Summer fun for young people with additional support needs


There is a variety of dedicated sports and leisure activities for children and young people aged 5 – 16 years with a range of disabilities.  These activities will feature higher levels of support from volunteers and provide personal care where required.  The support ratio will be 1 volunteer to 2 young people unless notification of 1:1 support is requested in advance. Siblings are also welcome to participate in these activities.  Have a look at the brochure ASN Summer Activities-1 for full list of activities and sign up details.

ICT and Inclusion

I attended the ICT and Inclusion Day at the CALL Centre last week. It was an ideal opportunity to  see the latest hardware and software and hear practical, information-packed, short presentations on a wide range of topics all geared towards learners with additional support for learning needs. I was able to  meet and network with colleagues, make some interesting new contacts and chat with presenters and suppliers.


School and authorites are obliged under Disability and Equality legislation to consider how they can provide learning resources in accessible formats for pupils with disabilities. CALL Scotland have created a database of books currently available and provide training on how to adapt books.   Hodder Gibson are offering free digital copies of their resources subject to a print copy having been bought and also subject to very strict copyright terms and conditions.  Action:   I am keen to establish how we take this forward in East Lothian and ensure pupils can be provided with  books in an alternative formats when required.  Do we have a Print Disability Copyright Licence?

Workshop 2Age Appropriate ICT resources for older students with complex needs

Fil McIntyre from BRITE Centre reviewed some resources (keyboards, mice, switches) that are not highly coloured or involve gimmicky animals and therefore would suit older students.  The exception was for visually impaired students who often prefer bright colours and colour contrasts.  Action: Identifying software and reading material that is age and ability appropriate.

Workshop 3: Read and Write Gold 10 demo

This assistive software is designed to help those with dyslexia, literacy difficulties and English as a second language.  The PDF Aloud feature converts text to speech and the writing support tools allows users to study independently in an inclusive environment. We have a site licence for  high schools in East Lothian so it’s  installed on all computers but may be an underused resource.   Action:  Cost the upgrade to R & W Gold 10; arrange training sessions for SfL staff

Workshop 4:  Optelec – visually impaired hardware

We were shown a range of powerful hand held magnifiers and braille notetakers.  They were very similar to the Humanware products that have been bought for visually impaired and blind pupils in East Lothian.  Action: Share this information with Visually impaired service.

Workshop 5: iPods and iPads for Communication

A variety of communication apps have been created to enable pupils to communicate using voice output.  There are a number of downsides to consider… even top of the range AAC app Proloquo2go has no alternate access options (key guards, scanning) and the UK voice choices are not great. It would be ideal if you could install Heather and the Scottish male voice that is currently being developed.

 Photo Story and Communication passport apps allow photos, videos, audio and text into a book format. The iPad having a larger screen makes this more visually appealing and easier to read but the iPod touch for portability is ideal for other users.  Action: Continue to pursue issue of obtaining access to iTunes store on school network so I can get some devices out to pupils to try out these apps. The idea being these popular mainstream devices are cost effective communication aids and almost as importantly, are very cool!!

Playing music on the iPad

Francesca Borghi, a  Music Therapy student at Queen Margaret University gave an excellent presentation to staff at the Hub yesterday on her final year research project:  An investigation into the potential of the iPad in Music Therapy.  She had been motivated to research uses for the iPad after reading about Owen Cain, a young American boy with motor neurone disease whose limbs are all in slings but he can use a gentle touch and swipe action to access music, books and a variety of other apps.  Have a look at this amazing film clip.

Francesca has been working with Greta, a 6 year old girl with quadriplegic cerebal palsy.  Greta has severe visual, cognitive and communication impairment and associated seizure disorder.  She was able to effectively use a knuckle to engage with a variety of musical apps (iOrgel, Harmonizer, Holiday Bells,  Bongos, Magic Piano) on the iPad 2 while Francesca would sing or play the guitar.

We watched several film clips of Francesca playing music with Greta while her mother supported her head.  It had taken some time to build up a relationship of trust and from there real progress was apparent. Greta was able to choose which app she wanted to use by clicking on the icon with her knuckly.  She was clearly engaging with the music and enjoying herself.

