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9 posts for September 2011
By Paul Nisbet on Friday 23rd September, 2011 at 11:58am
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 Dyslexic.com.
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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By Sally Millar on Wednesday 21st September, 2011 at 2:30pm
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, Patersons Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ. Tel - 0131 651 6235, Email – email@example.com 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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By Paul Nisbet on Monday 19th September, 2011 at 4:22pm
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 wont highlight the words, it usually reads a whole paragraph (and you cant tell it to only read a sentence or individual word) but its 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.
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.
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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By Allan Wilson on Friday 16th September, 2011 at 11:24am
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 Spellcheck.net, 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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By Allan Wilson on Wednesday 14th September, 2011 at 2:44pm
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 its 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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By Paul Nisbet on Monday 12th September, 2011 at 1:55pm
Earlier this year Stuart and I were videoed finding, using and making books in accessible formats, and the videos are now available on the Education Scotland web site. They provide a quick and reasonably (we think!) straightforward introduction to Books for All, and you can download the videos and the transcripts for CPD. The only unfortunate thing about the videos are the dodgy presenters.
There are also some very illuminating and useful comments from staff and young people about how accessible formats can be used in practice, and why it's so important for learners to have books and materials that they can read and access independently.
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By Joanna Courtney on Monday 12th September, 2011 at 10:20am
Over the past few months there have been more and more 'apps' available to buy, which could be useful tools for communication for some children and adults. These apps are available for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad and vary in their features, possible uses and cost.
Some of these apps have synthesised voice output (text to speech) as well as symbols and can be used as comprehensive AAC solutions (e.g. Touchchat AAC); some allow you to record speech along with symbols and photos to create a system similar to a 'communication book' or medium tech AAC device like a Go Talk (e.g. Tap Speak Choice); and some can be used very effectively for 'photo stories' or 'talking books' using photos, symbols and video to create personalised resources like social stories, communication passports, visual scene prompts and interactive photo albums of special events (e.g. Scene & Heard).
CALL has been keeping a keen eye on these developments and has started to compile a database of the apps we have found most useful or show most potential in the field of AAC.
We will be updating the database as new AAC apps come out and are tested out by CALL and will also be including apps for reading, writing and literacy in the coming weeks.
Check out the apps we have included so far on the CALL App Database
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By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 6th September, 2011 at 12:30pm
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. 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)
- Zac and the Dream Pirates by Ross MacKenzie
- There's a Hamster in my Pocket! by Franzeska G Ewart
- The Case of the London Dragonfish by Joan Lennon
Older Readers (11 - 16 years)
- Wasted by Nicola Morgan
- The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin
- The Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin
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.
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By Allan Wilson on Thursday 1st September, 2011 at 11:54am
Our friends in the ACE Centre in Oxford have recently produced a series of short video case studies illustrating different examples of the use of assistive technology to support learners with disabilities. There are 8 videos in the series:
- Aroob - The use of an iPod Touch with a communication app to support a mainstream primary pupil with aphasia following a stroke.
- Claire - A university student with cerebral palsy who uses a ruggedised tablet computer, accessed with a joystick and switch, to support her studies.
- Sandip - An adult with cerebral palsy demonstrates the impact that using a Lightwriter SL40 has had on his ability to communicate.
- Tamsin - A pupil in a mainstream primary school uses eye-pointing with a Look2Talk communication book to communicate with her peers and also uses a Tellus communication aid to access the curriculum.
- Tiago - A pupil with cerebral palsy uses a Tobii C12 eye-gaze system to communicate with staff and his fellow pupils and to access the curriculum.
- Darren - A Proxtalker communication aid finally provides a student with autistic spectrum disorder with an effective communication method.
- Kalvin, Mayar and Craig - Three secondary students with physical disabilities and learning needs use switches and low tech communication systems.
- Patrick - A pupil in a primary school uses an alternative keyboard and mouse to access the same software as his peers.