Category Archives: LexDis

AccessTools v2 – accessible menu for portable apps.

The latest version of the AccessTools Menu thanks to Chris Phethean who writes:

AccessTools menuThis year has seen a new version of the AccessTools menu system enter beta testing after another summer of development. It offers all the features of version 1 with the ability to tab through and use short cut keys for menu items, enlarge and change the font colours and background as well as launch programs directly from the pen drive without installation.  There is a new feature offering different languages and the ability to hide programs that are not required.  There are also easy links to Windows built in accessibility features such as the magnifier, onscreen keyboard and narrator text to speech.

In response to some issues which came to our attention during the testing of version 1 with regards to .NET runtime compatibility on older PCs, we decided to branch away from the original C# code and recreate the menu experience using Java. Whilst the Java program still requires a runtime environment to be installed on each machine, we are able to include this in the AccessTools package to be placed on the USB flashdrives. With the help of an open source tool, JSmooth, it was possible to wrap the Java Executable into a Windows .exe file, and in this process ensure that the Java Runtime placed on the USB drive will be used to launch the menu. At the cost of a slightly larger package size, this should ensure that most Windows PCs, whether they have Java installed already or not, will be able to run the menu.

Other issues were encountered with the Java version. Because Java programs run inside a virtual environment, getting them to communicate with the Windows Assistive Technologies is difficult. In order for screenreader use, the Java Access Bridge would need to be installed on any computer on which this functionality is required. Due to the portable nature of this project, this was not a suitable solution, and so we had to limit the visual appearance of this version (Java AWT was used instead of Swing, and the interface limited to mainly buttons).

Big improvements have been made under the hood of the new version of AccessTools. Due to the similarity of C# and Java, much of the code could be re-used with fairly small amounts of tweaking. This process allowed the previous code to be thoroughly reviewed, refined and improved, before any new code was even added to the system. The complicated nature of the downloader in Version 1, for example, has been simplified by ensuring that each application offered will be in the same format (a single zip file), which means we can offer a much more streamlined process of downloading and installing new applications.

Finally, we owe many thanks to Fx Software who have kindly allowed us to redistribute their software as part of this project. This means we can add this wide range of incredibly useful assistive technologies to the open source tools provided in version 1.

More technology strategies from RCAST, University of Tokyo

Pomera note takerDuring the week I have been introduced to students, eminent professors and company directors all the while seeing technologies being used in many different ways.  From a simple note taker called a Pomera that has a normal sized keyboard but folds into a pocket book sized device using SD cards and 2 AAA batteries to the latest Anoto digital pen used for research and assessments.

The Anoto pen captures writing on the specialist paper containing a gird of dots that allows the actual timing of writing and way the characters are made to be captured.  The data is transferred to the computer in XML format and used in Excel as well as specialist program that also has the video of the process allowing an analysis of the speed of writing from start to finish as well as the way each letter or character is written.  Anoto writingtransfer anoto files

This process allows for some very accurate assessments of handwriting skills both in schools and when using copying exercises in Psychology tests.

ihorn for quiet speechAs a Speech Therapist I was fascinated by a wonderfully simple ihorn – not an iphone app or speaker but a device for allowing a person who had lost their voice to be heard by someone else.

Finally, when it comes to portable scanning the little Fujitsu Scansnap copied a batch of papers for Optical Character Recognition and text to speech use in no time – straight onto an iPhone for listening to as an Mp3 file! fujitsu scansnap

Technologies abound at the New Education Expo 2010 in Tokyo

screen on cupboardA visit to Expo 2010 was a fascinating experience with the most beautiful wooden classroom furniture, learning aids and relaxation activities jostling for space amongst the very latest in cameras, scanners, visualisers, printers and software. The amount of pamphlets, shiny brochures and papers also made one realise the challenge  for Japan to develop digital text books for schools let alone developing text to speech that will read across the page, down the page, find the gaps for meaning and work out the differences that occur between over 6,000 characters, some which represent concepts and others that represent sounds.sample newspaper

Mitsumura Tosho Publishing Co Ltd had on show the most beautifully illustrated reading book that provided the student with not only the text version but a CD with real speech tracking the text, individual character support, dictionary and worksheets.   It was an example of the student being able to work independently through the book whereas many of the other digital books on show were for the teachers to work from whilst the children had the original paper based textbook.

There were many cameras and visualisers on show for use with white boards of all descriptions.  The one that caught my eye was a small inexpensive iPevo that could be used with zoom and various levels of colour contrast. Automatic focus and extremely portable and only requiring a USB computer connection.

The white or smart boards all tended to be of the fixed variety or on large stands but one system called the eBeam (available in UK) is very portable and could be fixed to most surfaces, linked to a laptop and provide many of the interactive opportunities offered by the larger boards.

blackboard screen for TVWhere schools have very large televisions there is the chance to turn them into blackboards – a little retro for some but it provides another opportunity for a hands on experience!  Izumi were offering this protective cover for very large screens.

