eLearning Accessibility & Inclusion

RSC Scotland North & East

Yesterday Adam Waites from Sensory Software (aka SmartBoxAT) delivered a workshop on The Grid 2. And what a day it was! There is so much to applaud about this software, particularly some of the new switch and scanning features.

Grid 2 offers a range of applications for learners who have complex access and learning needs. For example, the Grid 2 can be used to support learners who rely on augmentative and alternative means of communication (AAC), e.g., symbol based communication. There are also a number of symbol libraries to choose from such as Bliss, Widget and PCS.

Example of a Grid using PCS bliss symbols

A new innovative feature is in the switch and scanning options, i.e., ‘long hold’. For many switch users autoscan can be frustrating, particularly if the scan column or row moves past the intended target. Previously it would mean the user would need to wait until the scan eventually repeats rows/columns until it reaches the target.

The long hold feature allows a switch user to hold the switch down for a set period of time e.g., 3 seconds. If an intended target is missed, long hold enables the scan to move back to the target without progressing to the next row or column – ingenious!

New 'Long hold' switch functionality.

Adam demonstrated how to build Grid 2 templates which can be used to quickly create new grids. Myself and the other delegates also got a chance to create our own grids, templates and much more. Towards the end of the workshop Adam demonstrated how to export and import various grids into The Grid, including Dynavox and Clicker 5 grid sets.

Judging by the feedback from everyone who attended, the workshop was a great success. And to top it all – everyone received a free licensed copy of the software to take away.

The Xerte Project provides a full suite of open source tools to create interactive and inclusive e-learning content.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the Maxos project which includes a portable version of Xerte (the open source inclusive content creation tool) and Moodle, the well known virtual learning environment (VLE). Well the good news is that we now have our very own online Xerte sandpit for you to explore, create and play!

Unfortunately the cupboard is pretty bare just now, in fact it’s empty, but this is something I’m working on. However, in the meantime if you’d like to have a go at developing something, feel free to do so.

You can use my username and password to access the site:

Username: craig
Password: xerte

And the URL is below – enjoy!

Select this link to go to the RSC Xerte sandpit

If you’d like your own username and password let me know and I’ll set one up.

I’d like to thank E.A. Draffan for her contribution to the Access and Inclusion blog. If you’re an avid reader of the blog and would like to write a short article I’d welcome your contribution.

E.A. Draffan is a member of the Research staff in the Learning Societies Lab at the University of Southampton. In this article E.A. discusses the development of a new Access Toolkit to support learners using Web 2.0 technologies.


Over the past few months the Access Technologies team in the Learning Societies Lab at the University of Southampton has been developing a series of tools funded by the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit and JISC TechDis,

One of the points that arose out of the LexDis project (http://www.lexdis.org) was the degree to which students were using their assistive technologies with Web 2.0 type services such as Facebook, blogs and wikis. We found that those who did not need access tools, such as screen readers or keyboard only access, did not necessarily use their text to speech or spell checking software in these situations.

There were also many students who did not have these technologies but still wanted to check their spelling and to change the look of the web pages they were reading. There were also those who wanted to access the web when using computers in other places and they needed some form of support.
An issue that also arose was the general inaccessibility of some of the Web 2.0 sites so it was decided that a three pronged approach was needed.


A website was developed that allows users to test any Web 2.0 site against a series of checks linked to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. These cover the main regarding keyboard access, screen reading, colour changes, text size and type, along with general readability.

We have already checked over 112 Web 2.0 services that will hopefully help users make suitable choices whether for personal use or for a teaching and learning environment. A wizard offers a step by step walk through with links to the techniques used.

Access tools

Portable pen drive applications that can help with accessibility, productivity and leisure activities when on the move have been sourced and added to via AccessApps, EduApps and other pen drives.

Now an accessible menu has been developed to help with navigation to these programs. The settings allow for colour and font changes, large text and keyboard access.

