University of Edinburgh

Newsletter 21 Spring 2006



This issue of the newsletter comes to you at a very exciting and busy time for us. As we write, we are preparing for our Language and Deaf Education conference to be held at Dunblane Hydro on 24th and 25th March. In the next issue of our newsletter we will feedback as much as possible on the weekend and there will be a separate publication of the resulting papers. It looks like it will be an interesting couple of days for those of us able to attend and I’m sure the papers will be the next best thing for those who cannot.

In this issue we have some interesting articles on audio technology for visually impaired pupils: from information about new technology of digital audio formats and the future of audio information to radio broadcasting training for pupils. Hopefully there will be lots of food for thought for all our readers who are involved with children with Visual Impairment.

Service, which is just one of the things we have planned for the near future, now that we have secured continuing funding from the Scottish Executive. Recalling some of our past, we are also pleased to include a “letter” from Sandy Lumgair who was the SSC’s technical expert before he was lured into a sunny retirement on Corfu. Mary Dowell, a Teacher of the Deaf who has been working with the SSC this year, continues her policy of sharing ideas with her article on Scottish literature for Deaf pupils.

Sheila Mackenzie
Newsletter Editor


Carol Sloman

Carol Sloman took up post as our new secretary/receptionist at the beginning of December 2005 so some of you may have met her already on your way to attend our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses. We are very pleased to welcome her to the team.

“I have recently moved back to Scotland having lived and worked in Leeds for the past 18 years. I am delighted to be back in Edinburgh and working at the University.

I shall be based at the SSC five mornings a week helping Ruth run the CPD programme, and I look forward to hearing from you or meeting you if you attend one of the courses.”

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Curriculum Support Service

As a flavour of what is coming up in the future SSC present the Curriculum Support Service.

Because visual impairment and deafness in children are low incidence disabilities, pupils, parents and mainstream teachers can easily feel isolated. We feel that a service where teachers can exchange ideas and resources would be highly valued. Across the education authorities teachers may not have expertise in all subject areas and each year a pupil who is deaf or visually impaired may move into a new class and be taught by different subject teachers. As more children are educated in mainstream schools, an important role for the CSS is to identify the essential ingredients of good practice. This will encourage the use of common approaches to curriculum modification among mainstream teachers of pupils who have additional support needs which, in turn, will maintain and safeguard future standards.

This year some of SSC’s courses focused on subject specialist workshops with practical outcomes which aimed to develop expertise as well as providing a networking system. This allowed busy practitioners to pool ideas and share teaching resources in an effort to raise the educational achievements of deaf pupils. The need for the CSS was confirmed as a result of these pilot courses.

Previously, diverse itineraries and difficult geography restricted opportunities for collaboration, although some groups exist despite the difficulties. We hope to improve the co-ordination of existing groups and facilitate the creation of new ones. The SSC hopes to develop ‘virtual’ meeting rooms complementary to these practical workshops. Also, the SSC will continue to provide a forum to discuss academic issues and technological developments which currently affect children who are deaf or visually impaired.SSC will be able to host and deliver some administration of the curriculum support groups. Although some groups will have appropriate meeting places, other groups have difficulty meeting in locations that are accessible for all that wish to attend their specific subject group. In addition to offering a central location to meet, SSC will be able to disseminate proceedings produced by the support groups.

Attached to the SSC website, a new website will be built to reflect the needs of the curriculum support groups. All material supplied to us will be placed on the specific curriculum support group sections. During consultations with the various chairs of the groups, each have mentioned the need for a teacher-to-teacher (subject area by subject area) specific bulletin board or a virtual meeting room. This would be used by those teachers who have pupils who are deaf or visually impaired in their class but would like to ask other teachers for immediate help. This bulletin board, designed and developed, by SSC staff would enable teachers of deaf or visually impaired pupils to contact other teachers to help with any difficulties. From this we would develop a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section for the website.

One of the most exciting ideas about the CSS is the ability, through the website and through e-mail contacts, to disseminate best practice examples. These would then feed into the CPD courses. The CSS will also be able to invite guest speakers on occasions to talk to specific curriculum groups. This will be on a different basis to the short courses as the speaker would talk for only an hour and on a very specific subject.

Of course, the groups which are already in existence and those which will be formed as a result of this service, will have autonomy from the SSC; we will be there to offer assistance, advice and dissemination where it is wanted.

