Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mathscribe- Assistive technology for print disabled users?

Price: free! (no ads- $1.29)
iTunes link

Today i downloaded and assessed Mathscribe for the needs of low vision and print disabled users as a math notation program.

Mathscribe is a very sophisticated unicode math annotator for the ipad. It contains greek and hindu-arabic symbols as well as algebraic and trigonometric characters.  You can export the results into a rich text format- that means you can paste it into emails, word documents- anything you like which makes it a promising app for users who find notation with pen and paper difficult or want an easy to way to export math across digital sources that is cohesive and understood on multiple other systems and devices and of course- printers!

Math is not my forte but it looks like every character i can imagine is available in the keyboards various submenus.

Accessibility Limitations 

In regards to accessibility however, this application falls over in a few areas at this stage.

* You CAN adjust the font of the script to a ridiculously large size (N100)- but not the character buttons- and the font on the calculator is necessarily small due to all the functions made available. So it's not really great if you can't get a good look at N18 and this is not the sort of app you'll want to use the built in zoom for.

Like any keyboards though, if you love it you'll memorise it and then at least your working area can be enlarged so you don't have to use the zoom. But this makes for a steep learning curve- one thing that helps in this regard as that Algebraic and Trigonemetric keypads change the colour of their borders when selected- but not the keys- a missed opportunity there i feel.

Speech to Text
The math notation you create is unicode and can be voiced through speech or voiceover- but it won't voice things such as super or subscripts and only voices the unicode as it appears without making any inferences- so the math in my screenshot here reads as "Seventy Four therefore Fourty Seven"and pythagoras' theoreum is voiced as "a two equals b two plus c two".

This is the common failing point of text-to-speech engines reading math.

Voiceover compatibility
On ios 8.1 with voiceover on- this thing crashes all the time. When it doesn't crash there are serious navigation issues on the keyboard- the keyboard and dynamic keypad are the SAME element- so voiceover reads across the entire top row including the keypad in its scan. These really need to be navigated as separate elements to be accessible or useable.

This large keyboard is read by voiceover horizontally across the keyboard and keypad which makes it difficult to navigate.

Digital Braille

Sadly i don't at this stage have access to a digital braille display to test how this works in UEB but i suspect the issues with speech and voiceover carry over to digital braille.

Speech to text
No Speech-to-text or Siri compatibility is a missed opportunity in my opinion, but this is more an issue that Apple hasn't made Siri compatible with math notation then the fault of this noble free app.


There are some strong points as well for mathscribe in it's notation abilities for students with print disabilities that aren't vision related. It notates the math you type without solving it for you, which could be a selling point over soulver for high level notation and pedagogical purposes for teachers.  The contrasting colours of the keypad help to separate the functions on the keyboard visually. But all in all this clever app needs a bit of work before it can be effective assistive technology for users with print disabilities and i prefer the UI of Soulver personally.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Assistive Technology Teaching Program for a Dyslexic student- The Fantasy Novel.

I want to share a program I developed for a particular student which i think would be useful for other teachers and parents of students with dyslexia.

When i met this student he was eleven years old and was well spoken and intelligent, despite this he was reading at a level a few years below and this was consistent in his schooling. He had a diagnoses of dyslexia so i was able to get a few sessions from my employer to work a program with him last year.

This student had very little experience with technology and a love of the fantasy genre. I developed this program to teach him literacy support AT skills like speech-to-text, text-to-speech- but also to tap into his loves. This program culminates in my student using speech to text and word prediction to create an electronic fantasy book which is completely accessible and electronic and able to be read by his peers and other children with print disabilities.  The student also used the Lord of the Rings MMORPG computer game to research fantasy concepts and enjoy reading in a gaming context.

This program contains the software and hardware as well as all the steps of each session to build competence and work towards the final success of the student. I hope the information here is of use to other teachers and parents of dyslexic students and i'd love nothing more than to discuss aspects of the program with you or troubleshoot!

Amazing, Accessible games for blind users!

Having a vision impairment can be an impediment to gaming, many of my students who use their vision to game have come up with lots of modifications and strategies to game effectively. But this post is not for that. This post is to compile the best games that my students are playing that either utilise only audio or have graphics that are not essential to the gameplay. In other words, games that are not designed to be seen, but rather to be heard.