The potential for use of the iPad for pupils with severe and complex learning needs is huge. These devices could be used by many pupils in a many different ways and supported easily by staff.  The management issues over accessing  the iTunes store on the school network to obtain apps needs to be overcome.

Which male voice is best?

For a young person using a communication aid, the quality and sound of a computer generated voice is very important.  The ‘Heather’ female voice was developed successfully and was popular for its authentic Scottish accent and tone.  But there was never a suitable male equivalent voice.

After much petitioning and campaigning to address this inequality, Scottish Government have awarded CALL Scotland funding to work with Cereproc to develop a male Scottish Voice, a ‘brother’ for the Heather voice. 

Other purposes for computer generated voice output are:

  • reading  of SQA digital exam papers
  • reading back text composed in Word with WordTalk
  • reading digital books and other materials

CALL Scotland have ‘audition’ pieces from six actors, any one of whom could provide the voice that will be used on computers in schools, colleges and other centres throughout Scotland. They are asking for your help to decide the ‘best’ voice, from which the computer voice will be created.

CALL  have set up a PDF with samples of the voices which you can download from:

 Open the PDF with Adobe Reader and then you can click on the different samples to hear the voice. If you want to hear a sample twice, zoom in a bit because the ‘Play’ button is a bit tiny.  Once you have completed the form you can email your comments, and most importantly, score the voices in order of preference to 

Your help is much appreciated.

Grid 2 Training opportunity

There are a few available places on a training course to learn about Grid 2 software.  The Grid 2 allows people with limited or unclear speech to use a computer as a voice ouput communication aid, using symbols or text to build sentences. In addition to this, you can send and receive email and sms messages, browse the web, listen to music and more.  The Grid 2 is accessible to everybody, accepting input from switches, headpointer, touchscreen, mouse, and other options too such as Eye Gaze.

Training is being held at Musselburgh Grammar on Friday 21 January starting at 9:30.  Please contact me if you are interested in attending or have questions about the software.

A Final (I hope) comment on voice recognition software

I have spoken with representatives from both Enquire and the ASN Division of the Scottish Government Both are very clear that their role is not to give advice to parents on specific supports but to provide information about the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004. They were apologetic.

They defend themselves by saying that any specific enquiry is always greeted by a recommendation to parents that they contact their school.

The advert that appeared last week was written by the Government’s marketing department with reference to the Code of Practice which was agreed after consultation with professionals across Scotland. Here is Chapter 2, paragraph 13:

13. Examples of additional support provided from within education services to children and young people are the following:

  • a support for learning assistant supporting a child with an autistic spectrum disorder in a nursery
  • class teacher helping a child by following a behaviour management programme drawn up in consultation with a behaviour support teacher
  • tutorial support from a support for learning teacher to help with a reading difficulty
  • use of communication symbols by a child with autism
  • designated support staff working with Gypsy/Traveller children on their site to help them improve their literacy and numeracy skills
  • in-class support provided by an English as Additional Language ( EAL) teacher for a child whose first language is not English
  • a more able child at the later stages of primary school receiving support to access the secondary mathematics curriculum
  • use of voice recognition software by a child with dyslexia.

Yes, the contentious software is mentioned right at the very end. I am most curious to know which professionals working in the field of dyslexia in Scotland felt that this was the most commonly used and widely regarded example of good practice. (And, no, I didn’t contribute to the consultation about the draft Code so I must take some responsibility for the erroneous, or at least heavily biased,  information being purveyed by the government and Enquire. There’s a lesson there.).

In my rough and ready estimate, about 1% of 15 – 18 year olds may be enabled to express themselves more effectively with voice recognition software; while about, ooh, 90% of learners with literacy difficulties are already benefitting from using WordTalk – a free resource developed in Scotland, available to families at home at no cost and easy to use.

I was given an assurance that in future other more frequently deployed supports will be offered as examples, although the ‘Just Ask’ campaign is now drawing to a close.

While I appreciate the civil servant’s acknowledgement that the use of this example was ill-advised, this does not help us to support those parents who feel that we have let them down by not offering this software as a matter of course. It is natural that parents will want the very best provision for their children; that’s their job. But to set them up for almost inevitable disappointment, and create conflict where none need be, negates the whole notion of partnership and calls into question teachers’ knowledge and understanding of dyslexia and the plethora of provisions we already successfully make.