We would be delighted to hear from all staff in Scottish Schools who wish to become involved this service. There is a form inserted into this Newsletter - please fill it in and return it to us (you will also find it on the SSC website).

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Building an Inclusive Web Community


In 2002, an international foundation, Sonokids launched their website to the world with the goal of creating an inclusive online community for children and young people. The site,, offered, and still offers, a range of fun activities including games based on sound, news and chat. For example, there is a game based on animal sounds which are hidden under the keys on the left hand side of the keyboard. Find two sounds the same and a pair is made. Audio mixers enable children to create and record their own soundtracks from as diverse sources as hip-hop and didgeridoos. Children’s contributions are more than welcome and they can add to the content of the website by sending in jokes and stories which are then published in the Meeting Point pages.

The core value which brought the Sonokids team together and which permeates all their work is that the Internet provides an opportunity for all children and young people to participate equally and inclusively, regardless of visual impairment. The year after the launch of the original website, the Sonokids team introduced Max. Building on the concept of the inclusive online community developed at, Max aimed to take this forward by providing a way that all young people could independently create and upload their own accessible websites.

Teachers might consider that Max provides an excellent way of introducing skills required to achieve parts of the Multimedia Manipulation exemplification of the Creating and Presenting Strand of the 5-14 National Guidelines in ICT, particularly for pupils with a visual impairment.

After registering with Sonokids for a free website, the pupil is provided with a content management system. Web content is keyed straight into a text box and uploaded to the website at the click of a button. There is no need to worry about file transfer protocols which could make the whole process difficult and confusing. An accessible menu provides options to create new pages and sub pages. Each page can contain images and audio files as well. Other features are an online poll, photo album, guest book and a Weblog is also available if desired.

This system means that the pupil can quickly gain confidence in producing a website and learn the importance of publishing interesting content. However, Max can provide a very useful starting point to introduce the basics of a mark-up language. Students can specify font styles, enhancements, colours and alignment using ‘Maxican codes’.

Beyond Max
Those wishing to develop the use of the Internet further might consider Internet Radio as an exciting venture for the classroom. Sonokids have also developed an accessible method of broadcasting over the Internet. Also in development is Maxmail which is an accessible web based email system similar to Hotmail or Yahoo mail, but which is simplified so that it is easier to access using a screen reader.

One of the most exciting developments in the pipeline is RadaR. RadaR is a game for children based on the adventures of three creatures: Max the Bat, Mik the Dolphin and Mo the Mole. Each of these animals relies on senses other than sight to navigate through their own world (sky, earth, ocean). Their separate lives take an unexpected turn when they are brought together ‘virtually’ by the Source.

RadaR works on a number of levels. It is an exciting audio story which includes contributions from a major Scottish film star. But also, RadaR is an innovative learning resource through which children with a visual impairment can learn to use the Internet and how to be safe on the Net. Those who do complete the game receive a special reward.

Many of the recent developments have come from the wishes of the children and young people using New ideas are always welcome so that the range of accessible and appropriate online content for children and young people with a visual impairment is expanded.

To contact the Sonokids team, or to find out more information about all of the above and other ventures, please visit:
and the sister website:

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News: Media Education - Helping to Promote Positive Change

Media Education

Media Education is a specialist media company providing a range of services in Scotland and throughout the UK. Media Education provides training in radio and video production, works with groups to present their views using media and generates audio versions of printed materials on tape, CD or minidisc. Media Education has over 15 years experience of involving diverse groups in radio training and broadcasting, eg, working with children, young people and adults on a variety of projects including community radio training, helping to run RSLs (Restricted Service Licenses) and delivering radio workshops.

RadioDays is a project developed by Media Education for primary schools to provide children with the opportunity to produce their own radio show in just an hour. These workshop programmes are designed to develop communications and teamwork and provide the participants with a strong sense of ownership of the process.

Media Education has also provided radio skills training to young people in Midlothian which focused on the skills required to run a radio station and on developing an identity for the station through discussion and ideas generation. The participants benefit from having the opportunity to increase their confidence, work in co-operation with others and to be involved in a decision-making process.

