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Special needs

Voice recognition software, resources for adults with severe learning difficulties and the issue of training dominate the Special Needs Village at BETTthis year.

Voice recognition is the hottest news. Will it be a magical solution for dyslexic learners and those with degenerative conditions? A major piece of research is being conducted in this area and free newsletters detailing the progress so far will be available on the BECTA stand. Conferences will be held in March in Bristol and Manchester. It is also publishing Supporting Specific Learning Difficulties through ICT which has been compiled by Judith Stansfield, chair of the British Dyslexia Association's computer committee.

Research shows that for some learners the enrolment period, when you train the software to recognise your voice, is a real barrier. Words Worldwide has created a novel approach to enrolment. It uses short sentences with a limited vocabulary instead of the long boring sentences most of us struggle with. The texts are based on books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not on descriptions of the planets. You don't even have to read: you can listen and repeat the text. It is even possible to say one word at a time. Words Worldwide will be demonstrating Keystone and Naturally Speaking at various stands including REM's. These work well together. Keystone is ideal for people with visual problems and Naturally Speaking helps those with reading problems; put them together and you have the ideal package for dyslexia.

Teachers constantly complain of the problems of keeping up to date. This year more help is at hand. With increasing parent power and the provisions of the Disability Act, some LEAs are spending thousands of pounds on appeals and the decision-making process. Semerc is organising training days for SEN teachers and educational psychologists. This is an impressive and wide ranging series providing a general overview of ICT for disabilities and learning difficulties as well as courses on particular topics such as dyspraxia. At pound;85 a day these could save authorities a lot of money.

BECTA is working with the Department for Education and Employment to create a new website about disability and SEN issues within the National Grid for Learning. The site will provide resources, guidance and examples of good practice to support curriculum planning for individual needs. Designed to be interactive and using the most up to date technology, BECTA is confident that this site will be a model of accessibility. It will be almost a one-stop shop for staff in the SEN area as it will have good links to material for meeting individual learning needs. Get the latest information about this on the BECTA stand, where you can also find the ACE Centre's Computers and Inclusion which provides guidance and case studies for those who want to integrate learners with severe physical disabilities into the mainstream classroom.

For years we have been looking for software for adult with severe learning difficulties which is age appropriate and has some relevance to everyday life. This year there are several offerings. First there is Out of Order, from Semerc, which is a new CD-Rom for PC and Mac to help adult users with learning difficulties to practise and hopefully improve their skills for sequencing, memory, auditory discrimination and concentration. They listen to instructions and, using a mouse or touch-screen, drag blocks into the correct sequence to complete tasks such as making a cup of tea. At pound;29 this is likely to be quite a good seller. However, it is a little disappointing. The activities are not particularly exciting - getting up, preparing beans on toast etc. It is quite hard work getting the sequence right and some learners will find it frustrating.

Much more exciting is Out and About, a virtual world designed by Semerc to promote life skills for adults with severe learning difficulties. It covers shopping, travel, leisure, finance and lifelong learning and is set in a bus station, college, bank. The part I liked best was "What to Wear" where you choose your clothes for the day. You have to check the weather, check where you are going and then choose the suitable clothes. All the skills in this excellent package fit in with the OCR National Skills Profile and many parts can link to accreditation for Basic Skills at Foundation level.

Writing with Symbols 2000 from Widgit Software offers an email add-on designed for symbol users. It is visual so there is no need for intervention from a carer or teacher. The address book has symbols or photos instead of names. Click on a picture of a bright red postbox to send your mail.

But what about the needs of people who area operating at a cause and effect level? Switch It from Inclusive Technology is good fun. You can change the sound, picture, text and special effects as pages fade into each other. It is designed to encourage a response from users with profound and multiple difficulties and it helps switch users to practise and perfect their skills. Switch It at Home is based on pictures of household items such as vacuum cleaner, washing machine and microwave. If you want to create personalised resources which have some meaning for the individual student, use Switch It Maker and load in pictures of home or family or animals A Day In The Life from Inclusive Technology can be operated via a switch, mouse or touch-screen. The user has to help the person on-screen to make decisions. Often there is a voice prompt. "They're gob smacked when it asks them to do something," says Roger Bates. There are different levels of interaction so it can provide progression. It has Rebus and Signalong signing support as well as text.

Inclusive Technology Stand: Software Stand: SN13www.widgit.comBECTA Stand: D70 Worldwide On view at various standswww.keyspell.comSEMERCGranada Learning Stand:

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