(A Piece of) Humble Pie

Voice Recognition software: a view

I was at a meeting yesterday with the parents of a 9 year old boy whose dyspraxia and dyslexia are so severe that he has immense difficulty expressing himself on paper or with a computer. He benefits from using mind mapping software to help planning and organisation and, while using a digital voice recorder quite efficiently, prefers to have a person to help him to order his thoughts and scribe his responses. He is exceptionally thoughtful, has a wide general knowledge and interest in many things and a very highly developed sense of his own strengths and difficulties.

In a personal project about dyslexia and dyspraxia he declares that

even if I could get the dyslexic and dyspraxic bits out of my DNA I wouldn’t as it makes me creative and who I am. I have learned lots of coping strategies aand have been given lots of help to get around the things I find tricky… I might invent something amazing when I’m older because I have great ideas.

His parents showed us the above video made by a 16 year old, Rhodri Buttrick, explaining how voice recognition software has enabled him to study. His story really seems extraordinary and it may be that this support will work for this particular pupil with his specific range of challenges and abilities and supports from home too.

The CALL Centre on voice recognition software

Speech recognition software has been presented as a panacea for pupils with writing difficulties, but the reality can be very different! While there are a few schools where speech recognition has been used with pupils with great success, there are many more where it has been tried and quickly abandoned.

The CALL Introducing Speech Recognition in Schools project aimed to investigate best practice in schools where speech recognition was being used successfully, and develop and evaluate training materials to help other schools get going with speech recognition. It was funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department.

The main outcome of the project was a Training Pack (comprising a book and a CD) for schools to use when introducing speech recognition in schools. Copies of the books and CD were sent, free of charge, to all secondary schools in Scotland in March 2003. The pack includes:

  • Guidance on identifying pupils who might benefit from speech recognition;
  • Technical hints and tips on installing and operating the systems;
  • 10 Lesson Plans, with exercises, for introducing speech recognition to pupils;
  • Advice on management of speech recognition systems in schools.

The Pack was evaluated by 40 secondary schools in Scotland from November 2000 to March 2002, and modified in response to comments from staff and students. We chose to focus on Support for Learning Departments in secondary schools, rather than special schools or units, because the largest potential group of students are those with specific learning difficulties in secondary education.

Training Packs

Below are links to these training packs:

Thanks to S O’Neill through the ASN Glow Group for this link.

Voice Recognition Software 2

I am still going on about the ‘Just Ask’ campaign about the suggestion that ‘a pupil with dyslexia may benefit from use of voice recognition software’.

As I wrote in my last post, I feel this is a most unhelpful statement, practically guaranteed to set parents in opposition to schools. Focusing on this one area that is, as  as I understand it, the least well regarded and least used support is staggering. There are so many supports we can and do offer to children with literacy difficulties in schools that to name this one, in my view erroneously, seems designed to cause friction between those parties who have the interests of the children most at heart: their parents/carers and their teachers.
The British Dyslexia Association has a very comprehensive summary of ICT supports for learners with dyslexia. It includes a useful list of focused questions to help audit diverse learning needs and map provision planning.

The paper summarises the supports that will be familiar to most of us who work in schools with learners with literacy difficulties.

At the very bottom of page 6 comes a reference to voice recognition software (look closely):

Offering alternatives to writing as key method of recording.

Dyslexic learners enjoy using alternative forms of recording [I loathe such blanket descriptions, but hey ho] and often use strengths in pictorial imagery in their learning. ICT can support this with the use of digital images and clip art, digital cameras, multimedia presentations and video cameras for example.

Recorded speech using tapes, minidisk or digital recorders offer low tech solutions.

Voice recognition software may be appropriate in some cases, especially at KS 3/4 where the demand for writing in all curriculum areas increases both in volume and difficulty.

I am awating a reply from Enquire Scotland as to their reasons for the inclusion of their misguided information. I am hoping that they can direct me to some research and/or practitioners who have found voice recognition software the most indispensable support for learners with dyslexia. I would be delighted to have my mind changed!

Why don’t you write too?