011 at 10:22am

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A question I was asked recently is how many iPads (or iPod Touch and iPhone) can you put an App on? The answer to that would be as many as you want. However, that doesn't mean that these devices can then be used by a clasroom of pupils at the same time if only 1 licence for that App has been purchased. Some points from the Apple App Store Terms and Conditions for the use of a single licence App are highlighted at the foot of this blog post. 

What it looks like you can do is:

  • Sync the App to as many devices as you wish;
  • Use the App as an individual on all of those devices;
  • Use the App as a group of individuals (at a resource centre or library) on one of those devices;

What you are not allowed to do is give each of those devices to students and allow them to use the same App (single licence) at the same time. If you wish to do this then you need to purchase the App for each of those devices.

In the US there is an Apple Volume Software Licensing scheme available for education but this has not been made availble to the UK.

Apple App Store Terms and Conditions

  • (i) If you are an individual acting in your personal capacity, you may download and sync an App Store Product for personal, noncommercial use on any iOS Device you own or control.
  • (ii) If you are a commercial enterprise or educational institution, you may download and sync an App Store Product for use by either (a) a single individual on one or more iOS Devices used by that individual that you own or control or (b) multiple individuals, on a single shared iOS Device you own or control. For example, a single employee may use an App Store Product on both the employee's iPhone and iPad, or multiple students may serially use an App Store Product on a single iPad located at a resource centre or library. For the sake of clarity, each iOS Device used serially by multiple users requires a separate licence.
  • (iii) You shall be able to store App Store Products from up to five different Accounts at a time on a compatible iOS Device.


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New text-based communication aid from Toby Churchill

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 1:45pm

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Toby Churchill Ltd. are preparing to launch a new communication aid, the Lightwriter Swift  - a pocket sized dedicated text-to-speech communication device - reportedly the smallest device of its type in the world.

You can see the new device on it's UK Launch Tour, in Edinburgh, at the Corn Exchange on 7th February 2012. Get the date in your diary now.

Sign up ASAP for a free morning, afternoon or evening (6pm) seminar - or just drop in to the 'Swift Cafe' between 10 am and 8 pm.


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Games and Toys for Christmas?

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 11:38am

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At this time of year, therapists and teachers often get asked by parents and grandparents for ideas about toys, gadgets or software that might make a suitable Christmas present for their family member who has access or communication support needs.

Without wanting to promote one supplier above any others, and with no commercial interest, we note that Liberator Ltd. has recently added some nice switch toys to their range, is selling a switch operated digital camera cheaper than some competitors, and also has just opened their 'Christmas Store' with a range of toys, switches and low tech communication aids, many at special 'Sale' prices.

For professional use, I liked the 3 for 2 low tech communication books


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New Video and Quick Guide index on the Books for All web site

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 22nd November, 2011 at 6:11pm

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We have added a new section to the Books for All web site which gathers together all the quick guides and also the new video guides on the Education Scotland web site, into separate pages. It should be much easier to navigate and find the resources you need. 

We'll be adding to these in the coming months and if you have any suggestions for topics that need covered please add a comment or let us know.


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Does Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 run on a netbook?

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 22nd November, 2011 at 3:36pm

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CALL recently carried out an experiment to see how well a Toshiba netbook would cope with Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 (Dragon). Dragon is a speech recognition software package developed and sold by Nuance. The netbook used was a Toshiba NB250 which offers reduced computing power when compared to a full-sized laptop and Nuance don't recommend the software for use on a netbook.

Dragon seemed to run fairly well on a netbook and so we've uploaded the video of the Dragon software testing to YouTube which shows how well the netbook coped and also a comparison between running Dragon on a 1Gb and 2Gb RAM netbook.

If you're interested in speech recognition then you may also like to see a report produced by CALL entitled 'Speech Recognition software in SQA Assessments'.


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Nook Study - Another Text-to-Speech Option for PDF Files

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 22nd November, 2011 at 3:31pm

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Barnes and Noble's Nook Study was designed for downloading and reading eBooks purchased from Barnes and Noble, but it can also read PDFs. You have to register to download the software, but it is free to use. Simply use the Add Item facility to copy the PDF from your computer to the Nook Study library. If you open the document, it will appear with its PDF formatting intact in the Nook Study reader. Individual words are highlighted with an orange block when they are read. It uses the default voice on the computer - Heather in the case of my laptop.

CTRL-ALT-S activates speech, then the following commands are available:

  • H - Help
  • Space - Start / Stop Reading
  • P - Start Page Over
  • A - Go Back one sentence
  • S - Restart current sentence
  • D - Skip to next sentence
  • R - Last phrase
  • W - Currently focused element

Far from perfect, but a lot better than the Adobe Read Outloud facility, for reading PDFs if a school / parent hasn't got Read and Write Gold / PDFaloud / ClaroRead.

I had hoped that it could be used for digital exams, but the facility for typing into forms seems to have been disabled, though you can type into sticky notes.


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Adobe Reader X and PDFaloud 3.0 - don't bother

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 18th November, 2011 at 4:20pm

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When Adobe Reader X first appeared we tested it and said that it worked with PDFaloud 3.0 (see previous blog). This was true, on my ancient Windows XP laptop. However, we've now been using it for some months on a range of different machines and operating systems and it simply hasn't been reliable. On Windows XP, the Reader X/PDFaloud combination seems to work a lot of the time, but it's definitely bad news on Windows 7: I just got a new laptop and it doesn't work at all.

As previously reported, TextHelp are not going to upgrade PDFaloud 3.0 and have stopped selling it through Learning and Teaching Scotland.

TextHelp say that their latest Read and Write Gold 10 includes a version of PDFaloud which does work with Adobe Reader X, but Read and Write Gold is a lot more expensive than PDFaloud was (1995 for a secondary school site licence).

So our advice is: stick with Adobe Reader 8 or 9; don't upgrade to Reader X. If you have to have Reader X, take a look at some of the text to speech tools listed in the previous blog.


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iPads and specialised communication aids

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 11:06am

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Words of wisdom from the wonderful Jane Farrall, SLT at Spectronics in Oz. Everyone needs to read this. Keep reading into the second half of this short article. In summary, the iPad is fabulous but it is NOT necessarily the miracle answer to every aspect of all children's communication needs. Thanks Jane!

Jane's words reflects my own experience. It's really not an 'either / or' scenario. These days I often find myself recommending a complex specialised communication aid for school and as the 'main' resource for developing language and communication AND - yes!, why not? - a lovely iPod / iPad  (which often parents have already bought or are happy to buy themselves) for use at home/ for fun / in social situations/ out and about / when travelling etc.

But I get scared and angry when I hear about someone who has apparently recently 'advised' Scottish Government and local authorities that nobody needs an expensive communication aid any more, because an iPad and free or cheap Apps can do it all. This is an over-simplified and dangerously misleading approach that is not in the best interest of vulnerable children and adults who cannot easily speak up for themselves. People with complex communication support needs require the most appropriate and the best solution(s), not just the cheapest / most fashionable.



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