As always, the first thing you will encounter as you walk through the double doors into the hall of the Business Design Centre in Islington is the immediately arresting Special Needs IT area. And, as always, it may prove difficult to steer yourself through this technology fest and up the stairs into the exhibition area proper. It won't be hard to understand why.
All the usual suspects will be there as well as some newcomers offering many variations and permutations of ICT for SEN, from the big generic software companies such as Rickitt Educational Media to the niche market of communication aids served by the likes of Dynavox or the subject-specific MathBase.
It helps to know what you want to look for before you get there. Are you interested in a particular area of SEN, such as visual impairment (which is well served with at least three specialist companies present), or dyslexia?
Or maybe you want to talk about SEN admin, advice, support and training. Could it be you have an individual pupil in mind and want to see the ingenious hardware devices that make computers useful or the software that makes the curriculum accessible? Without a plan you could find yourself among the stands beguiled by the range of possibilities.
Inclusive Technology, the organisers of SpecialneedsIT 2004, has two new software titles, Let's Go To The Seaside and IT Switch Skills 1, which expand their range of resources for pupils who use switches. They will also have the new Neo on show, which is a development of the Alphasmart with enhancements that people have long been asking for: a bigger screen, more memory and added tools in the word processor.
Crick also has new software out. Jigworks, which, as the name suggests, is used to create jigsaws for all sorts of activities. Similarly, another well-established firm, Widgit, will be showing off its Symbols Inclusion Project, which has seen the software shift from being aimed at a rather narrow group of users to a standard package in infant classrooms. Having been trialled in Warwickshire, this approach, using Writing with Symbols and Communicate: In print in the key stage 1 literacy hour, is being shown to anyone interested through Widgit's website, or on CD for a modest fee.
This welcome blurring of the distinction between mainstream and SEN software is further reinforced by Softease and Sherston both talking about how their own products are meeting the needs of all learners as part of the "How-IT-Works" seminar programme, to which most of the exhibitors are contributing. These are free, no need to book, and cover topics from broad-based curriculum themes, through specific areas of special needs such as communication or visual impairment to an update on the CAP project from CENMAC and a timely look at personalised learning. There is also the somewhat esoteric "Mergers and Acquisitions in the ACC market - good or bad?" from Dynavox.
With two seminar theatres running full timetables both days, there is bound to be something of interest. Parallel presentations are usually sufficiently diverse so that you won't miss anything, with the possible exception of Ian Bean talking about making stories accessible which clashes with the Home Farm Trust discussing creating "Multimedia Life Stories".
One seminar to look out for on Friday is from Frolunda Data, a Swedish company visiting Islington for the first time to introduce its Lexion System. Since its development in 1988, this has spread across Scandinavia and is now on its way here. Aimed at teachers and speech therapists, it is for use with pupils with many language-related learning difficulties such as dyslexia or aphasia.
This computer-based approach focuses on different aspects of language - phonological ability and comprehension, for instance - which are assessed.
An individual programme of work developed from the 94 different exercise modules available.
If you do go to see how the Swedes do it, you could follow it up for purposes of contrast and comparison with a visit to Dr Chris Singleton's presentation on computer-based screening and assessment in the other, paid-for, seminar programme. This is one of the four ICT-specific talks available, the others being on ICT and inclusion in primary classrooms, its use in English and in science.
So, whatever you are looking for, whether it is a solution to a pressing problem, tools for a task or simply inspiration, you should find it just after you walk through the doors. Or maybe you just want somewhere to sit down for half an hour and rest your feet while one of the many exhibitors talks you through their wares.
* Further information: www.inclusive.co.ukexhibitionssnit_london_04 The Nasen and TES Special Needs Exhibition is at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London, from October 22-23; www.teachingexhibitions.co.uk