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6 posts written by Stuart Aitken
By Stuart Aitken on Wednesday 26th September, 2012 at 12:12pm
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has published new guidance on the reasonable adjustments duty on auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils. This duty duty took effect from 1 September 2012 in the UK, although the new guidance applies only in Scotland. The guidance is designed to help school leaders and education authorities comply with the reasonable adjustments duty, with a particular focus on the new auxiliary aids and services provision. It will also help disabled pupils and their parents understand the duty.
The practical examples included are designed to illustrate what would be expected of schools responding to and anticipating the support needs of disabled pupils for whom schools have to make reasonable adjustments. It includes practical case studies showing how the duty can be applied in contexts which will be familiar to teachers.
Many of the examples do indicate an awareness of, and draw on evidence for, the important role that ICT can play in providing assistive technology to help pupils to access the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence. As many schools may find it difficult or slow to access the EHRC website directly we've provided a direct link to the Guidance document itself which is in Microsoft Word (.doc) format.
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By Stuart Aitken on Monday 27th August, 2012 at 4:32pm
A well hidden feature in Microsoft Office 2010 is the option to speak text out. Yes, MS Office 2010 includes a text-to-speech feature. It is pretty basic but it is available.
As MS Office is integrated with Windows it means that whichever voice is selected in that computer's Control Panel will be used when you select Speak. If you have Heather or Stuart or both installed you can choose one or other of these high quality Scottish voices to speak the text. (You do this via the Control Panels rather in Word itself [Control Panels > Speech Recognition > Text-to-Speech, selecting the preferred voice from the drop down list.]
Because it is part of MS Word you can assign a Keyboard Shortcut to start and stop speaking text. This is very useful for pupils with a visual impairment, poor mouse control or simply because the pupil finds it quicker to use keyboard commands rather than mouse clicking.
MS Word is just one of the Office Programs that the Speak feature works with. It can also be made available to use with PowerPoint (yes talking PowerPoint), Excel and OneNote (one of our favourite programs that deserves more widespread use in schools). You follow the same steps to add the Speak feature in each program.
You can also add Speak to the Quick Access Toolbar and position the toolbar below the Ribbon to simplify the interface for pupils.
WordTalk versus Speak
So how does Speak, the MS Office 2010 text-to-speech feature compare with WordTalk, the toolbar designed to use with MS Word versions from Word 97 onwards?
In favour of Speak are the fact that it is built in not just to Word but to other MS Office 2010 software. It uses whichever voice is the Default voice used by the computer. Speak offers a range of text-to-speech options - by word, paragraph etc. A big advantage is that you can add Speak to the Quick Access toolbar, position the Quick Access toolbar below the Ribbon, and then Minimise the Ribbon (Right click on Ribbon > select Minimise). The pupil can then attend more easily to what he or she is reading or writing. Another advantage is that because it is a Microsoft product it should work smoothly with future updates to MS Office 2010 (and 2013).
Because WordTalk was designed by a teacher to support a pupil with severe dyslexia (who went on to achieve Highers), it includes features that teachers often find useful: Save as MP3 or Wav audio for listening to later; talking dictionary; an easy way to turn on and off keyboard shortcuts - a must for pupils who find it difficult to control a mouse or who just like to be able to access features quickly. The biggest advantage with WordTalk is that pupils who prefer to have text highlighted so that they can follow the text and listen to the spoken version can do so. They can also change the highlighting and text colour – useful for pupils with scotopic sensitivity problems.
Find out more
Weve prepared a Quick Guide on Finding and Installing the Speak Text feature in MS Word 2010. The Quick Guide covers finding and adding the Speak button, assigning a Keyboard Shortcut, how to add the Speak button to the Quick Access Toolbar and how to position the toolbar below the Ribbon.
To find out about using the Speak facility in additional languages visit Microsofts language site.
Once installed because the Speak feature is integrated with Windows it will recognise the language used within the text and read out in that language – provided the speech engine for the language is installed.
Well done Microsoft…now please bring back Large Icons!
Weve given Microsoft major pats on the back for providing an option to Speak text in Word documents (and in Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). It would be great if they would bring back a couple of really useful features from MS Office 2003.
We think Microsoft made a huge own goal by not providing a much used feature in MS Word 2003, PowerPoint, Excel - the option to use Large Icons in the toolbar.
The facility to record voice comments or voice notes is also available in MS Word 2007 and 2010 but it does not have the simplicity of MS Word 2003 – a feature that for many pupils was the difference between handing in work that they had produced themselves (recording their spoken answers in the document) or having to rely on scribing. MS Word 2007 and 2010 do provide this feature but for the pupils who are likely to benefit most, it is too difficult to access.
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By Stuart Aitken on Friday 4th November, 2011 at 11:57am
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 were 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
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By Stuart Aitken on Friday 8th July, 2011 at 9:05am
CALL staff were delighted and proud that Paul Nisbet, Joint Co-ordinator at CALL, was awarded the 2011 Principal's Medal at a special University of Edinburgh graduation ceremony. The award is in recognition of Paul's magnificent contribution for his services to the Scottish education community, and beyond. Sir Tim O'Shea, the University's Vice-Chancellor and Principal is shown presenting Paul with his medal.
