These days the software world is characterised by news of mergers and downsizing. So it's interesting to witness the emergence of a new company, particularly one that has such an impressive pedigree as Inclusive Technology Ltd and which has the positive aim of bringing the best of US special-needs technology to the UK and promoting the best of ours over there.
Based in Manchester, Inclusive is the brainchild of Martin Littler, the man who made SEMERC a leading player in special needs software and brought us the annual Oldham exhibition and the special needs village at BETT educational technology shows. Martin left SEMERC in September to head the new firm and has been joined by other staff, including former SEMERC directors Trish Hornsey and Roger Bates. But can the UK market support another special needs company? Isn't there likely to be conflict between SEMERC and Inclusive Technology?
"Obviously there will be some healthy competition," said Martin, "but I think customers will benefit from this. Having created SEMERC and appointed most of the staff there, I wish them well. Keith Reeves, the new managing director, is creating new products which will definitely benefit SEN schools. I don't intend to look back or repeat what I have done. I want to look forward."
Certainly the future looks interesting. Inclusive Technology is an off-shoot of Ocean Software the UK's third largest games company. Inclusive will be a special needs company with a Windows focus. "In the past, it was all niche marketing. The SEN market in the US was predominantly Apple, in the UK it was Acorn and in the rest of the world it was PC but they had very little SEN software. Inclusive is set to change all that. We will be predominantly Windows but we also have some exciting new Apple and Acorn products."
The new company will act as a distributor for some of the UK big names such as Widgit, Crick Computing, Penny and Giles and the Concept Keyboard Company. It will also be developing some new My World packs on Shapes, Sounds, Counting and Sorting activities and developing a new multimedia word processor for Windows. There the similarity with SEMERC ends.
Inclusive Technology has developed, to use its own words, "a strategic alliance" with IntelliTools, a leading American company. Not only will it distribute IntelliTools goods but it will also be developing new products to be sold under licence in the US. This will give Inclusive access to enormous markets and should help to keep prices at a very competitive level. Martin Littler predicts, "Our dollar income will exceed our UK income after the first year's trading."
Certainly American schools are impressed with the range of educational software available in Britain. We take it for granted that there is a range of software packs and CD-Roms to support most school subjects, that there are My World screens for early years, for history and French and that word processors will happily incorporate graphics. This is not the case in the rest of the world. Most developments in Europe and America focus on access for physically disabled users and those with sight problems but provide little for those with learning difficulties.
Inclusive Technology is also planning a Web site information service to support teachers. Select a topic such as autism and you will get information, expert advice and be linked to commercial companies who market a range of relevant products. The service will not be restricted to schools on the Net.
"We will produce a CD-Rom and communicate with schools by phone, fax, e-mail or even letter," said Martin. Initially, Inclusive will focus on schools but by the middle of the year they will have an adult learners' catalogue.
* BETT CONNECTION
Inclusive Technology stands SN16, 17 and 20. Tel 0161 835 3677; e-mail: email@example.com