Sunday, 31 January 2010

31. Commentary on provision of technology

I co-authored a recent report that (in theory) could contribute towards an agenda which provides appropriate support to dyslexic individuals in Europe. One of the recommendations was that they "should provide free access to all for the main assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech, in all the official languages ....". I have seen a number of analyses that talk about the social impact of failing to support the dyslexic individual, and how there should be more trained teachers. But where is the comparison of how much the government pays out for provision of assistive technology compared to what it would be cost to produce a good open source series of products available for every student? Nor is there an analysis of why this analysis does not happen. Could it be the vested interests of the advisors?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

30. Learning resource

I confess I have not tried this one, but it was recommended by a reader. ( Thanks A). Apparently this free software is "very similar to Look, cover, write and check for learning spellings, but on the computer. It great for students who likes to learn things on the computer." According to the website "Unlike other spelling programs, the word lists are completely customisable so that they can always match what your child is required to do for school." Review comments include "Simple, research-based, easy for kids to learn & use. Good font size and face for kids. Self correction is built right in." and "You can add your own spelling list. This program is good for kids and adults because it isn't to childish."

RnRSpelling 1.3

Friday, 29 January 2010

29. Writing

Occassionally I come across a sight that is almost too good to be true. This is one such site. It takes your essay, and rates it for you. The four main sections are called Plagiariam clearance, Free text evaulation, Ultimate proofreading and Text enhancement. And it is free. There must be a catch somewhere, but currently I cannot see it.


Thursday, 28 January 2010

28. iPad

This year I am trying to highlight a different category each day rather than a specific product. Today, we have both, since the launch yesterday of the Apple iPad seems not only to be a product but also attempting to create a marked between the smart phone and the netbooks. Check out the BBC video. However, I have not yet managed to find out about the text-to-speech capability.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

27. Presentations

What do you get if you cross a Powerpoint with a concept map? Answer: A Prezi. It Powerpoint is the linear presentation tool that takes you from A-Z in a straight line, which works for most, then Prezi is a presentation tool where you can jump to any point at any time. It is made for those of us who do not think in a linear fashion. It means you can have a lot of information to hand and jump to whatever you need next. Conversely it means that you need to be extra careful that you present all the information in a structured manner that informs the listener/viewer. Check out the Showcase presentations. They have also just made quite a few improvement to make it easier to use.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

26. Automated functions

Many people use the mouse to access the drop-down menus rather. But there is a quicker ways that does not require much memory. One of my favourites (it works in Microsoft Office) is F10. Hit that button and the short-cuts prompts appear. Then just hit Alt and the onscreen prompt letter, and you have the result. (It may not sound like sense but try it and see if you can find a better way to explain it briefly!)

Monday, 25 January 2010

25. OCR

I do not use OCR that often. But occasionally I come across a document that is a picture rather than text. For example, a few days ago I wanted to copy and paste something from the Rose Report but found I could not. The answer is online OCR. This is a recommended version. (Thanks Pietro.)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

24. Comment - What to recommend?

Having said yesterday about an exciting new project, and how it appear to have neglected the issue of technology, it made me think what I would do if asked. Of course I shall avoid the obvious answer (read my book Dyslexia in the Digital Age - sorry about the plug) and say that it will vary from country to country, but the requirements are clear - text-to-speech, concept mapping, memory aids and reminders as a minimum. If you can nominate those (in your language and preferably available free) then to me you are a long way towards being dyslexia-friendly with respect to technology. However, simply knowling the name of the software is not enough. There has to be working knowledge of it, and easy access to it. Does that mean everybody in the place awarded the Quality Mark needs to know how to use it? I think my answer is no, but everybody should know that there is a solution, and who has more details. Without this, how can you say that an institution (or even an individual) is dyslexia friendly?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

23. Projects - Dyslexia Veto

I have yet to work out what the title actually means, but the project is very exciting. It is about the expansion of the British Dyslexia Association Quality Mark (QM) into Europe. For those not familiar with it, the QM is a title of distinction that is given to an institution/organisation that reaches a certain level with respect to being dyslexia-friendly. It includes requirements for all aspects from requirements for staff awareness, to access to assessments. However, from the technology perspective, it appears to only talk about "awareness of resources" rather than access to resources and knowledge of resources. I shall watch with interest to see what appears in that respect. Despite this, I think it will be an exciting project to watch, and should have a huge impact across Europe, provide it is taken up wider than the partner institutions.

