Transforming support for d/Deaf students

Innovations in technology and the vital role of skilled professionals

In May 2014, BRITE and Nated Scotland curated an international conference hosted at Edinburgh University, where 100 delegates came together to evaluate a range of cutting edge strategies to support d/Deaf students at college and university. Two key themes of the day were the potential of mobile and web-based technology to revolutionise the provision of communication services, and the vital importance of skilled professionals to manage and deliver support for students.

iPad photo_Edit The image shows a sign language interpreter at the University of Cincinnati communicate with a student. The student accesses live video of the interpreter on his iPad. He could be based elsewhere on campus, or even off-campus e.g. having an informal study session at a classmate’s home. This system provides students with a new level of flexibility in how they access communication services. Research into the implications of this mode of service delivery was the subject of our keynote presentation.

A summary of the presentations and key topics follows. To request a copy of the conference brochure, transcripts of the presentations, or copies of slides, please contact Kellie Mote at

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Ai-Media article on our recent conference

ai liveAt our recent conference on Supporting Deaf Students at College and University, we were delighted to welcome Denise Bob-Jones of Ai-Media to deliver a presentation in partnership with Strathclyde University on remote live captioning. Ai-Media’s remote live captioning service, Ai-Live, also generously provided captioning during the morning session of the conference. As well as providing access to the content of presentations for many delegates, it was valuable for everyone to see the service working in a real world context. Ai-Media has posted an article reflecting on the conference. Click here to read the Ai-Media article.

Spellchecking software –some initial findings

I’ve been developing a minor obsession with spell-checking software lately. This arose from noting that the spell-checking in Google Drive (previously called Google Docs) was pretty good and seemed to give decent results.  These results were also reached without the need for two separate checks – spelling and homophones.  The reason for these results and dispensing with the homophone check is that Google Drive analyses the spelling errors in context of the sentence. The more commonly used spellcheckers seem to analyse each error individually.  The other power that Google Drive has is a database of all the spelling errors made by everyone who has ever typed in a Google search. Continue reading

Interesting Technology from BETT 2014

For those unfamiliar with BETT, it is the largest educational technology exhibition in Europe.  Taking place annually in London, there are over 600 exhibitors including massive companies such as Google, Dell, Intel and Microsoft.  The interesting stuff, from an Additional Support for Learning perspective, is generally on the smaller exhibition stands, though there is plenty from the larger manufacturers which may be suitable for those with Additional Support Needs.

I’ve summarised my highlights below.  For summary of my tweets during the event, including pictures go to:


2014-01-23 17.40.39There were multiple stands showing many different iPad cases, but this one caught my attention. Kensington have a rubbery case called a SafeGrip which surrounds the iPad, but also has a handle.  Great for students who struggle with carrying equipment.

Tech21 make cases from a polymer which adjusts to pressure so should create better resistance to being dropped.  They have a range of cases, but more significantly screen covers which protect against impact to the screen (the most vulnerable part of any tablet).

Intel was showing a ruggedized Windows tablet – The StudyBook- which should stand up to a fair amount of abuse. Significantly the screen was protected.  The person on the stand took great delight in repeatedly dropping a large ball- bearing onto the screen.  See a video here

2014-01-24 14.46.10Rather than rely on a case to supply a handle, Samsung have produced a version of their Tab 3, 7 inch Android tablet for education which has a handle built in.  The disadvantage?  It is bright yellow and blue.


There are currently two pieces of software designed to support emergent eye-gaze users (Eye-FX and Look to Learn).  Inclusive technology were showing previews of their software package – Inclusive Eye Gaze Learning Curve – which comes out later in the year.  The first title focusses on Attention and Looking and provides a progression of engaging activities to assess and develop eye-gaze users.

Audio Notetaker is a great piece of software from Sonocent. They have now released a version for iOS (iPad/Phone etc.).  Called “Recorder” it enables students to record live audio of a lecture and mark the important points as they go along.  The result can later be uploaded to the full version of Audio Notetaker for further revision and linking to PowerPoint slides or images.


