Christmas by Signalong

Signalong-The Communication Charity- provides resources, training and free advice, and readily works with others in the field to promote communication skills for children and adults with speech, language and communication needs and English as an additional language. A central tenet of Signalong is “one concept per sign, one sign per concept” which is different to other British Sign Language based systems, which require an understanding of the context in order to distinguish meaning. 

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Independent learning through technology

Aran is ten. He was a normally developing child until the age of six when he had a major medical event which required life saving surgery, but which left him brain damaged. He spent a year in hospital then a year in a rehabilitation centre before going back into a mainstream school at the age of eight.

His life has changed considerably. Previously he was meeting age related expectations, and no concerns were expressed about his learning needs or language development. He is now in a powered wheelchair, with his  only assured movement in his left arm. His speech and language are also seriously affected. It is as if, at his young age, he has had a stroke.

When he first went back to school his communication was single words, and consideration was given to providing an augmentative and alternative communication aid (AAC) such as an iPad loaded with Prologquo2go. This is a simple, on-screen, grid from which the user selects the word or phrase they want to say. Frequently the grid will have symbols in the cells as many users will have literacy difficulties, and this can speed up word finding. Unfortunately he did not have sufficient muscle tone in his arm to be able to lift it far enough to touch all of the screen, nor the ability to isolate a single finger to tap or to swipe. This also meant that using an iPad was out for curriculum work.

We decided to find another way of working, whilst at the same time using the iPad for games and activities that might help build his capacity to use it more effectively in the  future.

We began to introduce a laptop with a switch attached. This is a large button that is pressed to create a response on the screen. At first we tried simple activities where a picture is built with each click of the button, which then became animated after five clicks as a reward. Aran picked this  up very quickly and was soon using  ChoooseIt Maker Readymades for curriculum activities. These are a number of sequential screens, each with a set of cells  – between two and eight – laid out like a grid, containing possible answers to a question (which can be written, read aloud, or both). Each cell is highlighted in turn and when it gets to the answer the user presses the button.

Fairly quickly we were able to add a second switch meaning that  instead of automatic scanning one button moved the highlight on the screen whilst the other was used to select the chosen answer. This set up meant that Aran was able to work independently for the first time since he had returned to a classroom, to the extent that his teaching assistant could leave him to work whilst she nipped to the loo, grabbed a cup of tea, or worked with one of the other  children in the class.

We also invested in ChooseIt Maker3 so that we could create more challenging material for him to use in class.

It is difficult to know how much he is remembering from what he learnt previously, before he became ill, or whether he is learning afresh. Similarly with his language development, some of it may be recovered, some learnt. However, his speed of recovery, whilst slow, is continuing – and gaining – apace.

He is now using two switches with the on-screen keyboard and predictor in Clicker7 to write short pieces of work, as well as using three switches to control his wheelchair. His language is such that he is using sentences of several words, although AAC is sometimes used to help him express his feelings when in counselling sessions (provided to help him make sense of the situation he now finds himself in).

Whilst it is impossible to know where his developmental path will take him, it is clear that without technology he could not operate with any independence in school. It allows him to get himself around, to work and to write, as well as contributing to his growing capacity to communicate.


How to…… Use Windows Access Options

What is it?

Windows has a number of features built into to make using a computer easier for people with disabilities. The Ease of Access Centre (shortcut Windows key + U)  is way to get to these quickly, and to have some guidance on what to use.

Who is it for?

Users with a broad range of difficulties including:-

  • blind and visual impairments,
  • physical disabilities,
  • cognitive difficulties,
  • difficulties with text.

The options make the computer behave slightly differently to how it normally would. The options all have shortcuts to enable them, and include:-

Sticky keys (press shift 5 times) – a facility that lets you use the keyboard one handed. Any function that requires holding down two or more keys – such as Ctrl/Alt/Del can be done one key at a time. Useful for those who have restricted mobility in one hand.

Filter keys (hold shift down for 8 seconds) – a way to limit repeated key strokes for users who have a tremor. Ordinarily you can hit a key to repeat a letter and it will immediately appear. With filter keys you can set a delay for the second key press.

Narrator (Windows key + enter) – a screen reader that reads the on-screen text including the dialogue boxes and warnings that appear.

Speech to text  (no shortcut) – a function that lets you dictate to your computer.

High Contrast (Ctrl + left shift + PrtScreen) – to make the screen easier to read by using yellow text on a black background and enlarging the icons.

Magnifier (Windows + + to turn on, Windows Key + Esc to turn off) – enlarges sections of the screen as you pass the mouse over them.

On-screen keyboard (no shortcut) – for users using a touch screen, switches, or eye-gaze.

Mouse options include – changing the size and colour of the cursor, adding a trail to make it easier to see, showing its position when you press Ctrl, and changing the thickness of the cursor.

How do I use it?

These options make Windows computers for people with a range of difficulties, whether they are physical in operating the keyboard, visual in working with the screen, or with literacy and both reading and writing text.

As with most things on a computer you can often get to them in different ways. The easiest is probably to hold down the Windows key and press U.

What else is there?

Some of these options, such as Narrator and  Speech to Text are not very sophisticated and there are commercial products that do it all better, but the Ease of Access Centre can get you started.

You can find out more at either of these links.

To find out more visit either

Or – 

You can also add on toolbars such as those from WordqSpeakq, or Texthelp. (See later posts.)