The countries involved are UK, Bulgarian, Hungary, Italy and Romania. Currently there is no website available. I will advise when available.

Friday, 22 January 2010

22. Browsers - Addons for appearance

There is nothing worse than having to inherit somebody else's "ideas" of what something should look like. In this case I am talking about browsers and that it may not be set up as I prefer. One reason why I like Firefox so much is that there are so many people out there who produce add-ons to make the browsers look like and respond as I like. There are too many to report on, but they are listed. But it may take some time to find the right one. Be careful to check what you are looking at is compatible with the latest version of Firefox.

Firefox Add-ons

Thursday, 21 January 2010

21. Hardware - E-Readers

I have reviewed many e-readers on this blog, and sometime it seems there are several launched every week. Therefore rather than try to look at each, I thought I would point out a good review page. Just click on one of the 25 (yes 25!) images to go to their nice and short review.

Bloomberg's Buyers guide to E-Readers

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

20. Screen recording software

A few days ago I realised that I needed to save something from the screen and send it to somebody. But I was not sure what software to use. After talking to a few friends and colleagues, I came across this website that made some recommendations. Although tempted by BB Flashback (I even downloaded their 30 day free trial version), I have decided to opt for Techsmith's Camtasia Studio, despite it costing more. The reason is that I found a friend who has it installed at the college where he does some teaching, and has offered to provide me with support if required. The problem is that too many of these softwares are crammed so full of extras that you can get lost in sub-menus. So my preference is to go for something that is either simple and free (e.g. CamStudio - OK, but not so dyslexia-friendly if you want to make a professional quality video), or where I know I can get some sensible help.

Screen recording software

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

19. Memory and organisation - Stickies

Once upon a time I used to write a note onto a small piece of paper and then put it on a cork board. Then somebody said use a computer. I miss my cork board, until now. Listhings is a simple website that allows you to do just that - put sticking on a virtual cork board. Hit F11 to make it fill the entire screen, and you have the cork board covering the entire screen.

I know of a good friend who complained that she have her entire desktop covered with Stickies. Could this be the way out of her problem?


Click here for another 11 types.

Monday, 18 January 2010

18. Writing aids - word prediction

Word prediction is good, but not always. Recently I mentioned on this blog a really great little piece of free software called TypingAid. The beauty of this is that you can decide what you want in the predictor. That is, you have a text file, and put in the phrases you wish to have appear. At the moment, I have just three in there, which are common things I want to get right each time. If I type "ian", it provide "". If I type "Dys" (note the capital) it offers me the my full definition of dyslexia (I use it quite a lot!). And if I type "htt", it offers this blog. (I know this looks sad, but I do it for illustration.

However, the same company is now looking to extend this with BlitzType, which has similar features to TypingAid, namely
* Auto-complete words and phrases in any window.
* Automatically learn from typing.
* Hide or always show suggestion.
* Different ways to auto-complete, including 'text expand'.
* Add words and phrases to database with shortcut key.
* Portable.

Coming features:
* Support European languages with accents.
* Read user-defined phrases from an external word list
* multiple suggestions in the tooltip.
* improve usability

But to me the most exciting part is that TypingAid can now handle many more scripts, such as Bosnian. If this is the case, then simple, dyslexia-friendly word prediction can be made available in far more languages than previously. I would welcome feedback of test languages.

BiltzType and TypingAid

Sunday, 17 January 2010

17. Design award

I was recently given the opportunity to contribute to a debate about what new guidelines should be put forward with respect to web accessibility. I suggest that it was not new guidelines that were required, but implementation of the old guidelines.

