A collection of Study Strategy apps

I have collected  a series of open source, free, portable,  mobile online and commercial software programs that might help with studying – they are not specifically assistive technology items – this is where I like the idea of mainstreaming assistive technology!  The commercial  products mentioned, in particular the text to speech programs, tend to offer much more than just speech synthesis.  They have spell checker, note taking support, scanning and OCR, dictionaries and much more.  Therefore think of the commercial text to speech products as having features that should be included in many of the other slides!  Download a Study Strategy Technologies for HE Microsoft Word document version of the slides below to see the main points and web addresses.

Here are the slides that can be downloaded from SlideShare. They will be discussed on EASI Webinar on 23/02/2011.

Web browser accessibility extensions plus a move into apps

The five most commonly used browsers all have extensions or add-ons that can help you surf the web.  Here are some suggestions for each one.


The Mozilla Firefox extensions include:

  • Color That Site! – changes the background colour of web sites
  • Text to Voice 1.05 – adds text to speech to a site
  • Colorfultabs – makes your tabs appear with different colours
  • Wikilook –  provides meanings for words when selected
  • Dictionary.com – a dictionary button that also provides access to a thesaurus, translations and spell check
  • Google toolbar – which has a spell checker, time, calculator, dictionary and many more add-ins and also works with Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer
The Chrome extensions include:
The Opera add-ons include:
Opera also has its own e-book reader and built in spell checker.
Safari Add-ons are new and the built in Safari Reader strips out surrounding clutter.
Finally don’t forget the ATbar will work with any browser and provide text enlargement, a dictionary, spell checking, text to speech and a way of changing colours and fonts and citing web pages.
When it comes to apps we are exploring iPad, iPhone and Android ones. iPhone and iPad apps are all available from the Apple app site and  study type apps that are useful ones include:
  • Dragon/Google Voice  Search
  • Dragon Dictate
  • Web Reader – $1.99
  • My Homework
  • Evernote

The Android Apps include:

  • WalkyTalky – spoken walking directions from Google Maps and Intersection Explorer
  • EasyNote
  • Google Search
  • Digital talking timer
Links to more of these types of resources will follow shortly.

Fix The Web launched to focus on e-accessibility with ATBar reaching 2m users!

Citizens Online has launched an innovative project called Fix the Web with the rather ambitious aim of (at least partially) addressing e-accessibility issues from a grass roots perspective, making use of social media for network effects.

The idea is that disabled people can report faulty websites and requirements for pieces of software which people with technical skills can address. Web fixing tools may be the solution along with emails to web developers. If this can be achieved on a large scale then change is possible!

At this stage input is required from both disabled people and techies on the scope of the project and on developing the website.

Further information can be found at fixtheweb.wordpress.com

The ATBar has recently reached over 2 million users. 2m users stats

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.

Last posting from Tokyo includes HCR 2010

Odaiba exhibition areaIt must be one of the largest  Home, Care and Rehabilitation Exhibitions in the world with over 80,000 attendees on the day we attended and over 20,000 stands.  Most were related to home care, mobility aids, furniture and very little about communication or use of the computer to aid daily living such as shopping on line or reading using technology.  However, here are a few items that caught the eye.

Under the auspices of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) Rumi and I saw an HTC windows system mobile phone with Japanese text to speech with highlighting for scanned pictures.  The text to speech has a little bit of a way to go to make it useful for dyslexic users but the phone could be set in a cradle above the printed page and used in a similar way to the Intel Reader – obviously not as powerful but the recognition rate was good.

There was an example of mobile PSP devices being used in cinemas and the ability for deaf users at home to read captioning related to what is seen on the screen.  The health and safety video I saw also had the captioning displayed alongside a signer.  At present the system – web-shake has just been used for DVDs available in Japan.  The captioning is sent over the internet with time stamps that correlate with those on the video and the user can access the system via their pc or mobile phone.

pen and blackberryRCAST developed a mobile phone-based electronic personal profiler for care and support information mainly for use with the elderly who are supported by a range of carers.  This now has the addition of a digital pen used on the forms that carers fill in – the information is transferred via PC when the pen is docked and linked to the server.  The contents of the client’s notes are sent to a manager and stored with appropriate information being sent onto the next carer, via her mobile phone, 30 minutes before she makes her visit.  This means that there is no break in service, each carer learns about the client’s needs and also their interests such as the reason they are feeling low today may not be due to a physical issue but rather the fact that their favourite football team lost a match!  Similar systems using the digital pen have been used in UK in the past and more recently with midwifery teams in Portsmouth with the use of Blackberries.

switchSlightly less computer based was the use of a synthetic rubber material from gomuq that is used to make pen grippers, stop rulers sliding and stick onto switches – it really had the most amazing grip on all surfaces!

The day ended with a chance to play with the latest Robot developed in the deparment – it had recently walked from Tokyo to Kyoto at around 3 kilometers an hour but when you are walking alongside it that speed feels incredibly fast as it is so tiny! It carries two ordinary AA Panasonic battiers on its back and pulls another ten in a small cart!  robot

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.