One aspect of modern technological life that might help us to keep some faith in humanity are the comprehensive assistive technologies that are built into, or free to download for mobile computing devices. Accessibility features, as they are loosely called, are a range of tools designed to support non-standard users of the technology. If you can’t see the screen very well you can magnify text and icons (1) or use high contrast (2). If you can’t see the screen at all you can have the content read back to you using a screen-reader (3). There are options to support touch input (4, 5) and options to use devices hands free (6). Finally there also some supports for deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people like the ability to switch to mono audio or visual of haptic alternatives to audio based information.
their mobile operating system iOS Apple do accessibility REALLY well and this is
reflected in the numbers. In the 2018 WebAim Survey of Low
Vision users there were over 3 times
as many iOS users as Android users. That is almost the exact reverse of the
general population (3 to 1 in favour of Android). For those with Motor Difficulties it
was less significant but iOS was still favoured.
So what are Apple doing right? Well obviously, first and foremost, the credit would have to go to their developers and designers for producing such innovative and well implemented tools. But Google and other Android developers are also producing some great AT, often highlighting some noticeable gaps in iOS accessibility. Voice Access, EVA Facial Mouse and basic pointing device support are some examples, although these are gaps that will soon be filled if reports of coming features to iOS 13 are to be believed.
Rather than being just about the tools it is as much, if not more, about awareness of those tools: where to find them, how they work. In every Apple mobile device you go to Settings>General>Accessibility and you will have Vision (1, 2, 3), Interaction (4, 5, 6) and Hearing settings. I’m deliberately not naming these settings here so that you can play a little game with yourself and see if you know what they are. I suspect most readers of this blog will get 6 from 6, which should help make my point. You can check your answers at the bottom of the post 🙂 This was always the problem with Android devices. Where Apple iOS accessibility is like a tool belt, Android accessibility is like a big bag. There is probably more in there but you have to find it first. This isn’t Google’s fault, they make great accessibility features. It’s more a result of the open nature of Android. Apple make their own hardware and iOS is designed specifically for that hardware. It’s much more locked down. Android is an open operating system and as such it depends on the hardware manufactured how accessibility is implemented. This has been slowly improving in recent years but Google’s move to bundle all their accessibility features into the Android Accessibility Suite last year meant a huge leap forward in Android accessibility.
What’s in Android Accessibility Suite?
Use this large on-screen menu to control gestures, hardware buttons, navigation, and more. A similar idea to Assistive Touch on iOS. If you are a Samsung Android user it is similar (but not as good in my opinion) as the Assistant Menu already built in.
Select to Speak
Select something on your screen or point your camera at an image to hear text spoken. This is a great feature for people with low vision or a literacy difficulty. It will read the text on screen when required without being always on like a screen reader. A similar feature was available inbuilt in Samsung devices before inexplicably disappearing with the last Android update. The “point your camera at an image to hear text spoken” claim had me intrigued. Optical Character Recognition like that found in Office Lens or SeeingAI built into the regular camera could be extremely useful. Unfortunately I have been unable to get this feature to work on my Samsung Galaxy A8. Even when selecting a headline in a newspaper I’m told “no text found at that location”.
Interact with your Android device using one or more switches or a keyboard instead of the touch screen. Switch Access on Android has always been the poor cousin to Switch Control on iOS but is improving all the time.
TalkBack Screen Reader
Get spoken, audible, and vibration feedback as you use your device. Googles mobile screen reader has been around for a while, while apparently, like Switch Access it’s improving, I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually uses it full time.
So to summarise, as well as adding features that may have been missing on your particular “flavour” of Android, this suite standardises the accessibility experience and makes it more visible. Also another exciting aspect of these features being bundled in this way is their availability for media boxes. Android is a hugely popular OS for TV and entertainment but what is true of mobile device manufacturer is doubly so of Android Box manufacturers where it is still very much the Wild West. If you are in the market for an Android Box and Accessibility is important make sure it’s running Android Version 6 or later so you can install this suite and take advantage of these features.
