New accessibililty features in Google Apps

Google has recently made some important accessibility enhancements within Google Apps for Education. 
Google Docs and Google Sites have new keyboard shortcuts and better screen reader support with support for two screen readers: JAWS and ChromeVox.  Members of the blind community can now use JAWS, VoiceOver and ChromeVox within Google Calendars to manage your calendars, create and edit events or simply browse your events.

For more information on Accessibility within Google go to http://www.google.com/accessibility/

Books for All Scotland event

Stirling Management Centre, 18 March 2011

Learning and Teaching Scotland, in partnership with CALL Scotland are hosting this learning day.

The purposes of the conference are:

·         to support teachers, early years practitioners and senior managers to improve access to the curriculum for pupils with print disabilities who need print to be in accessible alternative formats.

·         to give strategic managers and practitioners the chance to learn about these developments and discuss how to implement them in their own context to ensure best value

·         to encourage individuals in their authorities to share their learning with colleagues to sustain and expand work in this area.

Significant developments have taken place to make it easier for pupils and teachers to find existing accessible resources, to use them with pupils, to make them if they don’t already exist and to share them under new copyright arrangements. These developments will help authorities and schools to meet their equality and accessibility responsibilities.

LTS plans to involve colleagues from Scottish Government, HMIE, CALL Scotland, SQA, CLA, RNIB and publishers as well as managers and practitioners. This partnership event is aimed at both educational practitioners and strategic personnel.

 To reserve a place at this event please contact Anne Marie Lamont at a.lamont@LTScotland.org.uk.

‘Stop and Stare’ campaign by RNIB

Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland

‘Stop and Stare’ campaign

 A forum of blind and partially sighted young people in Scotland have launched a national campaign to raise awareness of what being young and living with sight loss is actually like. They hope the campaign, called ‘Stop and Stare’, will help combat the isolation, exclusion and bullying that some forum members have experienced in school and on the street.

To kick it off, the Haggeye forum – set up by RNIB Scotland three years ago to represent young people aged 12 to 25 – unveiled a new digital resource-kit for schools at a launch event in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on Thursday 16 December. The kit includes a USB stick with audio testimonials from young people explaining their sight loss condition and how it impacts on their lives, a short audio-described video outlining how to guide someone who is blind or partially sighted, as well as general information about eye health.

 For further information, please contact Ian Brown at RNIB Scotland on 0131 652 3164

Ipads and disability

Ipads will be on many children’s Christmas list this year mainly because of advertised hype and the perceived ‘cool factor’ of possessing the latest Apple product.    It will keep children amused for a certain amount of time but depending on the apps installed, they will likely gravitate back to their laptop.

But for some children – and adults – the iPad could prove invaluable. Read this article which appeared in the New York Times about Owen Cain who has had motor neurone disease from infancy.  His parents say he is a normal boy trapped in a abnormal body.  “We have spent all this time keeping him alive, and now we owe him more than that,” said his mother, Ellen Goldstein, “I see his ability to communicate and to learn as a big part of that challenge — not all of it, but a big part of it.

The iPad has been a tremendous breakthrough and opens up endless possibilities.  So many of it’s features ideally suit those who have limited movements, hearing and sight.  Owen can have his arm hoisted into a position which allows him, with the lightest of touches, to read a book by flicking over the pages.  He even typed up, ” I want to be Han Solo for Hallowe’en” using the onscreen keyboard.

Read the story, watch the video.  It’s made me think, wonder, cry and plan.

Optometrist Specialising in Children’s Learning Difficulties

Dorothy Crystal is a Specialist Optometrist working in this field. Yesterday about 16 of us (support for Learning teachers, health professionals) were priviliged to hear her talk passionately about her professional interest in children, optometry and learning difficulties.  I shall try to summarise!

In Norway all children with ASN are assesses by optomerist as there is a proven high correlation between learning difficulties and visual problems – 61%.  Hearing assessments follow on from this. 

Children may have problems with focussing, binocular vision and binocular instability.  The latter difficulty can be a big problem as information is processed differently.  Simple daily exercises can resolve these issues in 97% of cases! If a teacher thinks a pupils may be dyslexic then a vision check should be carried out first however it is important to alert the optomerist that the check is requested because of concerns about learning. Should the screening indicate a problem then the child can be referred on to either Dorothy Crystall or the Eye Pavilion.

Visual Stress is the new term to replace Myles Irlen or Scotopic Sensitivity.  It is diagnosed through a proper clinical process.  Children may be tested for this if there is a family history of migraine or epilepsy.  Assessment for coloured overlays used to treat visual stress, does incur a cost of £40. These overlays may only be required for 6 – 9 months

Children with astigmatic problems (wobbly eyes!) may sometimes invert letters in words. The incidence of this is increasing particularly in children of drug abusing mothers. Astigmatism will affect reading however larger print may help. If Astigmatism develops (rather than congenital) then there is a pathological reason, usually a brain tumour.