It's a better age then ever before for a Blind gamer- there are technologies such as binaural processing which allow a true-3d audio experience with headphones and clever gamemakers can utilise these technologies to make truly Awesome Game experiences, screenreading technology has also play a factor in making old text-based games from the 70's and 80's accessible experiences for the blind. These older style of games traditionally relied upon superior writing and text-based adventure principles which makes them ideal for blind-gaming! So Onto the games!

Papa Sangre 1 & 2


price: $2.49

The Papa Sangre games are out on the itunes app store for IOS devices. If you've never heard of them, you should go and buy one of them right now, as in my experience these games are at the pinnacle of incorporating binaural sound engineering and clever game-making.  These games are scary and contain supernatural themes- but the content is not mature and my adolescent students love these sound-based scary interactive adventures!

King of Dragon Pass

All the elements in this screenshot are navigable by braille or speech! WOW!
(price:6.99) (Itunes Link)
edit: Available now for android and other platforms! Here is the game's homepage!

I love this game. As a child, this game helped me develop my literacy as a text-based adventure many moons ago and i love introducing it to my students now because it's extremely deep and engaging fantasy and provides amazing educational opportunities that are totally hidden in the game.

 I can trick my students into developing their braille literacy by linking it to a braille display, I can enhance my students screenreader navigation skills as the game is full of sliders, nobs and spreadsheets- so you have to learn how to navigate these to play the game effectively, and the game is full of strange fantasy words as well as real ones that my students have to explore by character to learn which helps develop their phonemic awareness too. |

Despite the games complexity however, it plays like a turn-based choose your own adventure- with you passing the time and being presented with options- a lot of the depth of the game can be unlocked as you play rather then being needed to be mastered immediately.

 It's principally a civilization or tribe management game with deep strategy and customization. You are essentially a war chieftain (male or female) in a deep and engaging fantasy world with a compelling metanarrative that also allows you to roleplay your chieftan to represent the character you want to be. You must allocate resources, decide which Gods to worship, which other clans to ally with and which to war with. There are countless hours in this game and all the while you will be exposed to moral questions, economy management and must deal with the consequences of your decision in short and long term events.

It was fantastic to see this old favourite revived in the modern age and it's still as useful as every for reluctant learners to sink their teeth into and engage in a deep fantasy experience.

Audio Defence Zombie Arena

Price: $4.99
Itunes Link:

Amazing Amazing. Who would have thought you could have a playable, action packed and entertaining shoot-em-up game without visuals? This is as close as you get to a sound-based FPS, it's brand new and based on the very latest binaural sound engineering. Just a brilliant tech demonstration, a fun and frantic game and something i can get my butt well and truly kicked by my blind students with. I'm trying not to sound like a corporate shill as this is by the same company that makes Papa Sangre- i promise i'm not- Just buy this and you'll see that it is objectively astounding technology and damn fun.

Not sure it's very educational though- there is some math involved if you want to effectively smack-talk other players about their score I suppose!

My ABBYY Finereader Tutorial

My ABBYY Finereader Tutorial

Hi there. I enjoy using Omnipage to create clearprint for my students with special needs because of the power and customisation of the software. However i have found that ABBYY finereader offers my colleagues a more user friendly process and tends to get the results we need faster. So, i've developed a training module and procedure for Finereader that I hope assists you in creating clearprint for your students.

Edit: At this moment the sound on my video is poorly encoded- you'll need to turn your speakers up and then twice my system sound will beep and it will annoy you. I"m sorry. I'm reincoding and will upload a better version. If you want to motivate me to do this faster make a post!

Module Document is here 
Video is here

CO-Writer, simple and powerful word processor for students with print disabilities.

price: $21.99
Application homepage:

This is one of my favourite literacy support apps for the creation of text and for reading. It has all of those highly desirable literacy support features and yet, it runs beautifully and has a really simple interface that is perfectly usable for even my most distractable students (once they've given the speech to text a run for its money by making it talk nonsense for a while, of course!)

There is a version for both american and british english (otherwise known as english) and the main difference is in the artificial voice and the spellchecker, both are of high quality.

At more than 20 dollars, this is not the sort of app one just buys to have a look at. So i've saved you the trouble and will give you a run down on how it works. I personally use the British English version as an Australian teacher.

The Title Screen

When you open the app you'll get a list of all the texts you have created or imported into CO-Writer these could be PDFS, copied text or created text. There are options here to rename and export writing to everything from facebook to email to iMessage- most of the time you will be resuming a text by clicking on it or pressing the new item button in the top right.