There were little memo pads like the Boogie Board mentioned in the last post – the one that I would have liked was called the Mamemo TM1 and some amazing 3D camera technology.  I tried to capture a flavour of the 2D experience changing into a 3D.  The skeleton literally leapt out from the screen at all angles and it was hard to capture the result!  (well that is my excuse for my poor technololgy skills – the movie that resulted was 31MB so sorry only a picture of a static skeleton! ) skeleton

First day of technology strategies from the University of Tokyo

Having arrived at the centre for AT2Ed at the University of Tokyo RCAST I immediately learnt about the Thursday morning meetings to discuss the latest technologies that are available.  It appears from the team’s blog (translation best viewed in Internet Explorer!) that the Ipad is the recent talking point.  This was borne out on  Tuesday evening when it was time to explore Shibuya and discover the true meaning of a weak pound!  (It is expensive here at the moment!)

Rumi using ipadRumi Hirabayashi (taking a PhD in dysgraphia and technology) using her iPad guided me around the area as can be seen from the picture.  Whilst walking around I learnt more about several apps that helped when translation was lacking!

The Hitsudan Patto app can be used with the iPad positioned between two people to text each other rather like the view you have using a Tony Churchill Lightwriter. However, with the ipad it is possible to draw as well as type.

The next app that Rumi showed me if we could not hear or see eachother in the crowd – it is called iBannerHD – a LED scrolling banner of words or symbols!

But the one I liked the most was iBrainstorm – a free mindmapping app which allows you to move post-its around with links drawn where you like.  Text can be written by hand or on the post-it via the keyboard.  It is possible to rub out mistakes etc and when complete email the result or save as a picture.  Ipad with iBrainstorm

All these apps work on an iphone as well.

Tomorrow we are off to the New Education Expo 2010 in Tokyo for the next batch of new strategies and technologies!

Just leave messages on the office door via the BoogieBoard!

Boogie Board

iPad provides support as an assistive technology and others hold their breath for the alternatives.

iPad accessibility information is provided on the Apple website but we have yet to explore the Android and  Dell Streak apps or other android features for accessibility.

When it comes to iPad, Richard Ells from University of Washington Information Technology Dept, (Seattle USA) provided links to:

A Whole New World – How an iPad is helping a boy with cerebral palsy

The iPad as an Affordable Communicator
This is an Initial Review – A person with cerebral palsy tries out Proloque2Go app on an iPad

iPad App Helps Autistic Teen Communicate
iMean is an app that turns the entire iPad screen into a large-button keyboard, helping speech-challenged communicate needs and ideas.”

MindMeister for iPad is now available from the iTunes store and syncs with your online mindmaps.

Spectronics have a list of iPhone/iPad Apps for AAC

Ricky Buchanan of ATMac talks about how she is going to explore more apps and the fun of the ipad

Finally the Telegraph say that the RNIB thinks the Apple iPad is ‘great gadget’ for blind people

JISC TechDis toolbar and LexDis participant in the news

This news item comes because recently there have been three articles about the JISC TechDis toolbar – It all started with Lifehacker on 24th June, 2010, followed by The H-online blog during the TransferSummit Conference on 25th June, 2010 and today we had the makeuseof.com blog under the title of “Bring Accessibility Features To All Websites With TechDis Toolbar” that has some really good screen grabs.   The server survived some incredible peaks and there have been over 25,000 uses of the toolbar in the last six days.

JISC TechDis toolbar stats

Other good news is that Neil Cotterell of LexAble.com,  developer of Global Autocorrect as a strategy to help his own spelling  has won a Young Achiever Award from the British Dyslexia Association.

‘Changes that have happened to my learning environment’

“I use lots of different technologies and Web 2.0 software that might be considered an assistive technology, but a lot of mainstream education is using them – things like Google docs, Skype and things like that. ”  Teresa introducing the mind map she made showing how the changes in the types of technologies available have affected her learning environment.

These changes in the use of technologies have been mentioned by other students, who have also said that they make decisions on the type of technologies they will use based on time constraints, the tasks they need to do and ease of use.  There is  much learning about different technologies and strategies from peers and some academics. Many students admit they do not take up specialist training but tend to learn how to use these technologies by trial and error or through friends.

The mind map covers topics such as different types of hardware that is becoming more protable, prolific and cheaper, software options that include virtual learning environments, study skills applications and personalisation.   Then there is the way Teresa works with technologies and the use of social networks.  Over the last year we have also tried to evaluate the ease of use and accessibility of Web 2.0 services on the Web2Access site.

mind map of technology changes

The Participation Journey – Part One – Ellen's three key points.

Over the coming weeks I hope to add a series of blogs about the participatory approach we took to our JISC funded Learner Experience project, the impact it had on us as researchers, comments from those taking part and also discussions and papers that also allowed some of us, who were working on different projects, to link up and work collaboratively.