As I recently wrote:
3. The EU needs to ensure its own sites are compliant with dyslexia guidelines.
The page entitled Focus eAccessibility ( is not a good example for designers. The page is too cluttered, and does not have any buttons for accessibility. If you use the menus, you can change background colours, but the clarity of navigation decreases. The EU and other recognized bodies, such as government departments and the WAI, should practise what they preach. (Dyslexia in the Digital Age, Smythe, 2010)

The trouble is that the people who ask for such advice do not have the power to implement it. What makes it worse is that those supposedly working for the good of the dyslexia community fail to provide adequate exemplars that could be a reference source for those catering for all and not just dyslexic individuals.

Perhaps what we needs is some form of Award for Dyslexia Friendly (Websites and Design) - The DyFrA's.

16. Website of the week

While this blog can give you the latest information on dyslexia and technology, and you can search back through the archives using the search box (top left), sometimes you need to be able to access more information, of find company/product details which are not always accessible on a manufacturers website. Emptech provides this and much more. As the blurb says "EmpTech aims to provide information resources on assistive technologies that are designed to help those with specific difficulties or disabilities work and study more effectively. The database includes product descriptions, links to manufacturers, suppliers with addresses as well as other related resources including advice and training guides where available. News items linked to the use of assistive technologies are regularly posted and updates occur on a weekly basis."


Friday, 15 January 2010

15. Search and research

There are many ways to do research, most of which produce masses of words which simply confuse. However, there are two ways that make life a little simpler, using the latest internet technology. The best appear to be Zotero and Yahoo Search Pad. Both have videos on their front pages to help explain how you can log information, its source and save in a convenient format.

However, there is a rumour that there is another (commercial) form which not only save the information from the web, but then turns it into a concept map. However, more details are awaited before I can confirm it. But it could be of significant benefit to many people.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

14. Computers

At the BETT (technology and education) show today there was little new that would be of interest to many people. There was no cutting edge hardware that would guarantee learning success. Nor was there software that seemed much different from last year.

The one thing that caught my eye was the dual screen laptop from Kohjinsha. Apparently they are the one of the first on the market, boasting two 10.1 inch (1024 x 600) screens. These would be great if you are like me and hate having to drill down through all those open windows to find what you want. How wonderful it would be to be able to see all the documents you need at the same time. That said, this one is a little small for me, but suggests that others will be coming along soon.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

13. Supporting students

Following on from the blog of yesterday, I receive an email which raises something that have been a concern of mine for some time. With permission (thanks, A) I quote the following "I have found that people with dyslexia are given the technology to help them, but not given support on how to use it. I was give a number of things to help me, but was "NOT" shown how to use it and a few other dyslexics have told me the same thing. To me this is just a waste of money, because if you cannot use it, because you have not been shown or can work it out for yourself, you do not use it. I think this needs highlighting too." So the question is not just where is the support, but what is effective support, and how do you ensure the right support is given to each individual? Clearly, a standard one-off technology needs assessment is not the right answer.

In iSHeds (, a project supporting dyslexic students in university in the Balkan countries (Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania), the "solution" has been to develop e-learning for both those supporting dyslexic students and the students themselves. Of course it cannot cover all aspects, but in a region where currently there is nothing, it offers a starting point, a kind of lifeline, to many who would otherwise have nothing. The irony is that those Balkans students could end up with more support available than what many students currently receive across the UK.

The iSheds material is, apparently, due to be available in about a month, and will be in English as well as the languages mentioned. And it will all be free. However, the concept mapping tool developed as part of the project is already available at

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

12. Books

I know that I do not usually mention books here, but this one is slightly different - it is mine!

Dyslexia in the Digital Age is launched tomorrow. As you can imagine, it talks about dyslexia in the digital age, in just about every aspect. For more details, visit the publishers website through the link

Monday, 11 January 2010

11. User preferences

There are many ways to aid reading, and one that many dyslexic individuals have found useful is to change the background colour. This can be by using coloured paper, or it could be by changing the background colour on the screen. There are several says to do this.