The Working interface

After you've created a new text or resumed a text from the title screen you'll come to a screen with your work, a keyboard with predictive text. The word prediction is customisable. You can use speech with the Siri key or word prediction to assist you in the construction of your passage.  Each word you type is spoken as you type or select it. Using this multisensory approach i've seen students comfortably create passages that they struggle with on pen and paper relatively quickly and it's very empowering for them and for me!

Phonetic Spellchecker and Word Prediction.

The spellchecker in CoWriter is geared towards mispellers- not mistypers like your average spellchecker. This means suggestions for corrections are based on the sounds or phonemes used rather then by assuming you know how to spell and have just missed a character!  You'll also notice in my screenshot that the word predictor has suggested a commonly used email address in my results- this is because Co-Writer's suggestions infer from your own writing style after a while!
Here is a little article which explains why COWRITERS word prediction and spellchecking algorithm is so sophisticated compared to more conventional types.

It guessed i was trying to spell "Knowledge" by looking at my phonemes- even though i missed the K- clever clever!

Speech to Text

Speech to text on CO-Writer BE can be configured for a male or female voice and both of these voices are very clear and easy to listen too. The rate of speech is adjustable. My only complaint is that the moving highlights- like the word prediction feature are NOT adjustable- my kids with low vision or glare issues are out of luck on this app for colour customisation. Boo!

Still great though if the blue highlights and words are easy for you or your student!

Customisation options

In no particular order- here are my favourite customisation options;

*Font size- up to Size N22. 
* Customisable fonts- Including San Serif fonts such as Tahoma!
* Pick between male and female voice
* Pick whether words or sentences are read out upon completion- or both!
* Speech rate

Topic dictionaries

Writing a paper and using scientific terms? Tell that to your word predictor and make life easy! The topic dictionaries span across KLA's- as well as being able to adjust for early,primary, secondary and tertiary language levels- a teacher or user can easily customise the word prediction so that the student will recieve suggestions appropriate to their topic- or just keep the settings on default and Co-Writer will just infer from the students writing style automatically.


There are plenty of literacy enhancement softwares, and the IOS updates continue to enhance the basic apple experience with word prediction. However few softwares work as well as this and have such a simplicity of interface combined with such powerful options. Most importantly- the thing doesn't stutter when you import large documents- it is in actuality- highly usable and convenience for its purpose.

I have trialled many softwares with my students and amongst students who do not have vision concerns- this app is typically the favourite, it has everything a student needs to use voice, audio or word prediction to assist them in creating and reading content and supplies it in an intuitive manner, it also interfaces well with other applications so one can use it as a daily tool for everything from sms's to shopping lists to essays. Recommended for young and old!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Soulver- a great math app for students who can't show their working!

Price: $2.49
Itunes Link:

Soulver is the love child of a word processor and a calculator. It allows our students to input calculations which it lists in an accessible and exportable format. Many blind and dyslexic students find paper a difficult medium for recording and breaking down their thoughts. Soulver is a natural tool for these kids as has calculator functions but breaks down the math students are doing in their heads and represents it as a clear list on paper- ready to be printed or emailed to the teacher for assessment and marking. 

Click me for a video that's more impressive then this screenshot!

Oh and Soulver is completely compatible with VoiceOver so the math can be translated into audio or even braille- and if you want a multisensory learning experience with audio and visual queues- you got it by enabling speak selection! 


Monday, 27 October 2014

Meet one of my Tech Savvy Vision Impaired Students!

I want to introduce you to one of my students who has a severe vision impairment. To the right is a video which showcases the technology he uses in the classroom.

Technology on display are
1) A VNC connection to the smartboard so Chris can use zoom to view

2)  My student uses JAWS for Windows to navigate a word document using audio.

3) I have set up my students school email to work with microsoft outlook so that he can use jaws to easily send and recieve emails to the teacher.

4) My student also uses a digital braille display paired with an ipad to read an ebook. He can also use this digital braille display with Jaws for windows to read and write in braille if he chooses and the teacher of course will always be dealing with print! You can see in the video that i'm able to use the digital print copy display on the students ipad to see exactly what my student is reading at any time- this means even a non-braille literate teacher can assist in braille correction!


The procedures for all of these adjustments are on my blog!