2014-01-24 10.44.58

Since production of the Flip video camera ceased I’ve been looking for an alternative which is as easy to use, but not expensive.  TTS have produced one which seems to fit the bill.  It feels a bit plasticy, but is simple to use and has a built in USB plug to transfer the content.  It also has a 4GB SD card and HDMI output.

Beamz is a very unusual and accessible way to play music.  For students who are unable to hold or play  a standard instruments, Beamz provides 4 laser beams which, when broken by a hand or object, will trigger sounds from an attached computer.

Fil McIntyre

Assistive Technologist, The BRITE Initiative

MyGaze Eye Gaze Device

MyGaze device being placed on a monitorNote: this article assumes some previous knowledge of eye gaze technology.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been borrowing a MyGaze device from Visual Interaction a German company.  MyGaze is an eye tracking device similar to devices which have been on the market for a while (Tobii PCEyeGo, Alea IntelliGaze).  The big difference?  The developer version of MyGaze is currently selling at €499 (about £420).

It must be mentioned at the outset that the MyGaze device has not been developed with Assistive Technology in mind, I was just keen to find out if it could be a more affordable eye gaze solution for PC Access and Communication.

Mygaze device attached to a monitor           MyGaze attached to a laptop

The MyGaze is a fairly compact device, the photos show it attached to a standard monitor and laptop.  One big advantage which is immediately apparent is the 1.8 metre USB cable, great if your laptop or tower is a distance from your monitor. 

After a quick 5-point calibration the MyGaze seemed to follow my gaze accurately. The MyGaze configuration tool has a “Live Gaze” view which shows the position of your eyes being tracked on screen.  After this I thought I’d try some control in the Windows environment.  The first hurdle to this was that as standard MyGaze doesn’t force the
cursor to follow your eyes (remember it is a developer tool).  To do this I needed to track down the MyGaze Cursor application* which can be downloaded from the MyGaze website.

Once this was all set up I tried some simple Windows control e.g. clicking on things, launching programs etc.  I tried this both with using a mouse to click and using dwell click software (Smartbox’s Dwell Clicker 2).  MyGaze isn’t really accurate enough to achieve this level of control.  The cursor drifts and moves around as you are trying to click and this is means that when using dwell click it is impossible to stay on the target long enough for the click to occur.  Tobii’s Windows Control and Gaze Interaction applications are designed to counteract this by zooming in on the target.  See notes below about future developments from MyGaze.

My next trial was with three pieces of software designed to be used with eye gaze: Eye-FX, Look to Learn and Tobii Communicator.  Both Eye-FX and Look to Learn are designed for new or developing eye gaze users and as such have large targets and easy to access activities. MyGaze worked very effectively with both of these applications.  Accuracy wise I didn’t notice any difference to using them with Tobii’s PCEyeGo.  A usability difference was not having the annoyance of the Tobii Windows Control toolbar popping out from the edge of the screen every time I looked at it.

When it came to using Communicator software the results were mixed.  Communicator has a dwell-click function built in, or there is the option to use a switch to select.  When using dwell-click the issue is the same as with controlling Windows: If the target is too small it is not possible to dwell on it for long enough.  I was very successful using grids with large cells e.g. 5×4 or 6×4, but this accuracy decreased as the size of cell decreased.  Using a keyboard layout was just about manageable with a switch click, but the drift mentioned earlier made it tricky.  I’m prepared to accept that this might just be a question of practising more and getting used to this system.  I did find I had greater accuracy when using the unit on a standard monitor, rather than mounted below a laptop screen, despite performing a more complex calibration (featuring a set-square) to set up the laptop mounting.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to try the MyGaze with any current eye-gaze users. I wanted to see how well it performed with head movement and with users moving in and out of the track box (the area within which it can still keep a fix on a user’s eyes).  The plan is to pass the MyGaze onto Beaumont College and National Star College where they should be able to ask some current eye-gaze users to experiment.