Since the year 2000 Enable Ireland’s Assistive Technology (AT) training service have run a Foundations in AT (5 ECTS) course certified by the Technological University Dublin (TUD). Those of you reading this post will most likely be familiar with AT and what a broad and rapidly evolving area it is. While overall the direction AT has taken over the last decade is positive and exciting, it has also become a more challenging area to work in. As a result, the importance and value of the Foundations in AT course has also increased and this is both reflected in, and as a direct result of the calibre of course participant we’ve had in recent years. The wealth of experience brought by participants each year helps the course evolve and develop, filling in gaps and offering new directions for technology to support people in areas beyond primary needs such as communication, access and daily living. Last month we began what is a new effort on our part to share with a wider audience some of the excellent work produced by Foundations in AT course participants with Shaun Neary’s post Accessible Photography – Photo Editing with Adobe Lightroom & the Grid 3. This month we will look at another area of creativity, music.
Alex Lucas enrolled in the 2018 Foundations in AT course. As soon as we learned about his background and experience, we knew that his involvement in the course was an opportunity for us to learn more about accessible music technology and practice. Alex is an academic (PhD research student in Queen’s University Belfast), a maker, a musician, a developer and a product designer. Before returning to studies, he had gained 10 years’ experience working in mainstream music technology with big name companies like Focusrite and Novation. In Queens he is currently researching “Supporting the Sustained Use of Bespoke Assistive Music Technology” and is part of the Research Group: Performance Without Barriers. He also works with Drake Music Northern Ireland.
We could be accused of having underutilised Alex, but our suggestion for his project was to produce a resource that would act as an introduction to people new to the area of accessible music technology. Alex chose to focus on the mainstream Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) application Ableton Live and Switch input. As well as the project document (download link below) he released 5 really excellent tutorial videos on YouTube, the first of which is embedded here.
Alex kindly agreed to contribute to this post so we asked him why he chose to focus on Ableton, to tell us a bit more about his work in inclusive music and a little about the research he is currently undertaking at Queens. Over to you Alex..
There are many software applications available for computer-based music production. Ableton Live is arguably one of the most popular DAWs. When first released in 2001, Ableton Live set itself apart from other DAWs through a unique feature called Session View.
Session View is a mode of operation which can be thought of as a musical sketchbook providing composers with an intuitive way to create loop-based music; a feature which is particularly useful when creating electronic music. When combined with Ableton Live’s built-in virtual musical instruments and devices for creating and modifying musical ideas, we find ourselves with a rich toolset for composing music in inclusive settings.
How this works with groups?
Music connects people; we see this often when conducting group-based inclusive music workshops, making work of this kind essential to Drake Music NI. There could be up to twelve participants of mixed abilities in a typical Drake workshop. As Access Music Tutors, we approach group workshops by first speaking to each participant in turn to identify their creative goals. One individual may have an interest in playing distorted synthesiser bass sounds, while another may prefer the softer sound of a real instrument such as a piano. Knowledge of an individual’s creative goals and their access requirements is used to select an appropriate device for the participant to use to control a virtual instrument within Ableton Live.
In addition to the Access Switches described in the video’s mentioned above, Drake Music also uses commercially available assistive music technologies such as Soundbeam and Skoog, and mainstream MIDI controllers such as the Novation Launchpad. It’s possible to connect several of these devices to a single computer running Live.
Together, the group make core musical decisions; i.e. genre, tempo, musical key. The workshop will proceed in one of two ways, either we jam together, or record each participant in turn, building up a composition gradually using overdubbing techniques.
OMHI – One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust
There are a handful of other organisations within the UK, working towards providing inclusion in music. One notable organisation is the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust (https://www.ohmi.org.uk/). Many traditional musical instruments are designed in such a way that they place a fundamental requirement on the musician; they must have two fully functional hands. This assumption results in the exclusion of some individuals from learning a traditional musical instrument. Furthermore, in some cases, accomplished musicians are not able to return to their instrument after losing the function of a hand due to illness or an accident. OHMI aims to address this shortcoming by running an annual competition which invites instrument designers to adapt traditional musical instruments to be played by one hand only. Many fantastic designs are submitted to OHMI each year. I’m particularly impressed by David Nabb’s Toggle-Key Saxophone (https://www.unk.edu/academics/music/_files/toggle-key-system.pdf) which retains all of the functionality of a standard saxophone while being playable by one hand.