This pen drive has been developed for staff but may also be useful for students. We have made available a series of simple guides that complement the JISC TechDis Accessibility Essentials.

The tools that have been used to test the Web 2.0 services and applications have been added to the download page along with a page of instructions.

For more information about the team and the tools please go to http://access.ecs.soton.ac.uk

The Windows Voice Recognition bar

I recently revisited Windows Voice Recognition and was extremely impressed at its functionality and accuracy. I’ve been a Dragon user for many years and despite all the recent advances that Nuance have made with their Dragon software, I still use an older version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Professional version 7. For those readers who are unfamiliar with voice or speech recognition programs, they allow a user to input text into electronic documents or control a computer by using  voice commands.

Although more expensive than the ‘Preferred’ version, Dragon Professional allows the user to create macro commands. By this I mean that you can record an action on the computer screen, say for example, starting Internet Explorer and browsing to a favourite site. Dragon Professional records the actions to do this, e.g., multiple clicks/keyboard actions etc, which are then saved as a voice command. The next time I want to browse to my favourite site I simply say something along the lines of ‘Go to BBC website’. This will active the macro and Dragon will do the rest. This feature has many potential benefits, particularly for those individuals who are unable to use a standard keyboard or mouse. Dragon can therefore open the door to a wealth of opportunities for disabled people who want to use a computer.

On the downside, Dragon NatruallySpeaking, particularly the Professional version, is very expensive and can be an uphill leaning curve. The secret to using voice recognition is training. Developing an effective ‘voice model’ will in turn provide a number of benefits, such as accuracy when dictating and navigating around the desktop.

This can put many people off. However, the Windows Voice Recognition (in Windows Vista and Windows 7) is an excellent alternative. First of all if you have Windows Vista or are thinking about purchasing Windows 7, there is no additional outlay as Windows Voice Recognition comes built-in. Secondly, the tutorials are very good, easy-to-use and quick, although you can extend the training if required.

The Windows Voice Recognition Panel

In fact, it is possible to do everything with Windows Voice Recognition that you can do with Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred, e.g., dictate into documents, email, navigate the computer desktop, surf the web, open and close programs, move the mouse around with the ‘MouseGrid’ command. And if you get stuck, there’s always the ‘What can I say’ command to get you going.

Although Windows Voice Recognition doesn’t support the use of macros, it is nevertheless a very powerful software application.

In these times of economic difficulties I wonder if would make financial sense for DSA assessors to recommend Windows Voice Recognition as an alternative, particularly for those students who are receiving a new laptop with Windows Vista/7 pre-installed as part their DSA.

The Inclusive Learning blog is innovative and informative

It’s always good to highlight innovative practice when I come across it, and the ‘Inclusive Learning’ blog, is an excellent example. The author, Lisa Valentine, of RSC North and West provides some useful resources as well as a range of informative and interesting blog articles.

One interesting feature of the site is the Cluster Maps app which allows a visitor to see at a glance the geographical location of those who have used the blog. The app also clusters an approximation of the amount of visitors into specific geographical locations.

If you’d like to find out about the latest Nokia Braille Reader or up-to-date news on the MoLeNET project, I would highly recommend give Lisa’s blog a visit.

To visit Lisa’s Inclusive Learning blog select this link

Symbol for clean hands from Imagine Symbols

This blog post is partly in response to Judy’s comments (see the post on Accessible Surveys) but also to highlight her blog: Teaching Students with Learning Difficulties, which is a treasure trove of resources – keep up the great work Judy.

As well as some useful hints and tip for teaching ideas Judy also provides resources in Word and PDF. Judy also makes good use of the open source symbol set from Imagine Symbols. If you’re lucky enough to have Clicker 5, it is possible to import the Imagine Symbol set into your Clicker 5 library and use it as your default image library. This is particuarly useful if you would like or need to use symbols with/for learners but don’t have access to other symbol sets, such as Widgit Software.

To visit Judy’s blog ‘Teaching Students with Learning Difficulties’ select this link