The Festival Radio Project has been running annually since 1994 during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and allows groups of young people and adults to become radio reporters for a week. Training is provided by Media Education to allow the participants the opportunity to create their own broadcasts which are disseminated to radio stations across the UK, and are available on the World Wide Web as podcasts. For further information please contact Media Education:
Telephone: 0131 662 884

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Bonding with the Bard

Rabbie Burns

Teaching English to deaf pupils is a challenging job; a challenge increased by the general lack of appropriate resources for our pupils. The recent SSC Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses featured a variety of subject-based workshops addressing this issue. The workshops offered practical resources and strategies to Teachers of the Deaf and, from the response of our delegates, more of the same is in demand.

As an English teacher I am always 'on the scrounge' for anything I think will engage my pupils in a positive way. I am a firm believer in sharing resources that work and as many of you know, I encouraged this 'network' approach at the SSC English Workshop of October last year. On this note, I'd like to share an idea that worked for me recently.

Government guidelines encourage the inclusion of Scottish content in the 5-14 and Higher Still English syllabus. This, of course, is a wonderful idea but presents difficulty for Teachers of the Deaf in finding Scottish texts that are accessible in all areas for our pupils. Often the inclusion of dialect and accented language in a text can be a barrier to understanding, even for hearing children. Celebrating Robert Burns is something I do every year, as I imagine do many Scottish teachers. But the language of Burns is difficult, even for academics. How then can we make the poetry of Burns accessible to deaf pupils?

A recent project involving pupils from S1 to S3 (including some SEN pupils) looked at the Burns poem, Tam O’Shanter. First of all we studied a very elementary and visual storyboard of the poem, made up from a book available at the Burns Heritage Centre1. The storyline was then discussed in a very dramatic way; the poem lends itself to 'hamming it up' and pupils enjoy this aspect – especially drunk Tam on his horse! Key lines from the text are then highlighted and explained. The pupils do a variety of exercises including sequencing and matching parts of the text to the storyboard pictures. Once they have the narrative firmly established, we proceed to a signed dramatic performance. This can be great fun and may also be filmed for assessment. Now comes the best part - a trip to Burns Heritage Centre2 in Alloway to see their wonderful Tam O’Shanter Experience. This is a very visual and exciting presentation of the poem, although disappointingly it has no subtitles or signed interpretation. It is very rewarding to see pupils point out characters and react to the poem in a familiar way.

Pupils tour the area: Burns Cottage and Museum, Kirk Alloway and graveyard and Brig O’ Doon. Imaginations run riot, especially in Kirk Alloway. The staff at the Burns Heritage Centre are extremely helpful and supportive, offering suggested itineraries and advice. An Education Pack is available which contains a variety of activities to follow-up the visit. These activities can be used as they are or adapted if required and they provide lots of good ideas. Try to book a trip around Burns Day when actors perform in Burns Cottage. The actors portray characters associated with Burns and his poetry and deliver information on his life. However, a BSL interpreter will be needed.

Back at school all the photographs, written responses and storyboards make a terrific wall display. Pupils can deliver a presentation on Burns at assembly; covering aspects of the 5-14 Enterprise in Education syllabus. At the end of the project possibly not many pupils will be able to quote lines from the poem, but they will all know the narrative, they will know a little bit more about their Scottish heritage and many will have discovered poetry as something to be enjoyed.

1 Robert Burns's Tam O'Shanter, Alloway Publishing ISBN 0-907526-50-6
2 Burns National Heritage Park, Murdoch’s Lane, Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PQ, Tel: 01292 433706, (source of images reproduced in this article)
Further Materials
Selected Burns for Young Readers, Geddes and Grosset, ISBN 0-85534-129-8
Tam O’Shanter, Kar2ouche: Leaning and Teaching Scotland, email:

Mary Dowell
Teacher of Deaf Children, St Vincent’s School &
Member of the CPD (Deaf) SSC Team

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Letter from Corfu

This will be our fourth Christmas in Corfu and our first 'at home' so it will be nice to sit in front of the log fire, if it’s not too warm, and enjoy some peace. We do have, now an annual event, a small gathering of friends, Greeks and Brits, the week before Christmas for food and drinks. This year over 20 plus of those may drop by. From that you can gather there is quite a lively social scene! Another two English couples have bought property in the village so my wee Scottish corner now overrun despite the playing of loud bagpipe music. This music, strangely enough is much appreciated by the locals as it tends to quieten the dogs and cats! Mind you the average age here in Prinilas (pop 34) is about 76yrs so there may be a wee touch of deafness. Come to think of it they do tend to shout conversation.

