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Last week I was fortunate to attend the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.  We (Techdis) ran a special thematic session with the focus on putting the disabled student in charge.  After some welcoming speeches to both the conference and the region (Upper Austria) we kicked off with two excellent keynotes from both Gerhard Widmer and Kevin Carey.  The first was on using computers to understand access and interact with music.  He showed the ‘performance worm’ which gave a visual representation of a piece of music and you could compare the same piece played by different performers.  Kevin Carey is the Chair of the RNIB and he gave an impassioned speech on the need for author engineered public domain documents. All the keynote sessions and our track sessions had simultaneous sign and text translations for the audience.

Unfortunately the session overran which had a knock on effect for the rest of the day.  I chaired the next two sessions and we had some brilliant papers from all over the world.  Highlights for me included practical solutions for teaching and research with deaf or hard of hearing students,  a project for teaching blind children music from Brazil and two examples of localised installations of Robobraille, one for Danish schools and one at Stanford University.

There were two papers from Poorna Kushalnagar who discussed community based participatory approach in research with practical examples from within the deaf and hard of hearing community, and on research using eye gaze technology to inform those who are delivering to users who need either signed or text interpretation.  Both papers had concrete and practical solutions to making a difference for users and teaching/lecture staff.

Dolores Tomé  gave a great introduction to the use of braille for teaching blind children music in Brazil.  She spoke in Portuguese while José Borges did a simultaneous translation into English – this was also translated to signs and text – a first for  me at least!   José Borges then explained how they use the musibraille software to teach music to blind children.  They concluded their session with an invitation to the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Sean Keegan from Stanford University in the USA explained how they had built a Robobraille installation for the staff and students at Stanford.  This freed up the specialist staff so they could concentrate on creating alternative formats for the less straight forward documentation.  The Danish government have also implemented a Robobraille installation for their schools across the country as explained by Lars Christienson which has supported the integration of visually impaired students into mainstream education.

We had two papers to deliver on the first day.  One was from my colleague Alistair McNaught suggesting an alternative approach to alternative formats.  In this he emphasises the myth of responsibility with librarians being ideally placed to offer alternative formats from publishers – with a good plug for our publisher look up site.  The other paper was highlighting the work done at National Star College in the development of InStep a video assessment tool based on InFolio.

On Thursday morning I discussed the work we have done on the TechDis Toolbox and demonstrated both TechDis Jess and TechDis Jack.  I was slightly astonished to discover that despite this being a Universal Learning Design track no delegate there was aware of how to use reflow and autoscroll in Adobe reader.

The conference dinner on Thursday evening was well attended and accompanied by one of the keynotes – Bruno Bechburger who is not only a Professor of Mathematics but also an excellent clarinetist.

As with many conferences the discussion and networking during the coffee breaks was as useful as the more formal proceedings and I made many very useful contacts from both home and abroad.  The next ICCHP will be in Paris in 2014 but I am looking towards the next ULD conference at the University of Masaryk in Brno – in February next year.

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Here at TechDis we commissioned Cereproc in Edinburgh to develop two high quality synthetic voices.  Most free to use synthetic voices are very robotic and sound very unnatural.  Here’s a good explanation of what a synthetic voice is and how you could use it.

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This is a shortened version of a post on the main JISC Techdis blog on the publication of a symbol based newspaper for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.

It is produced using SymbolStix and looks very good.

Each edition has the same features as a regular newspaper – sports pages (though I’m not sure how many UK users will appreciate news on the NFL – couldn’t they have made an effort and covered the end of the football season?) sudoku and a crossword.   I really liked the idea of the sudoku which could be adapted very easily for lots of subjects.

This appears to be a one off but the download page does promise symbol based resources later in the year. 

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As well as getting ready for the conference the day to day activity of the team goes on. One amazingly productive member of the team is our own John Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell).   He has produced a wide range of e-books and is the sole writer, editor and publisher of our monthly e-magazine.  He unbelievably also manages the output from our TV station – yes a TV station.  RSC TV runs a 20-30 minute loop of material which is changed every month.  It usually includes one or more of the Commoncraft videos mentioned in the previous post.  Some subscribers to the e-magazine have asked that the information is  – fed in a more drip-feed way, and so he now has a blog ‘What DL is happening’ so you can keep up with the new stuff a he finds it.   He kindly sends me links for stuff that would be useful for those teaching more complex learners so I’ll put them up here as and when I get them.  As well as all this, he does find the time to be our ACL adviser.

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