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

“It gives much-deserved recognition to a very challenging role”

Our SQA-accredited course Educational Support Worker: Professionalism in Practice begins in October.

Due to a high uptake of our offer to deliver the course in-house to specific institutions, there are no places available on the face-to-face version of the course.

However, individuals are welcome to apply for the remaining places on the virtual version of the course: vESW. Choose this option, and along with the convenience and flexibility of studying online, you’ll achieve exactly the same qualification as those attending in person.

Still not sure if vESW for you? Here’s what a previous participant had to say…

My experience in participating on the vESW course was positive. I really enjoyed the activities and discussions without it eating too much into my working day.

All of the online sessions were very well organised and informative. The main highlight for me was the self reflection. Very rarely to do you get the chance to actually reflect on your role and what works well or could be even better.

Also, the course created a platform that allowed you to exchange experiences with others. I have made changes to the way I work with students and what I would advise others. I found the note taking and proofreading of particular benefit.

The course improved my confidence and most definitely added value to my role. Thank you BRITE for creating the opportunity to gain a qualification that is specific to this role that encourages, outlines and promotes good practice and high standards. It gives much-deserved recognition to a very challenging role.

Find out more about the course and apply online on our website.

Thanks to Julie McHoul for giving us permission to share her feedback. Julie participated in vESW during the 2011/2012 session. She works at Ayr College where she is an Education Support Advisor.

Evernote Optical Character Recognition

I use Evernote to help organise my work and personal life. It is a very simple app and makes it easy to synchronise notes between my iPad, smartphone and home and work PCs.

There is a useful hidden extra which I have only recently become aware of: Evernote will perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on your photos. Evernote enables you to take a photograph as a note and then categorise it or tag it as you would with a typed note. Once your photo is uploaded to the Evernote server it will perform OCR and therefore allow you to search for any text contained in that note. You can do the same with a photo imported from you photo library.

This could be really useful for people with literacy or memory difficulties who record information using photographs. Rather than having to visually scan through all their photographs to find the one they need, they can simply type a key word and Evernote will find that photo for them and highlight the searched for word.

The amount of time it takes is variable, seemingly dependent on the busyness of Evernote’s servers. I have had one note take minutes while another took 24 hours. If you upgrade to Evernote Premium (£3.99 per month) the images get processed faster.

The accuracy of the OCR is quite good. I’ve tried photos of standard and faded, printed text as well as a photo of the front of my car stereo and it seems to pick up most things. The only text it struggled with was when two names in a list of phone numbers were separated by a / with no space in between. Evernote did not pick up the individual names. This may seem an obvious statement but it will not work with handwritten notes either.  EDIT: Evernote’s technology can perform OCR on handwriting but as they say “The clearer the handwriting, the more likely it will be accurately indexed for search. If the penmanship is difficult to read, then Evernote will have a much harder time discerning the written words.”

Evernote is available on iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 so most smartphone users should be able to download the app. It can also be installed on PC and Mac so that notes can be used away from the smartphone.

Fil McIntyre
Assistive Technologist

Seen at BETT – Software

Before I start with interesting software I saw at BETT there is one development I didn’t mention in the hardware post:

Livescribe Sound Stickerssound stickers

Livescribe Smartpens are a great note taking tool; recording audio and linking it to your written notes.  There are some strange and confusing add-ons for the pen (see the Geometric Ruler App instructions for instance) so I was a little skeptical when I saw the Livescribe Sound Stickers.  These sticky dots are recognised by the Livescribe pen in the same way as the paper in the Livescribe notebooks.  You tap a sound sticker with the pen and then record a message.  The next time you tap that dot, the message is played back.

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NATED is a network of professionals and students which provides an excellent way to share information and gain support when working with Deaf People.

Events are open to everyone with an interest and are valuable both to those new to this area of work, and to people with years of experience looking to enhance their practice. May sees both a UK conference in Durham and a meeting of the Scottish branch of NATED in Glasgow.

The NATED & ACSW Annual Conference and AGM 2011 is on Saturday 14th May at New College Durham. The fee to attend is £75 for members and £100 for non members. Speakers will address a variety of relevant topics including: training for interpreters and communication support workers;  notetaking; language modification; and mental health issues. Full details can be found on the NATED website.

The next NATED Scotland meeting is on Friday 20th May at City of Glasgow College.  The meeting will focus on voiceover training (i.e. where an interpreter voices in English what a Deaf student is signing). For futher details, visit the NATED Scotland site. Attendance is free, but please contact a member of the committee to let them know if you intend to go.