Getting started with an eye – gaze device

Introducing an eye-gaze device to an individual who is non – verbal can open up a world of possibility for them; it can allow them to communicate, engage with games and play as well as allowing them to access and control their environment.

When working with children who have the potential to use eye gaze, it can be difficult to find fun and motivating ways to encourage them to engage with the device. Introducing communication-based programs too early can be too demanding and may ultimately lead to failure using the device.

Smartbox Technologies have developed a program called Look to Learn and describe it as a motivating and fun way to get started with eye gaze technology. Every activity has been developed in consultation with teachers and therapists to improve access and choice-making skills. The software consists of 40 specially created activities that easily allows therapists, families and teachers develop basic eye-gaze interaction with the child. A companion workbook is also available from the Smartbox website to download (free) and helps track and document the child’s progress as they move through the program and the complexity of the activities.

Look to Learn is available to download from Smartbox on and starts at £360.

Boardmaker Online now launched in Ireland

Tobii Dynavox have recently launched their new Boardmaker Online product in Ireland through SafeCare Technologies. It has all the functionalities of previous versions of Boardmaker, except now that it’s web-based you don’t need any disks and multiple users can access it from any PC.

Instructor showing students how to use Boardmaker Online

You can purchase a Personal, Professional or District account and the amount you pay depends on the type of account, the amount of “instructors” and how many years you want to sign up for. You can also get a discount for any old Boardmaker disks that you want to trade in.

You get all the symbols that have been available in past versions, as well as some new symbol sets and any new ones that are created in the future will also be given to you. Because it’s web-based, you have access to previously created activities via the online community and you can upload activities you create yourself to that community and share them with other people in your district or all over the world.

Because it’s no longer tied to one device, you can create activities on your PC and assign them to your “students” who can use them either in school and/or at home. You no longer need to have a user’s device in your possession to update their activities and they don’t need to have a period without their device while you do this.

You (and the other instructors in your district if you have a district licence) can also assign the same activity to many students and by having different accessibility options set up for different students, the activity is automatically accessible for their individual needs. For example, you could create an activity and assign it to a student who uses eye gaze and to a student who uses switches and that activity will show up on their device in the format that’s accessible for them.

Picture shows how instructors can assign Boardmaker Online activities to multiple students

The results of students’ work can be tracked against IEP or educational goals which then helps you decide what activities would be suitable to assign next. You can also track staff and student usage.

One limitation is that you can only create activities on a Windows PC or Mac. You can play activities on an iPad using the free app but not create them on it, and you can’t use Boardmaker Online to either create or play activities on an Android or Windows-based tablet.

The other point to mention is that because it’s a subscription-based product, the payment you have to make is recurring every year rather than being a one-off payment, which may not suit everyone.

However, with the new features it’s definitely worth getting the free 30-day trial and deciding for yourself if you’d like to trade in your old Boardmaker disks for the new online version!

Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar

accessible music technology photo montage

On February 23rd Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Service and the Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT) Dun Laoghaire will be holding an Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar. This is a rare opportunity for anybody interested in music and disability to hear a highly experienced range of speakers from Ireland, the UK and Norway who are involved in the design and development of accessible musical instruments/interfaces, the delivery of accessible musical education or in supporting musicians and performers with disabilities. Places are limited so advanced booking is essential.

For more details see where you will find the booking form and regular updates as the day approaches.

Who might be interested in attending?

  • Musicians or aspiring musicians with a disability.
  • Musicians or music therapists who work with people with disabilities.
  • Music teachers or community musicians interested in providing more inclusive classes and environments.
  • Therapists or anybody who works with or supports people with disabilities that would like to introduce music based activities.
  • Product or software designers interested in creating alternative musical instruments and interfaces.


As you will see from the range of experience below this promises to be a very interesting group representing all areas from the design and development of accessible hardware and software to practice based experience of working with musicians with disabilities.

Dr Tim Anderson ( ) – has been involved with developing technology and software for enabling people with disabilities to make music for the last 25 years. Over that time he has been Research and Development (R&D) manager and later Technology manager with Drake Music and more recently an independent consultant to the software developers as well as to schools, colleges, councils and individuals. Tim developed, sells and supports the E-Scape software system, that allows people to compose and play music unaided, whatever their physical ability or musical knowledge.

Elin SkogdalSKUG Centre, Norway. The SKUG Centre provides education and support for musicians with disabilities. They also offer training, education, demonstrations, and advice for teachers and supporters and participate in the development of specialist hardware and software for access to music making.

Dr Brendan McCloskey (Ulster University, School of Creative Arts and Technologies) is a musician and designer working closely with performers with disabilities. Having worked extensively a researcher and practitioner in the field of inclusive community music with Ulster University, Drake Music N. Ireland, Drake Music UK, Share Music Sweden and Stravaganza Production Company across the past 15 years, he has designed an innovative digital instrument for musicians with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The instrument, called inGrid, was shortlisted for the Prix Ars Electronica one-handed musical instrument competition in November 2013, and selected as a finalist for the Margaret Guthman Prize run by Georgia Tech in Atlanta, January 2014. He will discuss the key innovations underpinning inGrid, and how they will be developed in the immediate future.

Brian Dillon (Unique Perspectives) designer and manufacturer of assistive technology solutions who along with Ruud van der Wel (MyBreathMyMusic) has developed accessible music technologies such as the Quintet and the Magic Flute. The Quintet is an exciting device that enables people with disabilities to play music using switches. Easy to use and set-up it is suitable for teachers, therapists, parents and others who want to use music in an activity with children or adults. It can be used with a group of people or by a single individual. The Magic Flute is an electronic musical instrument that enables people whose only reliable movement is the head and breath to play music. The flute is similar to a harmonica or slide whistle in that it requires no fingers to play and both note and expression can be controlled using the mouth.

Grainne McHale and Graham McCarthy from SoundOUT , a group based in Cork who provides inclusive music-making and performance opportunities for young people with and without disabilities in Ireland.

Jason Noone – music therapist active in clinical work, music therapy training/supervision and research. He is a member of the Music and Health Research Group at the University of Limerick. His clinical expertise are mainly in the area of developmental disability and research interests include sensory integration and music therapy, music technology for access and participation and participatory action research.

Koichi Samuels – PhD candidate based at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Queen’s University Belfast. He is researching inclusive music practices and interfaces with Drake Music Northern Ireland, a charity that aims to enable musicians with physical disabilities and learning difficulties to compose and perform their own music through music technology.  Research interests include: inclusive music, DMIs, DIY/maker culture, critical design, HCI.