Whilst OHMI primarily focuses on the adaptation of traditional acoustic instruments for inclusion and accessibility; my research centres on the challenges faced by disabled musicians in the long-term use of custom-made digital musical instruments.
In partnership with a disabled musician named Eoin at Drake Music NI, together we’ve been designing a digital musical instrument tailored towards Eoin’s unique abilities. Eoin has a strong desire to play electric guitar but as Eoin cannot hold a guitar, due to its physical characteristics, he has been unable to up until this point.
Using a motion sensor and an access switch, coupled with a Raspberry Pi embedded computer, Eoin is now able to play rudimentary guitar sounds using the movements of his right arm. We’ve tested several prototypes and are now in the process of assembling the instrument for Eoin to use both during Drake music workshops and at home.
As a musician, Eoin is the primary user of the device; however we’ve also been considering Eoin’s primary carer, his father Peter, as a secondary user. We’ve designed a high-level interface for Peter to use, hopefully allowing him to easily set-up the device for Eoin to use at home. We’re particularly interested in the longevity of the device, whether or not it’s viable for Eoin and Peter to use independently. Obsolescence can be a problem for assistive technology in general. Our current assumption is that obsolescence may be an issue with custom-made accessible digital musical instruments but hope, through this research to discover useful mitigation strategies.
A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse
functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free
control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers,
wearable sensors, speech recognition or even eye trackers. One other
possible group of devices are Lip and chin Joysticks.
These products are designed specifically for users with
physical disabilities. They are typically USB Plug and Play, which means they
will work with any computer platform that supports USB mice, including Windows,
Mac OS X, Linux, and Android. All can be customized using the built-in mouse
settings in the operating system, while some will also include setup software
for further customization.
To activate the mouse buttons. The IntegraMouse+, Jouse3,
and QuadJoy incorporate a sip/puff switch into their joystick, so that a sip
action clicks one mouse button, and a puff action clicks the other. Other
options are switches, the BJOY Chin has two circular switch pads, one on either
side of the joystick, which can be pressed using the chin or cheek. And the
TetraMouse has a second joystick that is devoted to button actions, right next
to the joystick for cursor control. Low cost options are the Tobias’ mouse and the
Flipmouse. This are open source hardware
and software projects with documented instruction on how to build and 3D
Print. The user moves the cursor by
using a mouthpiece. The right mouse button is operated by pushing the
mouthpiece towards the case. The left mouse button is emulated by a sensor that
recognizes if the user sucks air through it.
Some Lip and chin Joysticks options to consider are
Over the course of history there have always been single named women who have influenced our lives and Culture: Cleopatra, Maggie, Madonna, and now it’s the turn of Alexa! I have been curious and intrigued by the benefits of technological assistants with regards my disability, so I was very excited when Enable Ireland gave me an opportunity to try out Alexa in the form of the Amazon Echo.
How easy is it to get the Echo up and running?
initial setup of the Amazon Echo is very simple to carry out. You need to
download the Amazon Alexa app to your smartphone (get used to downloading apps
on your phone), the app will search for the device, the app will then connect
to the device through the devices own Wi-Fi signal, you then connect your
device to your home broadband, and hey presto within a few minutes your Amazon
Echo is up and running.
What can Alexa do on its own?
initial benefits of the Amazon Echo for a person with a disability are very
limited. You can ask Alexa what the weather will be like, what time it is, to
set reminders, and some other quirky less useful questions: “Alexa, tell
me a joke”, “What’s the capital of Finland?”, or more randomly
“Alexa, beatbox for me”.
the Alexa app you can enable other skills to assist you in your daily
activities. If you are into music you can add 🙂 your Spotify profile to Alexa,
this is very simple to do if you can use a smartphone. Alexa will then play
your playlists through its impressive speakers. This is very handy, even for
someone who is not into music much, as it means I don’t need to listen to music
through my basic phone speakers nor do I have to call someone to change a cd in
my stereo. It is great for podcasts as well, though as Alexa sometimes has
difficulty understanding people you might be better off setting up a playlist
through your Spotify app first if any of your favourite podcasts have quirky
names like my favourite Arsenal podcast Arsecast by Arseblog!
you have vision impairment, have difficulty holding a book, or you just like
Audiobooks you can quickly add your Audible account too, tilt back in your
chair and listen to your favourite book or a new release. It can also update
you with the latest news, traffic, and weather for your area as well.
you have trouble with your memory because of a head injury, or you just have a
head like a sieve as I do, the reminders and timers could be very useful. I
normally add reminders to my phone as I can’t write them down but just
immediately calling them out is useful as sometimes I go to add them to my
phone and get distracted by Twitter and the likes. The timers are useful if
you’re cooking and the chicken needs just five minutes more.