Our local bellringer is quite deaf so he’s known as Deaf Georgios to distinguish him from the other three Georgios nearby. We also have a Makis, a Takis, a Lakis and a Stakis and three ladies known as One Stick I, One Stick II and Ski sticks! Enough, back to Deaf Georgios and the tourist day. In the village there’s a small office where the post is left, the doctor visits once a week and the locals like to sit outside, all weathers. I went up to check the post one day to see Georgios looking at a map which two backpackers had handed him. The packers were speaking in English. Georgios would look at the map and then look up to them and smile, it’s a wondrous smile, and just nod his head. A few minutes of this and with grateful thanks, off they set. Right or wrong, I’ve no idea but I’m sure they never knew he was deaf.

All the years I worked in the field of deafness I thought I understood and could empathise but coming to Corfu and being misunderstood and unable to communicate (our villagers don’t speak English, for some German is their second language) well I begin to understand now the frustration and the anger that can arise. I, at least, have a simple answer, as one worthy told me “learn Greek”.

Sandy Lumgair

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Audio Technology for Accessing the Curriculum

mp3 bookport

Advances in technology are creating new opportunities for teachers to challenge the barriers to learning which exist for pupils with a visual impairment, particularly those which arise when a student is either unable or reluctant to read Braille. For example, a significant deterioration in sight can make large print useless overnight, but Braille can take years to master. In such cases, audio-tapes have traditionally provided access to the curriculum.

There are, however, significant problems with audio-tapes. A teacher or classroom assistant must record the information which is time-consuming. Tapes hold relatively small amounts of information and are slow to duplicate. They are clumsy to navigate, as only fast-forward and rewind are available. Tapes are also bulky, tend to get lost or become easily damaged.

Steps have been taken to address the problems with audio-tape through the development of DAISY. These digital talking books could become an important resource for students with a visual impairment. Until now, the time taken and cost involved to produce these books has made them only really suitable for entire textbooks. However, the huge improvements in text-to-speech technology now mean that DAISY material using high quality synthetic speech can be easily made at a fraction of the cost of producing them using a human voice. The launch of Dolphin’s Producer software, with the excellent text-to-speech engine employed is a particularly exciting development and will enable schools and colleges to produce bespoke DAISY material quickly and in-house.

Where human voice is important, digital audio-files in MP3 format can be used. This option, in my opinion, has yet to be fully explored by those concerned with the education of children and young people with a visual impairment. MP3 audio-files are quick to produce, easy to distribute and high quality. They can also be backed up simply and produced in-house. Files can be stored on a network and accessed independently by a student using a media player such as Windows Media Player together with a screen reader. Where portability is important, files can be downloaded to an MP3 player. Musselburgh Grammar School has undertaken some very interesting work with MP3 technology, making lessons available for download via ‘podcasting’ and this work has featured on BBC's Newsround. However, for students with a visual impairment, most commercial MP3 players are not ideal for this purpose.

The American Printing House for the Blind have recognised the importance of all the above technologies including DAISY, MP3 and Text-to-Speech technologies and has produced Book Port. Book Port will play all of the above formats and more. I have been working with this device for a number of months and have been impressed with the range of features available. Whilst the text-to-speech engine is a little synthetic, it does enable students to instantly access files originally produced on a word processor. It is also possible to save web pages to this device which are again read back using the synthetic voice.

Files of all formats can be copied to Book Port quite simply through a USB connection. The device is about the size of a television remote control and is operated via clearly labelled and well-spaced buttons making it accessible to those with little or no vision.

In addition to all the above, the device also allows the student to record voice memos in .wav format which can then be uploaded from Book Port to a computer. Teachers can listen to a pupil’s responses using a media player and save these files as evidence of achievement. For more information about this device, you can read a product description here:

I believe that devices of this nature, together with software which can create instant audio versions of text copy, could herald a new era in accessibility for children and young people with a visual impairment who need to access the curriculum through audio. Teachers searching for ways to produce made to order learning materials quickly and cost effectively could find the combination of DAISY with synthetic speech, MP3 and text-to-speech technology an ideal solution.