Before we delve into some of the research and ask others about their part in the LexDis project it seemed a good idea to ask Ellen Lessner who was Project Manager for the Phase 2 Support and Synthesis project, to provide an overview. She very kindly did more than that and has given us a Mind map with audio (avi file) of the three things she feels help to make successful participatory projects.
The transcript of the audio may be found beneath this image of the mind map

“Hello. This is a brief summary of why I think the Learner Experience Participation in the JISC Experience Projects worked so well. It is an overview, really and I have identified three things which I think were important:

The first one was that individual project members actually had quite a lot to do with keeping in touch with people who were participating in their projects, and that was very critical to the success of the individual projects. And, in fact, at the end of the projects I think that the role of these individuals was acknowledged and applauded, really – because, whether they were keeping in touch by email, text, phone or in person, their role could not be underestimated – and they turned out to be key players.

The Thema project, in fact, which used a ‘penpal’ method of keeping in touch by email, is probably a good place to start, to see how that was identified as working particularly well for keeping participants involved in the project. But, as I said, it was also individual personalities that just turned out to be in the right place at the right time – which kept people going.

Second of all, it was quite important to actually know what the learners’ value to enable them to stay on the project, and I think each project knew what had worked previously and what hadn’t worked previously with learners – in other words what was interesting for them. So some people thought that Amazon vouchers weren’t going to work. They used cash. Others found the vouchers worked perfectly well. Then there was a whole range of things over the 2 years that the projects ran, including a Twix bar attached to a survey that turned out to be very popular. But mainly, people were given either cash or vouchers at the completion of their participation, and that was a very important aspect of keeping people on board, because obviously students need money.

Finally, my point of view would be that, because of working in a university environment, many of the participants actually understand the importance of the research. And, actually a number of students probably want to into research themselves if they want to stay on as post-graduates. So, they are willing to participate. I come from further education, so it has been a little bit harder to get people involved in research projects, and I would think that the couple of the projects that were working with FE students, or people who had come from FE, also found that sometimes it was a little harder to get them involved.

Anyway – that is my opinion. Three things: having key people on the team who keep up the relationship with the individual learner participant, actually knowing the learner’s value, and also working within a university where people understand the importance of research probably helped make this very successful.

Thank you for beta testing the JISC TechDis Toolbar.

The JISC TechDis toolbar is out for beta testing and we would just like to thank all those who have been trying it out.  We are incredibly grateful to the folks who have contributed to the bug tracking.  Any new ideas and issues that have arisen are gratefully received.

We would also like to thank Steve Lee and OSS Watch for all their support with this our first open source project.  We have learnt so much about this community along the way and are now involved in two other open source projects – one for Computer Aid – building a magnifier for a pen drive and another very exciting application that will help those who have communication difficulties.

Garry Paxton has set up a Charitable Trust that is not only developing open source content in the form of the Mulberry symbol set to support those who have communication difficulties, but is now making it possible for Seb to develop an open source application for sharing it on the web – the project is called Picboard .

We will be revamping our Access technologies web pages next week to keep everyone updated on all the projects and LexDis is still open for more student strategies.  There is a quick screen cast of how you can add a lite version of the toobar to Internet Explorer.  Apologies for the poor sound quality… I need to replace my headset!

We have also created a button for the Toolbar that you can embed on your page to start the toolbar:

Toolbar Launcher

PNG format


Launch Toolbar

GIF format

Happy App downloading if you have an iPhone!

Lots of new things happening in the world of Assistive Technology and the good news is that they are even happening on the iphone!   You can now Dragon Search on the Apple App Store!  That means that you can use speech recognition to search the Apple iPhone app store!  The download for the Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking app is also available.

ATMac talks about making the iPhone your own personal library with Wattpad and Papers.

Sometime ago AssistiveWare announced the iphone can become an augmented communication device  – Proloquo2Go: AAC  in Your Pocket

Alan Lawrence has made a version of Dasher, the text prediction software, for the  iPhone.  It is now available for free from the iTunes Store.

Applestoreapps.com have a useful list of the  ‘Top 50 Free Education Apps‘  and when you search for spelling apps you may come across Brain Blaze Spelling which is a useful way to test whether you still have the ability to pick the correct word from a list of spelling corrections as if you were using a spell checker!

By the way we have been working with JISC TechDis on their new toolbar which can be seen in action on the front page of LexDis and with luck you may have noticed that it automatically loaded when you loaded this blog!

It allows you to have text to speech, spell checking, font resizing, colour changes and a dictionary and to reference a web page for your notes as you surf the internet.  It works with most browsers as a download or there is the lite version which is easiest to use as a bookmark as can be seen in the image below.

Adding the toolbar to your 'favorites' in Internet Explorer

Adding the toolbar to your 'favorites' in Internet Explorer

All the best for 2010!