What can Alexa do using IOT – The Internet Of Things?
For someone with a physical disability this is where it
really sparked my interest. I struggle with some aspects of technology and to
physically control my environment so I thought I would benefit from Alexa and
Smart WeMo Plug
Firstly I decided to set up the lamp in my sitting room. In order to use Alexa to switch on your light you either need a smart plug or you need smart bulbs and a Wi-Fi hub. Enable Ireland had also provided me with a WeMo smart plug in this instance. The setup for the WeMo smart plug was very similar to the initial setup of the Amazon Echo: download the app, connect to the devices own Wi-Fi, and connect the device to your home broadband.
Once you have that done you can control the lamp directly
from your smartphone only if you wanted, in order to connect it to the Alexa
you need to go back to the Alexa app and pair the Alexa with the WeMo smart
plug from there.
Overall it is very simple System and process and once you
have it up all you have to do is say “Alexa, turn on the lamp”. This
was a complete success and over the time I had the devices this is the one that
proved most simple to use and most consistent. It was lovely if I was on my own
for a little while coming toward evening, I could give that simple command and
“Let there be light!”
The other devices I had to connect to the Echo were related to the TV. I use an Amazon fire stick to play games on my TV and also to watch Netflix. I knew from watching YouTube videos that you could pair your Amazon Echo with your fire stick and use Alexa to open Netflix and play your movies and shows.
Unfortunately this was not so easy to carry out. It seemed simple at first, get your Alexa device to scan your Wi-Fi for compatible devices and when you see the Firestick click connect. Unfortunately this is where I ran into some problems. In order to get the Alexa to carry out these procedures I had to enable its TV skills through the app. I had to do something similar to set up my Spotify account so I wasn’t too worried at first. Frustratingly when I went into the app to enable that TV skill the screen went blank and gave me no options to enable it. After numerous attempts to carry this out and searches on the internet to find a solution I eventually contacted Amazon’s online support and having gone through three advisors I found the solution by enabling it through my laptop and my Amazon account on the Desktop site. Phew!
The results of that is I can come into sitting room in the
morning, with the TV turned off, and ask Alexa to open Netflix. If you know the
name of the movie or show you want to watch you can ask Alexa to open it
directly. You can play, pause and fast forward or rewind whatever you are
watching. This has been very helpful for me is the remote for my fire stick is
tiny and the buttons are incredibly difficult to press. If you are a movie buff
and have difficulties using small remotes then this solution is probably worth
all the hassle it took to set it up in the first place!
In the package from Enable Ireland there was also a Logitech
Harmony Hub. At first, I had no idea what it was. I had never heard of it
before. A bit of Googling revealed that it is a universal remote control. A bit
of YouTubing revealed that it could be paired with Alexa to turn on and control
a whole host of electronic devices including your TV, Stereo System, or Sky
This is a complex setup. You set up the Harmony hub much the same way as you do the other devices. So again that means you need to download another app to connect it to your Wi-Fi, I hope you have enough space on your smartphone! Once it is set up and ready to go you need to use the Alexa app to enable the Harmony Hub skill so Alexa can communicate with the Harmony Hub. Now use the Harmony App to scan for smart devices that may be on your Wi-Fi already, like a smart TV. If you have something that is not smart like my Sky box, you simply search in the app for the product and add it to your list of devices. Right, now that you have your devices listed and the Hub and Alexa can talk to one another what can you tell them to do?