Rob Jones
Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

DAISY a talking book format which enables navigation within the 'pages' and 'chapters' of text in an audio and text format.
MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) a popular digital audio format designed to reduce the size of audio files, yet still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original.
.WAV (WAVE form audio format) a Microsoft audio file format standard for storing audio.

Podcasting the distribution of audio or video files, such as radio programmes or music videos, over the Internet for use on digital audio/video devices (such as iPods) and computers. Usually, the podcast features one type of “show” with new episodes either sporadically or at planned intervals such as daily, weekly, etc on a wide variety of topics.
See for examples of these or you can subscribe (often free) to some using iTunes software.

Achieving Equality in Education: New Challenges and Strategies for Change

This summer the 12th World Conference of the International Council for Education of people with Visual Impairment will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 16th-21st July, 2006

The Conference will examine achievements, challenges and strategies in bringing all segments into the mainstream so as to achieve equality in education. A series of plenary sessions, parallel sessions, poster presentation, exhibits, tours and social events will comprise the five-day programme. Details can be found at the ICEVI website:
or at the website of the Malaysian Association for the Blind who are hosting this event:

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Deaf and Multilingual

A practical guide to teaching and supporting deaf learners in foreign language classes by Judith Mole, Hilary McColl and Mireille Vale.

This book is about deaf people learning spoken/written foreign languages. To date there has been a dearth of information on this subject, and in that vacuum there has been a tendency to think that deaf learners should be steered away from foreign language learning. This book hopes to go some way towards filling the gap and correcting that impression. The book is written primarily for those teaching and supporting deaf learners attending standard foreign language learning classes. Written in an accessible style, it offers practical, no-nonsense guidance on accessible language teaching, curriculum and lesson planning, and acting as a support worker for deaf students in foreign language classes.

The book is available as an eBook only.
Windows version: 135 pages. ISBN 0-9551424-6-6
Mac (pdf) version: 119 pages. ISBN 0-9551424-5-1.
More information is available from|&cat=8

Judith Mole
Direct Learn Services Ltd. : online conferencing : general information
Telephone: 0161 408 3860
SMS: 07808 921402

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Resource Library Update

Some of you may have noticed that there has been a big reorganisation of the RNIB’s stable of magazines. Visibility, eye contact and Focus have all ceased publication and a larger, more regular publication Insight: helping children and young people live and learn with sight problems has started. Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2006) focuses on Life Skills. The articles are drawn from practitioners, parents and other experts and seem as practical as ever. I am confident that this will be a good successor to the excellent magazines we have lost. Articles have been added to the Journal article database on the SSC website so you can get a flavour of it for yourself. Curriculum Close-up is now called Insight Curriculum Bitesize and will continue to appear once a term along with Insight. The New Beacon has been renamed NB. We will be ordering this title soon, so contact me for more details on this one. If you need to change your own subscription contact the RNIB Customer Service department 0845 702 3135.

As usual, we enclose a list of new titles for library members, you will perhaps be able to see that we are slowly building up a collection of DVD materials but many of the titles we have ordered are not yet published or the publishers are experiencing difficulties so don’t throw away your video players just yet.

Sheila Mackenzie,
Resource Library,
Telephone: 0131 651 6069

'Talking Bus Stops' Go Live in Scotland

Trials of a pioneering new system providing spoken information at bus stops about bus arrival times have gone live this month in Scotland.

The three-month pilot will allow visually impaired bus passengers to use Brailled buttons to listen to information from the Intelligent Bus Information System (IBIS):
The units have been installed at 12 bus stops across the Strathclyde region, having received funding from the Scottish Executive.

Bus times are updated from the headquarters of Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT):
the organisation behind the scheme, and sent to units using wireless technology - General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) - and mobile phone technology from UK transport information provider Tandata. It is thought to be the first time that GPRS technology has been used in this way. However, although audio information can be accessed on the next five buses due at each stop, complete bus timetables are only available on-screen for sighted passengers.

STP information and support officer, Lindsay Mathie, told E-Access Bulletin there was plenty of scope to develop the new system. “This is a base system and lots can be added. It’s not the end product, we want people’s feedback. We see the costs and the units getting smaller”.

In future, Mathie said that SPT may install hardware in the units that would allow passengers carrying a receptive fob that, on connection with a unit, would provide audible directions to IBIS bus stops.

In tandem with the project, directions to each of the bus stops from key locations have been published on the location description service Describe Online:

Source: E-Access Bulletin: