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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.

Update: 

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 http://inclusive.com/AT_boogie/at30.swf

 

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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 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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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 – callscotland@ed.ac.uk 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.

ClaroRead

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 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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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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New 'how-to' Books for All videos from CALL and Education Scotland

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 12th September, 2011 at 1:55pm

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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.

Essential viewing!

 

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New! CALL DataBase of Apps for Communication

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 12th September, 2011 at 10:20am

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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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Including All Children in the Scottish Children's Book Awards

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 6th September, 2011 at 12:30pm

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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. 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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New Video Case Studies on Assistive Technology from ACE Centre

By Allan Wilson on Thursday 1st September, 2011 at 11:54am

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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.

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New Equipment in CALL: Webcams and animation software

By Sandra O'Neill on Monday 29th August, 2011 at 5:25pm

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A new item in CALL is the Hue HD Studio which includes a webcam and animation software. The animation software (Zu3D) is available for both Mac and PC and the webcam comes in 5 different colours. The webcam can be bought separately so can be used, for example, with other animation software such as I Can Animate from Kudlian, in videoconferencing (GlowMeet) or even as a (very) cheap visualiser or document camera to share documents, science experiments, pupils artwork etc with the whole class. It plugs into the USB port either directly or for greater flexibility usingthe supplied 1.8m cable, has a good quality picture and an internal microphone which picks up sound well. There is also a button on the back of the camera which brings up the snapshot function when plugged into a compouter using the supplied AMCap camera software (WebCam Monitor on a Mac). This can also be used to record video.

Go to the Hue Animation website to see a video of a group of young children exploring the Zu3D software and making their own short video. If you buy the package it even comes with some plasticine to get you started but using plastic models and lego can be quicker to get going. The Zu3D website has ideas for using the software in the curriculum (Learning Tools), a useful video tutorial and a link to download a demo version to try it out.

 

Quite a number of schools in Scotland already have other animation software such as I Can Animate form Kudlian Software. I Can Animate is available for Mac, PC and as an App on the iPhone and iPad. The Kudlian website has links to a tutorial, a number of resources and a link to download a version that can be used for 5 days before purchase (or removal).

For an opportunity for hands on training CALL Scotland is running a half day of workshops on Saturday 1st October and I Can Animate is one of the sessions to choose from. Go to the CALL Scotland training area for more information.

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New Equipment in CALL: Tobii C12 and C15

By Sally Millar on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 3:10pm

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CALL has recently added the Tobii C12 and the Tobii C15 communication aids to its equipment loan bank. These are both high-end, fully featured PC Windows 7 based communication aids, that can be controlled in many ways, including the built-in touch screen, keyboard, mouse, headmouse, switches, joystick, or the optional eye gaze control unit, the Tobii CEye which slots on to the bottom of the device.

The C12 and the C15 are essentially the same, except for size. The C12 has a 12.1” touch screen and weighs 6.5lbs. (2.9 Kgs), while the C15 is larger, with a 15” touch screen and weighing 8.9lbs (4 Kgs). Both are ‘mountable’ on a table or wheelchair mount, rather than ‘portable’ (N.B. adding the eye gaze control unit increases the weight further and means that the device must be mounted – can’t use the integrated stand.)

Both devices come with Tobii’s own communication aid software installed (Tobii Communicator with Symbol Stix symbols), and the possibility of using the Tobii Sono Suite (for text and computer access). However, CALL has also installed The Grid 2 software, which is more familiar to many users (and has Widgit symbols built-in). PCS symbols can be added. Users can choose which software they prefer to use for personal communication via symbols and/or text. Either software gives access to e-mail, text messaging and chat, internet access and access to other computer applications. CALL has added the Scottish Voices, Heather and Stuart, to both devices.

These devices seem to be proving popular across the AAC community. The Tobii hardware offers: long-lasting hot swappable batteries; powerful processor (Intel Core Duo U2500); shock-mounted hard disk drive (60 GB); silent operation; 4 powerful stereo speakers; and a built-in camera. Infra-red environmental control facilities are also built in. The OS appears to be stable. The devices have a streamlined look, with a moisture-sealed surface, and no buttons on the front to distract the user. There are interchangeable side panels in different colours (though – small gripe – these don’t seem to fit too well, on our C15.)

The C15 might be a replacement for the original My Tobii P10 eye gaze computer, (no longer made) in that the large 15” screen area allows display of more symbols and text - or larger, more legible symbols that are easier to see and select. The large screen also provides more screen estate for running other Windows applications.

(But if you only want to run Windows applications, and don’t want a communication aid, the other P10 replacement you might want to look at is the PC Eye - which CALL has also just bought for the loan bank – see separate CALL Blog item, coming soon!)

The C12 is comparable in size & weight to its nearest AAC competitor, the DynaVox V Max + (which also allows attachment of an eye gaze unit) but for d irect access users, the C12 is significantly bigger and heavier than the DynaVox Maestro or the Vantage Lite.

If a user can access the smaller device, the C12, successfully, it is obviously desirable to have the most compact device possible, and also means the user’s face is not as ‘blocked off’ from communication partners, as it might be by a big device (better for wheelchair driving, too).

As with all CALL’s comp lex communication aids, these devices will be available on loan to CALL assess ment clients (as a priority) and to others who have undergone training in their use. However, these devices are on ‘restricted’ loan in that they will be being used a lot by CALL for assessment, and for demonstrations and training, so not available to people who might just want to ‘have a look’. (NB. The CEye eye gaze control unit is a separate equipment item, and CALL only has one of these, so it can only be attached to the C12 or the C15 at any given time, not both.)

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New Equipment at CALL: Tobii S32

By Joanna Courtney on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 2:55pm

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Tobii S32 Scan

The Tobii S32 comes in Touch and Scan models. CALL has the Scan model, which is more expensive but has more features, so is good for assessments.

The Scan model can be used with direct touch to the buttons and a set of 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 16 or 32 keyguards, which come with it , or by 1 or 2 switch scanning.

The S32 Scan plays back pre-recorded messages, or IR signals and environmental controls and has up to 60 hours of recording time.

It works by using a barcode system, so you can record hundreds of messages or sounds into the device, but it will only play back messages that relate to the overlay that is inserted at the time.

Overlays are made using Tobii SymbolMate software, which comes with the device and has to be used to make the overlays (rather than e.g. Boardmaker), as it prints out a unique barcode along the top of the overlay so that the correct recordings can be recognised by the device.

Symbolmate comes with over 15,000 Symbolstix symbols, but also supports PCS, Widgit and other symbol sets, which need to be purchased separately. CALL's Symbolmate software uses the Symbolstix symbols.

There are a variety of switch access settings and auditory recorded prompts can also be used for those with processing or visual difficulties.

The scan light is a small green light at the top right of the cell, which is not especially clear or easy to follow.

The device does have some nice additional features like 'function cueing' where you can have from 2 to 6 buttons pressed in sequence and then spoken out in full at the end (to encourage sentence building). However, it is a rather expensive for a paper-based recorded speech device and requires getting familiar with new overlay-making software and keeping track of all the overlays which are created.

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