In conclusion, MyGaze is an interesting development in eye gaze technology which may well challenge the current level of pricing in the eye gaze market.  The user interface is not as slick as some others and is obviously aimed at developers rather than an end user.  If the MyGaze Cursor tool could be integrated into the main configuration, along with keyboard shortcuts to pause the interaction, then I could see uses for it in an Assistive Technology context.  Those uses would currently be limited to users who were working at a basic level with large targets or relatively few cells in a communication grid.  For fine control in a Windows environment an additional tool will be required, like Tobii’s Gaze Selection software.  For control in communication software a company like Smartbox will need to fine-tune The Grid 2 to work with MyGaze (much as they have with the other main eye-gaze technologies).

Mainly due to the interface I won’t currently be recommending MyGaze to end users as an assistive technology solution.  However, I’ll be keeping a careful eye on how the MyGaze software develops and whether the price stays at its current level.

*Many thanks to Mick Donegan from Special Effect for his assistance

Visual Interaction provided the following information about future developments of MyGaze:

  • we are working with Mick Donegan on an eye mouse based on his recommendation, internally known as ‘Mick’s Mouse’. It will provide all you mention in terms of zooming, smoothing and dwell and expect to have the beta out by Jan. The accuracy problems will be solved completely then by the software.
  • some software (like Look to Learn) will be made out of box and solved in our store at v competitive price. Other, like The Grid and Rolltalk will have tailor-made interface developed by us or the original SW developer. This is still in discussion phase regarding time, but so that you know what to expect.
  • software for special needs school is also in development.

Tablet accessibility

A presentation on ‘Bring Your Own Accessibility’ by BRITE assistive technologist, Fil McIntyre, earned Highly Commended status for the Hans-Heinrich Bothe Award 2013.

The Hans-Heinrich Bothe Award is given to the author and presenter of the Best Paper at the ENABLE International Conference on Using New Technologies for Inclusive Learning and is voted for by the conference delegates.

If you’d like a flavour of what the delegates at the ENABLE conference rated so highly, pop along to our free 30 minute webinar on Wednesday 9th October at 11:00 BST to hear Fil’s take on tablet accessibility.

Update 10.10.13… a recording of the tablet accessibility webinar is now available in the webinar archive.

Professional Development News: Learner Support

 “One of the best CPD courses I have ever been involved in.” Participant Evaluator, vMCB Pilot, June 2013.

vmcb logo for blogManaging Challenging Behaviour (vMCB) is a new course delivered entirely online using a combination of live, interactive classroom sessions and on-going coursework.

If you’ve ever wondered how psychological theory informs the practical, day-to-day strategies used to manage behaviour – this is the course for you!

Aimed at learning facilitators from a range of support settings, (e.g. learning assistants, mentors, teaching staff, employability coaches) the course costs £270 and is delivered over 9 sessions for a period of 3 months.

The next scheduled vMCB course starts in January 2014, but may be available sooner if you have a group of employees or colleagues ready to start.

vESW_logoIf you can’t wait till January to begin eLearning with BRITE, how about starting with our course Educational Support Workers: Professionalism in Practice (vESW) which runs Sept-Dec 2013?

vESW is a practical course, suitable for professionals who are involved in facilitating learning for individuals with additional support needs. The first vESW session is on 17th September 2013, so if you intend to apply for this course, act now!

By completing both these courses, you achieve a Professional Development Award in Learner Support, accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Apply now at

ICT and Inclusion Presentations: Part 2

Today, we’re following on from our previous post on ICT and Inclusion 2013 – which summarised BRITE presentations on tablets and accessibility, and easy video captioning.

Here, BRITE Training Manager Niall Hardie gives an overview of two more presentations from the event: using what you already have as inclusive learning tools, and tips on effective iPad use for students.

It’s likely that these seminars will feature in our online webinar programme this session so keep a lookout for the details published on the BRITE website, and through our eNews (subscribe via the BRITE homepage).

Using What You Already Have

This session focused on using tools that many people commonly have on them already, or that are easily and freely available online.  A key example of that is the ubiquitous Smart Phone.  The way the mobile phone market has developed, it will soon be hard to purchase a phone that is not categorised as a smart phone, and these phones often come with capabilities that can be effectively used to assist study and work.

Smart phones can be used as a digital recorder to capture key points in lectures, or to record an immediate verbal summary of a completed class.  The built-in cameras can be used to capture information on boards, in books, examples of practical work, and so on – they can also be used to video processes and demonstrations.  There are also a wide variety of apps that can be explored – certainly too many to do justice to in a short blog post!