By changing browser setting - this can override the website colours, and can be accessed through browser Tools/Options.

By changing preferences in programs such as Microsoft Word and Acrobat.

By download programs such as T-Bar, a simple tool that you can make bigger and small, and choose any colours you wish.

The last is the best I have found, and it is free.

And how do you know what is right for you? Try

Sunday, 10 January 2010

10. Nothing new!

This coming week sees the 2010 BETT Show in London, the trade show that is billed as the biggest Education and Technology Show in the world. I shall be going, but only to network with a few colleagues. Sadly, there is little new to see. Why am I so cynical? Because a few years ago there was exciting innovation that gave the show a real buzz, and in a field devoid of content, there was the potential to excite the imagination. But now we are at some sort of saturation, with little potential to be amazed by something new.

Does this mean that there will be nothing new? Are we doomed for years of incremental change that is marketing rather than needs driven?

Sadly I think that is the case. I am sure there will be new netbooks and tablets, 3D televisions and robots. There will be those hand-held voting devices, learning on mobile phones and many other increments. But will there be anything which mean that kids learn literacy skills, better, faster, easier? I will let you know!

BETT 2010

Saturday, 9 January 2010

09. E-readers

What is an e-reader? Basically it is a tool that allows you to read a book from a flat screen. The other way to look at it is a computer, but with limited capabilities. The one most in the news is Amazon's Kindle. But there are many more out there - Barnes and Noble Nook, Asus, iRex, Stanza, not to mention Google book. Already this year we have seen the launch of iRiver's Story, Hanvon's WISEreader and Bookeen's Orizon! So else is in store?

But to me an eReader is nothing more than a tablet PC, in black and white (usually) which can do only one thing - present books and magazines for reading. How is that different from having a tablet netbook? The answer is that the latter will do a lot more. Why do I mention all this now? Because if the rumours are right, Apple are looking to do with books what their iPhone did to music. How to you do that? By launching a tablet Apple. The rumours have been around for the best part of a year. They are having a big event later this month. Could we see Apple change the world of reading? And if so, where will text-to-speech feature on their agenda?

Friday, 8 January 2010

08. Wiki of the week!

This is one of the most useful dyslexia document resources I have come across recently. Although it calls itself a DSA (disabled students allowance) Assessors resource, the breath of the documentation goes well beyond that. It includes links to news reports, official government documents, IT links etc.

DSA Assessors wiki

Thursday, 7 January 2010

07. Backup and storage

If you are away from your computer and cannot get access to a file, it is inconvenient. If your computer is stolen just before you are supposed to hand in an essay that you have spent months preparing, it is devastating. The need for Backup should never be underestimated. Dropbox provides a no/low cost solution to backup. To confirm how simple the latest version is, I opened a new (second) account yesterday, downloaded about 20 Meg of software to install, and chose a free account (2 gig). Then I drag and dropped my latest document (around 12 Meg) into the folder. While I worked on other things, it magically transferred itself to an online deposit folder, creating instant security. Furthermore, my friend (or could be a tutor) could also immediately have access to it irrespective of where they are and the file size. They just have to go to the web site and I give them my user name and password. Check out their video for a quick explanation.

Dropbox download

For alternatives use the following keywords in the Search (top right): storage, backup.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

06 Speech-to-text latest

Speech-to-text is moving forward rapidly! Now you can have a free (at the moment) full speech-to-text system on your iPhone, drive by Nuance Dragon Dictation App, launched in December 2009. This high quality four minute guide provides all you need to know. As the screen shows, the results can be sent by email with no problems, send as an sms, or you can add it to your clipboard and paste wherever.

Dragon Dictation

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

05. Text-to-speech

There is a new player in the text-to-speech market, which could be very interesting on three counts.

1) The prices are very good - British English for $75

2) They have Polish and Romanian voices as well as British and America.

