Can you help with informing the future development of Assistive Technology?
The Ace Centre and TechAbility have produced a short survey which should only take 5-10 minutes to complete. In conjunction with Cranfield University they will be collating the skills, knowledge and awareness of assistive technology among all staff in schools and colleges. A great opportunity to be part of feeding back to Government Ministers through the Department of Education.
Play is important for children’s learning. However, a child’s disability may present barriers to their access. Assistive technology in games allows people with motor disabilities such as cerebral palsy to experience independence.
Switch adapted toys are modified to reroute the original switch to a larger one that is easy to operate by a finger, foot or button switch of varying size and material. Specialist switch adapted toys are widely available but can be expensive. Any standard battery or mains powered device can be converted to switch operation by using a battery adapter or PowerLink device. If you would like to know more, please do get in touch.
Computer games offer a social approach to learning and collaboration. Gamers seek out news sites, read and write FAQs, participate in discussion forums and become critical consumers of information.
The virtual worlds of games are powerful because playing games means developing a set of effective social practices. This active participation can assist the development of language and social skills between gamers as they collaborate in teams, using different but overlapping skills, knowledge and values. In the process, they create distributed and dispersed knowledge within a community in ways that would please any workplace (Wenger, 2002) and may be better sites for preparing workers for modern workplaces than traditional schools (Gee, 2003).
Special Effect is a UK based charity which took accessibility and gaming a step further and aims to “put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games.” (c) website
Their free piece of eye-tracking software, EyeMine, lets anyone play Minecraft with their eyes. It allows gamers without dexterity or movement to use a controller or other pointing device to jump into the Minecraft environment to enjoy the full experience of the game.
Minecraft is a game that encourages collaborative play which can be used as a platform for students working and playing in isolation.
This is a great example of developing software to work with assistive technology. For students who are isolating or restricted from engaging with friends, online gaming can be a lifeline helping build social networks.
At CENMAC we have been working with a student with cerebral palsy who wanted to play online games with his friends. He is unable to use a game controller and controls and uses his computer with an eye gaze device. We set up Minecraft and EyeMine for him and almost immediately he was able to start playing. There is a learning curve for him to develop these skills, but no more than for anyone first starting to play computer games. He has found this new ability very liberating and can now play with his brother and a friend online. This is very exciting, and he is now asking about driving and flying games.
EyeMine installed on a laptop to control
Minecraft with players' eyes
In January's newsletter we talked about recent technologies. Two devices we looked at were the Microsoft Adaptive gaming controller and the Logitech Adaptive gaming kit. These fantastic pieces of equipment work with Microsoft's PlayStation, replacing the handheld controller with completely customisable, personalised controls for any user no matter what their challenges. These devices in combination have opened gaming to gamers with wide ranging disabilities.
We have been experimenting with these devices and Microsoft's gaming development platform Kodu Game Lab (whose original target platform was the Xbox 360) to create personalised custom games for our students. Kodu Game Lab is a 3D game development environment which teaches young people basic programming principles. Kodu allows creators to build the world's terrain, populate it with characters and props, and program their behaviours and games rules in a bespoke visual programming language.
Microsoft has been developing its accessibility offering. Code Jumper is designed to support the delivery of basic coding and computer science for blind or visually impaired learners. Brightly coloured plastic tactile pods with oversized buttons and knobs are connected by jumper cables. 'Block coding' is used in the computing curriculum as an accessible, visual approach to introduce computational thinking and builds on the approach taken with programming languages like MIT’s Scratch.
However, instead of ‘drag and drop’ on a screen learners connect physical blocks to create programs. Each pod functions like lines of written code and carries out a different type of command. The equipment pairs up with a PC and app, with a clear user interface compatible with screen readers.
There are resources and lessons online, and we are excited at the opportunities it will present for coding for learners with vision impairments. Designed by Microsoft, the tool was developed by The American Printing House for the Blind and is distributed by Humanware.
We are lucky enough to have a CENMAC team member, Mary Long, undertaking QTVI training. She introduced Lego Braille Bricks to the team. Unlike regular Lego bricks, Braille Bricks’ studs are arranged to correspond to the numbers and letters in the braille alphabet showing a printed version of the symbol or letter allowing blind and sighted children to play together. The bricks were developed by the Lego Foundation, and there are fun activities for children on their website.
Mary says: “I'm really looking forward to using the bricks with children at the early stages of learning braille. It will be a fantastic addition to have some low-tech options as well as all the high-tech available already at CENMAC. Children learn best through play and exploration. For children with a vision impairment the early exploration of using touch to understand the world around them is vital. If they can do this through play, in a non-pressured way, it will support them in learning those vital skills that are needed to become competent braillists.”
The project is entirely non-profit, and the sets are not for sale. The Braille Bricks have been offered to services catering to the education of children who have vision impairments, and CENMAC has several sets. If you would like to put them to use within your setting, please do get in touch.
Teaching Assistant of the Month
June 2021 TA of the Month Award Hassan at Bishop Thomas Grant School
Black and Disabled in TV: Meet Nadal - he’s 24 years old and was diagnosed with meningitis cerebral palsy two weeks after he was born. Nadal can’t talk verbally but communicates through an app on his iPad.