Using the Harmony app you can set up a range of
“activities”. These are relatively easy to set up as you follow a step by step
process through the app. Quite quickly I had it set up so that I could tell
Alexa to turn on the TV, it would turn on the TV and set it to the Sky TV
extension immediately. I also set it up so I could increase and decrease the
volume of the TV and I could change the ordinary terrestrial channels on the TV.
I have seen that you can change channels on your Sky box and set “favourite
channels” to tune to quickly but, frustratingly, while I can do that through
the Harmony app on my phone I haven’t been able to do that using Alexa despite
numerous and persistent attempts. Apparently, it is possible if you set an “activity”
for each individual channel but life is too short!
If you are technically proficient enough and you have a big
enough budget there are whole host of other devices you could use with the
Alexa to smarten up your home whether it is to control your heating or even to
unlock your door!
Are there Privacy Issues?
There are some concerns about privacy and the Alexa. Some of
the stories surrounding this issue I’m sure have been exaggerated for headlines
but there is a basis to some of the concern too with Amazon admitting that
staff listen to people’s interactions with Alexa (I think they’ll get a laugh
from some of my frustrated interactions where Alexa was called everything under
the sun while I tried in vain to control the Sky box via Alexa).
download the Alexa app. This sort of sets the tone for what to expect with
I know from my experience with the Alexa that there have
been some strange happenings. During conversations in the same room as the
Alexa the blue light that indicates Alexa is listening has come on. On another
occasion Alexa has piped up with search results that were not asked for in the
middle of a conversation. Nothing too sinister I’m sure but something I’m
personally not too comfortable with.
It’s up to you whether you’re willing to give up that sense
of personal privacy in place of the benefits Alexa provides.
I was very excited to try out the Amazon Echo and Alexa. I
felt this was my opportunity to finally make up my mind on whether to purchase
one or not, a decision I had been debating over for some time.
Alexa promises so much to help me with my physical
disability. Overall in this aspect it did live up to expectation. It was
frustrating that I couldn’t manage to set it up to operate my Sky box but I was
able to set it up to use most the functions on my TV, and the Alexa in
conjunction with the WeMo plug gave the most satisfying and consistent function
of switching my sitting room lamp on and off. If I were to purchase an Echo I
would consider investing further into the other devices that could do as the
WeMo plug did.
The other aspects of the Echo were less beneficial to me as
they didn’t involve improving my access to my physical environment. That does
not take away from the fact that they could be hugely beneficial for someone
with a different disability such as a sensory disability: reminders, timers,
your Spotify, and your Audiobooks through Alexa would simplify so many parts of
a person’s life.
For someone with a high level disability or someone who has difficulty using a smartphone the set up process of the Echo itself may be a little complex. The set up process for some of the “activities” on the Harmony Hub would take the most seasoned of smartphone users to the point where they just give up (ie. me 🙂
The initial cost of the Amazon Echo is very affordable.
However, if someone with a disability wishes to use the Echo and Alexa to its
full potential to make their lives more independent then they will need to
spend a lot more. A quick Google suggested that a Wi-Fi plug similar to the
WeMo plug is €22 each while a Harmony Hub remote is available for approximately
€120. So if you’re hoping to live in a completely smart home it’s going to be
difficult if you’re sole source of income is your Disability Allowance.
All that being said, that decision I have been debating over
for some time, have I made it? Well, in a sense I have. I am fortunate to be
able to use my mobile phone without much difficulty so in the short term I
think I will get a Harmony Hub which will allow me to carry out most of what
Alexa has been doing for me on this trial but through my phone and without the
worry of Amazon employees listening in on me. In the medium to long term I’m sure
I’ll revisit Alexa or even the Google equivalent!
If you have a physical limitation that makes it difficult or
impossible to use a traditional mouse with your hands, a hands-free mouse can
be critical to accessing a computer comfortably and efficiently. A hands-free
mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There
are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen
such as wearable sensors, eye trackers or even speech recognition. One other possible group of devices are
reflective dot trackers. You wear a small reflective dot (often placed as a
sticker on the forehead or glasses), and a special sensor unit mounted on or
near your computer tracks the motion of the dot to control the mouse cursor as
you move. There is no wired connection
between you and the device. The wearable reflective dot is smaller and
less conspicuous than some of the other wearable sensor options.