3) They have a demo video on the front pages that uses an avatar which just has to be seen to be believed. I am not sure how they sync it, but if it is done automatically, it offers a taste of what is just around the corner.

There are also other goodies tuck away, such as creating sound files for presentations.


Monday, 4 January 2010

04. Concept mapping update

The concept mapping blog called mindmappingsoftwareblog has some of the latest information what is happening in the concept mapping world. Currently they are highlight the new version of Inspiration, their search for the most improved software, and and "Ten steps to a killer project min map."

On YouTube, I did a search for "mind map" and found that
Mind Mapping by Stephen Pierce had over 120,000 hits. Well worth the seven minutes.

Ikon Maps is now up and running. It is a simple free online concept mapping tool. The beauty is that there are few menus. This means we (I am involved) can provide versions in many different languages very easily.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

03. GeoDyCo - the ultimate dyslexia contacts

20 years ago, when I first became involved in dyslexia,the best way to get information was to physically go to a local knowledgable person and ask for details. Thus in the UK there was a thriving system of local associations. Now the internet is the place to go for information. Hence the slow demise of the local groups. However, we still need to find connections, either to what few groups there are, or to national associations, information centres, institutions, local tutors or any other form of information and support centre. It is for this reason that I have developed GeoDysCo (Geomaps Dyslexia Contacts). It is currently in Beta, and I would welcome contact from anybody who has organisations, institutions and individuals they think should be listed. See the website for the details I needs.


Saturday, 2 January 2010

02. Portable assistive technology suite

The Regional Support Centre Scotland North and East have produced a form of portable assistive technology suite. (See my blog entry for 28 Oct 2008.) Their version has broken down into three sections - AccessApps, LearnApps and TeachApps.

The full list of sections covered includes
Planning and Organisation
Multimedia Tools
Reading and Writing Support
Visual Support
Keyboard/Mouse Alternatives
Presentation Tools
Simulation and Modelling

All this software will operate on a USB memory stick and therefore can be carried anywhere and used on any (Windows) computer. This is an excellent extension of the
PortableApps suite. Note that the full collection is more than 6GB.


Friday, 1 January 2010

01. Dyslexia Update

This is a brief update on various projects, trying to be in the style of Twitter (<140 face="arial">
Adystrain (
Training for managers and tutors supporting dyslexic individuals, with online e-books. Contents available in EN, FI, DE, HU, BG, ES.

Embed (
Self-evaluation tools for institutions now available as well as teachers self-assessment. Also self-learning modules. Available in EN, HU, BG, ES and IT.

Please help the Embed European Assistive Technology Survey by completing the online form at (NB If you want to return to it later, copy that long web address at the top. It refers just to your data.)

Online e-learning on study skills. Available by April 2010 in EN, BG, HU, IT and TR.

Dys2 (Son of
Edysgate won a UNESCO World Summit Award for Best in E-Content and Creativity in 2009. This is games and activities that may be used by tutors to help develop cognitive skills. Dys2 is Son of Edysgate. It is in development but Edysgate is still online at Languages of Edysgate – EN, BG, DE, DK, ES.

iSheds (
Developing dyslexia support in higher education in Bosnian, Croatian, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian and Slovenian as well as English. E-books online in March 2010 for students and support workers.

Dyslexia Veto
BDA-led project on European dissemination of the Quality Mark, creating dyslexia friendly vocational training centres in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the UK. Website launch in February 2010.

Ikonmaps (
Intuitive, free, multilingual, online concept mapping designed for dyslexic individuals. We have menu translations for Bosnian, BG, Croatian, HU, IT, RO, Serbian, Slovenian, Welsh. Please email if you can supply in other languages. (Needs less than 20 words translated!)

Dyslexia Contacts (
GeoDysCo - an open access international, national, local and individual contacts database with GeoMaps I have been developing – is launched in a Beta version. If you/your organisation wish to be listed or know others, please contact me for a template.

BDA Workshop 23/24 Feb and Conference 25-26 Feb - Liverpool
EDA International Conference: Bruges 22-24 April -