15 March 2008

CSUN 2008/Five New Combos

The best moments at the CSUN conference are the chance meetings which bring various types of participants together. Academics, researchers, developers, end-users, teachers can all end up at a table, sharing thoughts, ideas, and hopes. You get the perspective shifts that you need to break through with new solutions. So, as a quick salute to shared thinking, five cool ideas that bring technologies together...

The Access Tomorrow USB drive from Ideal Group (with The Ohio State University) is a great simple solution. It's a simple USB drive loaded with free AT software that could support any learner, linked by a common interface which makes it really easy to use. (Certainly Text-Help's Read-and-Write-Gold Mobile does more in more sophisticated ways, but Ideal is leading the way in Open Source design.)

The ERICA eye-gaze system is still (at $7,000 US for the system) half the price of it's nearest competitors, yet better than ever, running even more cleanly on newer tablet-PC technology and inter-connecting with almost every communication and information need, including the simplest Skype phone inteface you'll find.

Say-Magic from Next Generation Technologies (expected to release in June) combines Dragon Naturally Speaking (from Nuance) and Freedom Scientific's MAGic screen magnifier/text reader into a wonderful, and very personalisable, feedback centered computer control system with speech recognition and low-vision support.

Student Writers Editing with Text-to-Speech - which I presented on Friday - is another "assembly" - and it seemed even more connected after the conversations during the session. The idea is to join text-to-speech reading to the writing process, especially for writers who struggle to read, but really, for everyone who lacks a sophisticated reader to assist in editing at the moment of need. The idea is that when you hear what you've written you will not only be more aware of grammar mistakes, missing words, punctuation, etc., but also more aware of the way rhythm works in writing, and description, and pacing, and dialogue. As the discussion at the session revealed - this isn't just for dyslexic ten year olds - but might be the essential support for struggling community college and university writers. This can be done with a comprehensive support like WYNN (which then adds great supports such as Word Prediction and much more), or through free solutions - such as Google Docs combined with Firefox and CLiCk-Speak. (more about this in a few days).

ABISee offers a brilliant USB-linked portable video magnifier - book reader - book scanner - image to text-to-speech converter system, which can even grab images from, say, a whiteboard. Light and easy to carry, functioning primarily via a smart combination of softwares installed on your laptop computer, it offers a wide range of low-vision supports in the classroom or at work.

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

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