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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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

DART2 Workshop 1: Assessment for Assistive Technology

Thanks to Margaret McKay, Inclusion Advisor at Jisc RSC Scotland, for this report on what happened at the first DART2 workshop in Scotland on February 7th 2013 at the College Development Network, which looked at assessment for assistive technology.


Selection of hardware at the Dart2 workshopThe first sessions were presented by Rohan Slaughter (Head of Technology at Beaumont College) and Mike Thrussell (Assistive Technology Coordinator at Henshaws College).

They spoke about the importance of assessment, highlighting the skills and knowledge required by assessors and the importance of working in partnership with other stakeholders (the learner, family, carers, health professionals and relevant others).

Margaret McKay of Jisc RSC Scotland highlighted theoretical perspectives that underpin the assessment process, and the importance of placing the student at the centre of the process in order to find the best fit between the learner and their environment.

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Guest Blog: Disseminating Assistive Roles and Technology

Margaret McKay, Inclusion Advisor at Jisc RSC Scotland, provides some background to the DART2 Project. Check back soon for Margaret’s overview of what happened at the first DART2 training event to take place in Scotland.

JISC Advance and Dart logosThe Disseminating Assistive Roles and Technology (DART2) Project is one of 33 initiatives funded by Jisc Advance FE and Skills Project.

Launched in response to the Government’s pledge to improve learning across the UK, DART2 provides free training for those involved in providing assistive technology support for disabled learners, and aims to create a culture of collaboration across post-16 learning providers in FE colleges in the UK.

This initiative, coordinated by a consortium of Independent Specialist Colleges is led by Beaumont College, National Star College and Henshaws College. It is also supported by NATSPEC (The Association of National Specialist Colleges), the College Development Network, and by the Jisc Regional Support Centres and Jisc Techdis.

The project aims to provide a partnership and collaborative approach to:

  • Improving Assistive Technology (AT) practice in the sector;
  • Enable the replication of the innovative Assistive Technologist role;
  • Produce Assistive Technology case studies for the sector.

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Remote DSA Needs Assessment

IdeenIn 2011, the University of the Highlands and Islands achieved validation as an assessment centre, authorised to conduct needs assessments for the purposes of Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

The university’s innovative use of video conferencing for needs assessment can benefit learners who would otherwise incur the cost of travelling to an Access Centre elsewhere in Scotland.

This Sharing Stories recording by JISC Scotland and Scotland’s Colleges features members of the UHI team discussing how it all works and the pros and cons involved. Edited to add: Click here to read the case study.

BRITE was delighted to provide guidance to UHI prior to the implementation of Adobe Connect to facilitate online assessments. Since 2010, BRITE has been using Adobe Connect Pro to deliver accredited online training, gaining recognition from Adobe themselves who featured BRITE as a European Success Story.

If you’d like to know more about our virtual courses, or consultancy services, visit our website or contact

Book review: Connecting to Learn

Kellie Mote finds sound practical tips for needs assessors and assistive technology practitioners in ‘Connecting to Learn: Educational and Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities’ by Marcia J. Scherer (American Psychological Association, 2003)

At the core of Connecting to Learn is the importance of matching the right assistive technology with the learner. It isn’t immediately clear from the title, but the focus here is on the needs of students who are d/Deaf, or visually impaired. Initial chapters are therefore dedicated to providing background information on the needs of students with sensory disabilities.

The book primarily focuses on strategies to use with the individual – little of the content is dedicated to broader strategies such as creating more inclusive learning environments. However, many of the tips will be of use to practitioners providing assistive technology support in an educational context.

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How does a BRITE mentor help you to reach your professional development goal?

Typically when pursuing a professional qualification, you attend lectures, do the background reading, complete an assignment, or sit an exam – fairly standard stuff.

BRITE likes to do things differently!

Should you participate in BRITE’s Needs Assessment Practice (NAP) course – sometimes referred to as Module 4 – you’ll enjoy the added value of being assigned an experienced mentor to provide individualised guidance and supervision.

But what does “being mentored” actually involve? BRITE team member, Carol Boyle, talks us through her approach to mentoring, and what makes for a successful mentor/mentee relationship. Continue reading

Specific Literacy Difficulties: Effective Screening and Evidence

The latest BRITE seminar looked at the topic of screening for Specific Literacy Difficulties. During this one-day event, 24 delegates from across Scotland explored the range of tools available, and investigated best practice when collating information and presenting it as evidence of need.

The packed event included presenters from Scottish further education colleges, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) and BRITE.

Representatives from Cardonald, Adam Smith and Inverness Colleges set the scene by sharing their experiences of using different systems, discussing both the benefits and the frustrations involved. 

Presenters and delegates addressed the tensions that exist between a needs-led model and the requirement to have ‘evidence of disability’ which is rooted in a medical model. The group also looked at the context in which needs assessments take place – acknowledging the demands that exist from external bodies such as SQA, City and Guilds and SAAS.

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BRITE Trainees and DSA Needs Assessments

Student Awards Agency for Scotland

Following on from a series of conversations with senior staff at the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), here is clarification regarding the arrangements for BRITE trainees who are required to conduct needs assessments under supervision of a qualified needs assessor/mentor during their pre-qualification phase.

Since the introduction in March 2010 of the new guidance from Scottish Government on the implementation of the Toolkit Validated Centres, it has been agreed that needs assessments for the purposes of DSA will only be accepted by SAAS from assessors (a) working for an Access Centre, (b) employed in an institutional assessment centre which has been validated through the Scottish Government DSSG Toolkit Validation process or (c) in training for the Professional Development Award in Needs Assessment through the BRITE Initiative.   Once a BRITE mentee graduates, and becomes a fully fledged Needs Assessor, it has been agreed that s/he must then be operating either in an Access Centre or in a Validated Institution in order to have his/her assessment reports accepted by SAAS. Continue reading

BRITE Needs Assessors’ Forum June 09

The 2nd BRITE Needs Assessors’ Forum took place mid-June, and was full to capacity with BRITE-links who have either graduated with the full PDA, or who are currently working through module 4.

The first part of the morning was taken up with an opportunity for the participants to share in small groups their process of needs assessing and implementing support. The groups were tasked with identifying 4 aspects: Common Practice; Differences; Strengths; and Challenges. This proved to be a really useful chance to learn from sharing good practice, and was further developed through a feedback session at the end of the small group work. Each participant was able to gain an understanding how other colleges were operating, and the chance to delve deeper into the workings of different practice.

Before lunch, Lucy Naismith from Humanware came in to spend 45 minutes updating participants with very impressive magnification devices for people with a visual impairment. This was a very informative session, with an opportunity for ‘hands-on’ and 1-1 discussions over lunch. Our thanks go to Lucy for taking the time to be with the forum. Further information on Humanware products is available at or from Lucy at

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