In his acceptance speech to an audience of newly qualified teachers receiving their diplomas Paul drew attention to the work of CALL Scotland, contributions to enhance the lives of children, young people and adults with disabilities or who have additional support needs. That work has taken place over many years since CALL was established in 1983.
In addition to his regular work as a leading member of the CALL team, using assistive technology and computer software to support many hundreds of pupils in Scottish schools, Paul has taken a leading role in a number of innovative developments:
- In the 1980s he designed the original CALLbox and many other interfaces which allowed children with severe disabilities to interact with a computer for the first time.
- He helped develop the Smart Wheelchair, a computer-controlled wheelchair for children with severe and multiple disabilities, now manufactured in the UK by Smile Rehab.
- He worked in partnership with the Scottish Qualifications Authority on the introduction of Adapted Digital Exams - digital versions of exams for young people who are intellectually capable of passing, but are unable to use the traditional written format. Hundreds of children have used these digital papers to sit national exams - a world first for Scotland!
- He encouraged the development of WordTalk, an internationally-recognised text-to-speech reader for Microsoft Word that helps tens of thousands of people with reading difficulties.
- He has led the Books for All developments in Scotland, making books and print materials more accessible for people with a print disability.
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By Stuart Aitken on Wednesday 14th April, 2010 at 12:39pm
In the wake of growing evidence in favour of a 'return to phonics' for example from Tommy Mackay's Scottish Executive funded West Dunbartonshire Literacy project, a burgeoning market has emerged that offers a number of products, not just for early readers but also targeted at pupils who have difficulty learning to read. But which product to choose?
CALL Scotland was asked this question recently by someone enquiring on behalf of a pupil with dyslexia. It would have been nice to have been able to give a direct answer but at this stage it isn't yet possible to do that. Understanding why we still need to hedge our bets may offer useful pointers to others who find themselves trying to decide amongst products and suppliers.Sir Jim Rose's Dyslexia Review established a set of key characteristics or core criteria for a good quality phonics approach to reading which the Department for Education describes when discussing how to choose an effective phonics teaching programme. The site also provides links to a number of products and publishers that certify their compliance with the core criteria. NB A new stricter set of criteria has been produced and publishers are being invited to state whether their products meet the new criteria.
Is that enough? It's certainly a big step forward particularly in light of the fact that views were sought from independent assessors who agreed that they (the products not the assessors) did what they said on the tin. Why then is it not yet possible to state categorically that Product X should be used in preference to all others?
A clue lies in the term self-certification. Before any particular product can be favoured as the best method for delivering structured phonics it would need to meet more demanding criteria. With any 'branded product' we want to know that:
- The results showing effectiveness are acquired independently; trials are carried out by people who are independent of the product.
- Results are complete, there should be no gaps. If gaps do occur between pre-and post-tests they should be explained fully.
- There is a control group. In clinical trials for any new drug, more often than not the control group will receive some treatment rather than none at all. They will often be given the current 'best of the crop', raising the bar for any new product. It would be good to see one structured phonics approach being compared with others.
- If at all possible results should come from randomised controlled trials. Often, improvements are reported by showing improvements between pre-test and post-test data. This is helpful but does not allow the same degree of confidence to be placed in the results.
- Information should be given on types of reading test used and these tests should be widely accepted.
- Reading age scores should be provided as standard scores so that reading age is corrected for shifts in chronological age.
- To their credit some suppliers offer links to the data they obtained to support their case for the effectiveness of their product. We welcome this straightforward transparency.
- One of the lessons from Tommy Mackay's work was to show just how important it was to have clear step-by-step descriptions of what lessons were given each day and what procedures need to be followed.
- It is always good to see evidence collected being presented in peer-reviewed studies.
- At this stage the evidence is not quite there to show that any single structured phonics approach should be favoured against the others. Until then the advice remains - caveat emptor.
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By Stuart Aitken on Friday 5th March, 2010 at 4:52pm
Many pupils benefit from accessing worksheets and workbooks on a laptop or desktop computer. Instead of handwriting they can key in their answers or drag and drop words, symbols or images. They can also use spellcheckers, text-to-speech tools such as the free WordTalk and many other access tools.
But it can be frustrating for both pupil and teacher when the pupil accidentally – never on purpose – deletes or edits the question or other text or images. MS Word has a few net tricks that allow you to prepare worksheets or workbooks so that the pupil can enter text only into the answer boxes. The questions remain ‘read only’. Janice McCallum, of the Sensory Support Service South Ayrshire Council provided a handy guide: Making accessible worksheets and workbooks MS Word 2007. CALL Scotland prepared a companion version for those who use MS Word 2003: Making Accessible Worksheets and Workbooks MS Word 2003.