These products can replace a traditional mouse for computing
platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. And some will work with
platforms like Android and Chrome OS as well.
Some reflective dot trackers options to consider are as follows
The good: If
you are OK with wearing the reflective dot you can independently control a
mouse cursor without requiring someone to assist putting on a wearable
sensor. Also less chance in something
not working than other hands free options such as eye gaze or voice
The not so good: does
require a line-of-sight to the computer, and can be sensitive to lighting
If you need or want the ability to make very fine, high-resolution movements of
the mouse cursor, similar to what is possible with a traditional mouse, then
reflective dot trackers are a good option.
Some time back, when I was finishing up a photography shoot,
I met a gentleman who had informed me that his photography career had been cut
short due to having a stroke a few years earlier. This was back in 2011, and
options were a lot more limited in terms of cameras, software and accessibility
in general. Earlier in the year, as part of my Foundations in AT course, it was
suggested to me to incorporate my photography background into my project. Now
in 2019, there are a lot more options for accessibility in photography, between
mounts for the cameras, wi-fi connectivity between camera and PC/Phone/Tablet.
However taking the photo is only half the work for a photographer.
Film photographers have to develop their photos, Digital photographers have to edit their photos. Adobe Lightroom is an industry standard program for editing photos. It is also very shortcut friendly. As a result, I was able to make it work with Grid 3 to enable basic editing such as converting to black and white, adjusting colour balance, brightness. Contrast and exposure. Cropping and converting an image from Portrait to Landscape and vice versa could also be achieved via the Grid. In the short time I had to create this grid, it can be easily expanded on, adding access to other modules (such as Export, Slideshow, Book, Print, etc) to access other features like Slideshow Templates, Print Setup, Exporting with previous settings or email a photo. While functionality of this grid is minimal, there is plenty of room for expansion.
Until now, people with significant physical disabilities could only operate an iPad or iPhone by switch control. With AMAneo BTi it is possible for the first time to operate an iPad or iPhone directly with any mouse or assistive mouse including a trackball, joystick, head mouse or thumb mouse, and even a wheelchair joystick. The AMAneo BTi also has some very useful built-in features such as tremor filter, dwell click and 2 jack plugs for external switches.
Simply connect the AMAneo BTi to your iPad or iPhone via
Bluetooth and the pointer will automatically appear on your device’s screen,
with no additional App required. This allows the user to navigate around the screen
and interact with a mouse to connect with friends, browse the internet, and
IkeaThisAbles, is a project dedicated to making Ikea
furniture available for everybody, including people with disabilities.
The ThisAbles project was conceived to allow people with
special needs to enjoy the quality of life provided by IKEA products.
As part of IKEA’s vision to “create a better everyday life
for as many people as possible”, they joined forces with the non-profit
organizations Milbat and Access Israel, that specialize in creating special
solutions for populations with special needs and disabilities, and developed a
new line of products that bridge some of the gaps between existing IKEA
products and the special needs of people belonging to these populations.
The project allows anyone to 3D print a range of add-ons
that simply and easily convert Ikea furniture and accessories into
disability-friendly products. Now
people with disabilities from any corner of the world can print add-ons in
their nearest 3D printing shop.
Microsoft Ireland hosted a half-day workshop for second level students using
technology for additional support within education. This workshop came about
thanks to Tara O’Shea, Community Affairs Manager at Microsoft and Stephen
Howell, Academic Program Manager. Tara has been a huge supporter of Enable
Ireland Assistive Technology Service over the last decade and been the driving
force behind many of the successful projects we have collaborated on. Stephen
would be a very familiar face to anyone involved in that space where technology
and education meet, not just in Ireland but internationally.
The goal of
the workshop was to introduce some of the collaboration tools available to
students using Office365,
additional supports available to students with maths or language difficulties
and to provide alternative ways to produce and present content. Obviously as
Microsoft was hosting there was an emphases on their tools nevertheless Stephen
was quite open about how similar features are available on other platforms. We
(Enable Ireland AT) pride ourselves on providing independent recommendations;
the best solution for the user is the solution they use best. The practice of
schools forcing students down any particular route: Microsoft, Google or Apple,
is restrictive and cause difficulties if there are specific access or support
needs. Microsoft and Google though offer more browser-based tools that mean
users are free to use any device. I should also acknowledged that Microsoft
have really upped their game in the areas of Education and Accessibility over
the last few years.
