BDA International conference 2016

Members of B.D.A.N.T.C. presented two symposia at the 2016 International Conference. These covered themes concerning technologies used to overcome difficulties associated with SpLD and a review of the reasonable adjustments available in high-stakes assessments and examinations.

Malcolm Litten described an ongoing initiative encouraging the use of text-to-speech software, introduced two years ago: Introducing Text-to-speech software to schools in India as support for dyslexic pupils. Through a campaign of raising awareness, demonstration and training of teachers, progress has occurred in Goa, Hyderabad and in the Mumbai area.  Challenges exist in the teaching of literacy, particularly as most children learn to read and write in a second language.  In St Joseph’s School in Goa, text-to-speech has been employed to assist the learning of sight words, the solution of word problems in maths, and the support of reading texts and developing adequate understanding. Future plans for the project include research, support for schools adopting the software and further extension into other parts of India.

In Writing Without Pens, Cheryl Dobbs highlighted society’s continued concerns regarding the number of students still leaving school with low functional levels of literacy. She suggested that  greater opportunities for students to make use of assistive technology should be explored much earlier than presently occurs in the current education system. Using examples of text created by primary-aged children, Cheryl illustrated some of the powerful assistive features available to support those struggling with differing aspects of  the writing process. These included features found on mobile devices which can enable young children to develop writing skills through the combination of image, sound and text.

Neil Cottrell  brought a personal perspective to Success Strategies and Assistive Technology when he talked about his own dyslexia. He highlighted the importance of individuals finding tools and creating successful strategies for themselves when they have identified issues that hold them back and cause stress in their lives. He highlighted some of his personal favourites which included:

  • KNFB reader: A super-fast app for taking a photo of text and instantly reading it aloud (iOS & Android )
  • The “Speak Screen” and “Speak Selection” tools built into iOS
  • Inbox by Google: Stress-free email that you have to see to believe (PC, Mac, iOS & Android)
  • Do Note, Do Camera, Siri and Google Now: Making a quick note so you can get straight back to what you were doing (iOS & Android)
  • Global AutoCorrect: Spending less time spell-checking so you can spend more time being awesome (Windows & Mac)

Amanda Hipkiss’ presentation: A level playing field? Access Arrangements Organisation in Centres considered how candidates in England with special educational needs and/or disabilities are eligible for reasonable adjustments when they take high-stakes, end-of-compulsory-school GCSE examinations. These ‘access arrangements’ need to be applied for by schools once sufficient evidence of a ‘history of need’ and ‘normal way of working’ in class and mock examinations have been accumulated. She highlighted that annual changes to the regulations for access arrangements, additional costs and the complexity of the system make it likely that not all students have access to the support they need in these vital assessments, in spite of the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

Helen Simon asked  Can speech recognition software improve students’ independent writing skills in mainstream schools and exams? when she considered whether speech recognition could help compensate for some of the issues that students experience when trying to put thoughts, knowledge and ideas down onto paper. Helen demonstrated how the software allowed students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of topics in school using the correct technological words they were usually unable to spell and ultimately led  to better educational outcomes. Helen  proposed that students and teachers should be trained to use assistive technology to scaffold literacy skills in order to enable individuals to reach their full potential in core subjects.

Improving the chances of reading with technology: factors influencing success was the topic explored by Abi James when she spoke about the existence of technologies that facilitate reading for individuals with specific learning difficulties or other print impairments. Abi drew attention to the issue that access to technology is simply insufficient when many users either abandon use or only have limited access to alternative formats. She illustrated how the wider policy, design, training and user preferences can affect successful use of reading technologies and described projects to improve text-to-speech for maths and access to alternative formats for use in exams.

Abi continued this focus in Reasonable adjustment in assessments for learners with SpLD – what does the future hold? by considering the variation in equality legislation for reasonable adjustments in assessments for candidates with disabilities and SpLDs throughout the educational and professional qualification systems across the world. Current and future practices for accessing reasonable adjustments in school, university, vocational and profession qualifications were examined. She concluded by considering the potential impact of reforming qualifications and the introduction of e-assessment on candidates with disabilities and SpLD.

Paul Nisbet discussed Reliant on Readers, Stuck with Scribes or Independent with IT? Technology use in exams  from the context of the  Scottish educational system. He described use of current digital exam papers and highlighted the challenges of creating digital formats of papers designed to assess mathematics or science. Records held by the CALL Centre demonstrate that requests for digital formats of examination papers have steadily increased each year since 2008; together with a respective decline in requests for exam readers and scribes. Despite the challenges in creating fully accessible and navigable papers,  the results have seen benefits for schools and centres in terms of a decrease in administration costs and importantly, increased independence for the students themselves. The initiative has also led to the development and licensing of improved CereProc voices and a huge saving of £2 million in comparison to Scottish schools having to purchase their own quality text to speech voices or products.