Teachers can look out for a variety of signs – child covers one eye to read, holds book at an angle, turns head at an angle when reading, rubs eyes , blinks a lot, fine and gross motor problems.  If a child frequently daydreams s/he may be trying to correct blurry images. The history and symptoms provide the biggest clues for the optomerist. When using an Interactive Whiteboard the child should be directly in front of it. Copying from the IWB is usually very difficult for the child.

And of course the earlier the better for assessment – from P1 onwards.

Framework for Inclusion

The Scottish Government announced yesterday that a new initiative in teacher training – the National Framework for Inclusion – aims to ensure better classroom support for pupils with additional needs, such as dyslexia.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Fiona Hyslop launched the Framework which offers advice to encourage student teachers and qualified teachers to be inclusive in their teaching.

The Framework was funded by the Scottish Government and developed by the Scottish Teacher Education Committee (STEC), the body for the seven Scottish universities who provide teacher training.identifies the values and beliefs, professional knowledge and understanding and the skills and abilities, in terms of inclusive education, to be expected of both student teachers and qualified teachers. A further web-based resource will give support by providing relevant, high quality materials and documentation.

The document proposes under each of the headings (Student Teachers, Teachers, Advanced Professionals) what should be regarded as minimum expectations of teachers at each of the levels rather than as a hierarchical approach to anticipated engagement by teachers.

It aims to place a clear emphasis on the essential role played by the values and beliefs (Professional Values and Commitment) of each teacher in their commitment to the development of inclusive practice.

The Framework Document aims to be comprehensive but not prescriptive. It is question-based to encourage teachers to accept a shared responsibility for researching answers – and further questions – with the support of the web-based repository. It would be good to see staff in schools thinking about these questions in relation to all their pupils.

I really welcome the fact that it promotes inclusion as being the responsibility of all teachers in all schools and has tried to identify and to address the needs of teachers at all stages of their careers. It recognises and emphasises the need for career-long and life-long learning

‘Books for All’

CALL Scotland  recently ran this course in East Lothian – we’re all really enthusiastic and I’ll try to summarise here.

‘Books for All is about learning materials in accessible, alternative formats, for people who have difficulty reading ordinary printed books.

Most people think of Braille and Large Print when they think of alternative formats but in fact there are many more types of accessible textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, assessment and examination papers and other learning resources.

Similarly, it is commonly assumed that the pupils who need alternative formats are blind and partially sighted. In fact, there are many other groups of “print-disabled” pupils who can benefit from learning resources in alternative formats. For example:

Students who have a physical difficulty with holding books or turning pages can benefit from audio books or materials in a digital format on the computer.
Students with specific learning difficulties, dyslexia, or reading difficulties can read material if it is printed in a larger or different font, or on coloured paper, or displayed on computer. Many pupils with reading difficulties can also access information by listening to audio books, or by having the text read out by a computer.
Students with learning difficulties may benefit from simplified language, books printed in a simpler font or layout, or from books with symbols, or from audio books.
Students with hearing impairment may need simplified language, audio books or multimedia resources with signed video.’

At the course we learned about the copyright law and how to use a variety of free software to create accessible materials for our students. Many of these facilities are embedded in Microsoft Word.

We found out how to add comments to text, use document maps and headings, add recorded voice to text and loads more. The Scottish Voice (Heather), WordTalk and sources of free texts made this course really valuable. Now all I need to do is work my way through then CD rom and workbook!

Court upholds blind girl’s right to attend special school of choice

 http://news.scotsman.com/education/Exclusive-Court-upholds-blind-girl39s.4549358.jp

 

The Scotsman reports on how a couple successfully sued Argyll and Bute Council to secure their child a place at Edinburgh’s Royal Blind School.

For months, the local authority fought the McCullochs, insisting their visually impaired daughter was able to cope at a mainstream school. The parents strongly disagreed and were forced to take legal action. What ensued were two years of emotional and financial turmoil that almost destroyed the family.

The 15-year-old, who chose not to be named, has a cerebral visual impairment that restricts her peripheral vision and means she struggles to see colours and 3D. She suffers from a rare brain injury, which was not diagnosed until she was 11.  She started at Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh in 2005, but her parents became increasingly concerned she was not getting an educational package tailored to her needs. Worried for her safety after two serious accidents at the school in which she fell down a flight of stairs, they realised she needed specialist help.

In August, the family won the case, held in private at Dumbarton Sheriff Court. Their daughter now has a residential place at the Royal Blind School and enjoys specialist speech and language therapy, returning home at weekends. The case brings into sharp focus the issue of how best to educate children with special needs. While parents naturally want the best for their children, specialist facilities do not come cheap, and education authorities can find themselves facing a bill in excess of £100,000 for each child educated outwith mainstream schools.