Fostering collaboration is a cornerstone of modern education and promotes a vital real world skill (teamwork) that will serve students throughout their lives. The screenshot below from Facebook (Stephanie McKellop) and illustrates a way that tools we may have considered more for remote collaboration, can be used within a classroom or lecture hall.
When it comes to collaboration, Microsoft Teams is at the centre. Teams is a unified communications platform, basically it’s like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger but with tonnes of additional features. Through Teams you can not only instant message, video/audio call or share desktops but you can also work on shared documents, whiteboards or mind maps. There are also plugins for many third party apps and services, so if you are already collaboration app or service there is probably an integration available. Stephen demonstrated how a tool like Teams could be used in a classroom session by setting up a class team and getting everyone to work on a short Sway presentation (we mentioned Sway in a previous post a couple of years ago, don’t understand why everyone isn’t using it by now). Once everyone had completed their presentation they posted a link to the class message stream and Stephen showed it on the large screen. Okay, this exercise could have been done without Teams but using the service made it so much easier and more importantly everything was recorded for students to revisit in their own time.
looked at Microsoft Learning Tools numerous times on this blog over the last
few years (read
this post is you want to know more about Learning Tools).
Thankfully, since its introduction as a plugin for OneNote in 2016 it has gone
from strength to strength. Features like Immersive
Reader are now standalone apps and have also found their way into
many other Office365 apps like Word and Outlook. Some other apps Stephen introduced
are listed below with a brief description. They are all free so we encourage
you to download and try them yourselves.
Microsoft Math: If you are familiar with the language-learning app Duolingo, this app takes a similar approach to teaching Mathematics. Short challenges with rewards and feedback. Gamifying Maths
Lets you quickly and easily capture content from the web (pictures, text etc),
draw and annotate it and share with other apps.
Provides a blank canvas where you can collaborate with others and share with
Microsoft Translator: Useful for translations or
transcriptions. Stephen also showed how it can be a great way to practice pronunciation
when learning to speak a foreign language.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April),
and throughout this week and month, there are a number of events and promotions
happening to highlight this. The theme
this year is focusing on Assistive Technology and we’ve rounded up some related
items below with promotions and discounts that are running to celebrate this
week, and hope some prove useful!
Lidl have a range of products on offer this week including
sensory toys and gadgets. Two of the most popular items are bound to be noise
cancelling ear defenders and a LED nightlight projector, to aid with sensory
processing and reducing stressors. In conjunction with their Autism Friendly
Quiet Evening, Lidl are leading the way in providing an inclusive environment. More information can be found at www.lidl.ie/en/special-offers.htm?id=767
Avaz are doing a similar promotion, 50% off the popular Avaz
AAC app that is available in a variety of languages, and for iOS as well as
Android. Available until the 7th April, click on the link for more: www.avazapp.com/autism-acceptance-month-2019
LAMP: Words for Life, from Liberator, is also available at a
50% discount until the 6th April. Using a motor planning approach
and utilising the extensive research into semantic compaction vocabulary arrangement,
this is a comprehensive communication application. The discount has already
been applied to the price in the App store www.itunes.apple.com/gb/developer/liberator-ltd/id580721039
CoughDrop are offering 50% off a lifetime subscription to
their communication app, until the 5th April. A|s well as being
available for iOS and Android, this open source product can also be used on a
web browser or Windows platform. www.app.mycoughdrop.com?ref=fb
Snap + Core First are offering a 15% discount until the 15th
April. For Winsows and iOS platforms, this app uses a core and fringe
vocabulary layout to provide access to a wide vocabulary. More information can
be found at www.tobiidynavox.com/products/software
Pyramid Education Consultants, the company behind the PECS
apps are offering a variety of discounts on their apps, including the PECS III
and PECS IV+ for the entire month of April. Visit https://pecs-unitedkingdom.com/apps/
for more information on these and other apps.
Recently launched, the website www.autismservicesireland.com aims
to provide families with a one stop shop to find professionals specialising in
the area, from home tutors to therapists.