The other options to explore include using Google Drive for free storage and to make use of the range of online software tools for word processing and other activities – available on any internet connected computer, with the added help of Google’s very effective spellchecker.  Finally, other powerful tools to explore are Evernote (for collating notes, research and ideas) and Evernote Clearly – a tool that enables you to read the main text on a webpage without the peripheral visual noise of adverts, banners and links.

Effective iPad Use for Students

This seminar looked at the key tasks that most students need to undertake, and considered how the iPad might make that more effective and more efficient.  Here is a concise list of some ideas – but be aware that there are hundreds of thousands of apps out there, so this is a list of ideas that I know work, but there will be others that can do a similar job.

  • Reading: iBooks; Safari Reader; Instapaper; Kindle – and utilise the built-in voice to speech option
  • Writing: Pages – and consider using an external keyboard and monitor for extended writing
  • Notetaking: Evernote; Notability – and make use of the camera for pictures and video
  • Research: Instant on and access to wifi; dependent on good institutional use of wifi and online resources
  • Mind Mapping: Inspiration; iThoughtsHD
  • Organisation: 2Do; Calendar
  • Communicating/Collaborating: FaceTime; iMessage; email

Do you have a favourite iPad app of particular use to students? Let us know in the comments!

ICT and Inclusion Presentations

Fil McIntyre presentingFor the third year running, BRITE partnered with CALL Scotland to deliver ICT and Inclusion: Two days of seminars and exhibition targeted at people working to include learners with additional support needs.  Niall Hardie and Fil McIntyre from BRITE were both presenting semimars on technology which may assist learners. With twenty exhibitors and twenty eight seminars, the days were pretty full and some people were unable to get to hear Niall and Fil.  A summary of Fil’s seminars is below, with Niall’s to follow shortly.

Tablets and Accessibility: iPad vs. Android vs. Windows

This session featured a brief run through of the accessibility options on the three main tablet operating systems.  iOS (on the iPad) came out strongest by far with a wide range of visual and cognitive support options (and more to come in iOS7), but this is not to dismiss Android and Windows.  Fil was keen to point out that users’ accessibility may be down to the size or format of the tablet.  In this case Android offers a much wider choice due to the amount of manufacturers providing Android tablets.

For Windows 8 tablets the accessibility options are very similar to a desktop PC, but (for example) provide a much wider range of high contrast display settings when compared to iOS’s normal or negative option.  Also the fact that a Windows 8 tablet can run full versions of Windows software may open it up as a possibility for users who cannot find an app equivalent to their access software.

BRITE can provide half-day seminars on the subject of tablet useage.  Two examples are “Tablet Tools” and “Bring Your Own Accessibility”.

Getting Captions Onto Your Video the Easy Way

Captioned videos can assist not only deaf students, but also those for whom English is a second language.  It is generally time consuming and expensive to get the captions onto videos. In this session Fil showed how to easily synchronise a transcript to your video by uploading both the transcript and the video to Youtube.  Youtube’s voice recognition will ensure the correct text is shown at the time it is spoken.

For further practical details on how to do this see this earlier post on the BRITE blog.

FREE ICT and Inclusion exhibitions in June 2013

ICT and Inclusion is Scotland’s leading annual exhibition with a focus on the use of ICT to support learners with additional support needs. BRITE is excited to once again partner with CALL Scotland on this event, which this year, will be held at:

  • CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh, 18th June 2013
  • Thistle Hotel, Glasgow, 19th June 2013

Up to 20 of the UK’s leading suppliers of software and technology to support learners with additional support needs will take part in the exhibition and give short presentations on their latest products.

There will also be short presentations by staff from BRITE, CALL and local schools, colleges and services, illustrating the use of technology to support learning.

The days are free to attend and run from 9.00 until 4.00 pm. Lunch is provided for people who book in advance.

Though ICT and Inclusion is aimed mainly at staff from schools and colleges, equipment and software on display may be of interest to adults with disabilities and the people who support them.

For more details about the venues, exhibition timetable, exhibitors and online booking visit