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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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Tarheel Reader Books on iPad

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 10:32am

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Jane Farrall in Melbourne Australia has just published on her blog a really useful step by step instructions for how to get a free book from the Tarheel Reader site into an iPad. Good way to make appropriate materials available without having to make them yourself. (You could also run the book online, which would be even quicker and easier, but downloading it as a powerpoint into iBooks means it can be always available and stay there for the child to enjoy again and again.

If you don't know about the TarheelReader site, go and have a look. There are many short and very simple stories there, freely useable and downloadable, made in Powerpoint, all with picture and speech support, one line of text, ideal for our emergent readers and learners with complex additional support needs. For example , see here, 'my cat is fat' (choose a voice on top left and off you go). (The quality can be a bit variable, so you do need to check before you select a book for a pupil. Some are a bit too 'American- mind you, there's nothing to stop us uploading our own books to the site, good idea!)


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Story Sequencer

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 7:17pm

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Haven't tried it yet, but this NASEN Award winning product, the Story Sequencer, looks like a usefully flexible (and pretty cheap) tool.


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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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