Chris Onions recommends a Risc PC set up for pupils with special needs. Once again Semerc has come up with a "plug in and go" solution for those who want to take advantage of the facilities offered by Acorn's Risc PC or Risc PC with CD. The Acorn Risc PC is a fast and powerful computer, capable of creating, storing and reproducing sounds and pictures of a very high quality indeed.
The Risc PC plus CD is basically the same machine, but with an integral CD-Rom drive. Semerc, Cumana and Acorn Computers have worked together to create a combination of hardware and software which makes operating this very sophisticated computer with children who have special needs as easy as unpacking it, plugging it in and clicking on a program icon with your mouse.
For the technically-minded, it has a 210-megabyte hard disc, 5 megabytes of memory and a floppy-disc drive capable of reading 1.6 megabyte floppy discs. For the non-technically minded, this is another way of saying it will store an awful lot of information and that it is capable of running some very sophisticated programs. It also has a range of ports for plugging in extension speakers, Concept Keyboard, switches etc.
Acorn supplies the computer with a number of applications already installed on the hard disc. These include Draw, a sophisticated program capable of producing full colour drawings; Edit, a fully-featured text editor which can also be used for editing program listings, and Paint, a painting and sprite editing program. Other applications include Maestro, a composition program which enables you to transcribe and play music using up to eight voices and ARPlayer an application for playing back video movies.
The Semerc Risc PC comes with all of this, but when you switch on, it looks a little different from the standard Risc PC. What you see is a very simple screen with the heading, "These are Everybody's programs", and a number of icons representing programs or folders. If you are familiar with Acorn computers you will notice that the standard icon bar at the bottom of the screen is hidden and the only icon showing is that for Front End. This is an easy-to-use program that allows you to set up individual menus of applications and files for use by particular children. These can be stored under individual children's names, and applications and files can be added or removed simply and quickly. There is a simple way of revealing the standard icon bar to give access to the icons for the printer, hard disc etc.
In addition to the software that comes as standard with all Risc PCs, the Semerc version includes a range of software specifically for use with children with special needs. While some of these programs are demonstration versions, intended to allow you to see whether they are likely to be of use to you, there are also a number of complete programs such as Full Phase + 2, the talking word processor from Semerc, which allows you to hear what you type as you type it and plays it back when you have finished. You can also take pictures from picture files to illustrate your work.
If you have the CD-Rom drive fitted you also get Treasure Chest, a CD with nearly 2,500 pictures and 1,000 Rebus symbols, all of which come with a spoken description in real speech (can you identify the mystery voice?) and 200 sound effects. These materials cover a very wide range of topics and can be cut and pasted into your own documents, created with any one of a range of programs such as Full Phase, Ultima, Optima, Magpie, Genesis etc. Informax allows you to design your own overlays simply and easily for a Concept Keyboard or Informatrix overlay board; Access has utilities to give as many users as possible a way of using the Risc PC.
While the video sequences included on the hard disc were a little grainy, I found the quality of the still pictures and stereo sounds breathtaking. This package has made high-quality, interactive, multimedia applications for children with special needs a reality and represents incredible value for money.
* Semerc Risc PC. * Semerc Risc PC with CD-Rom. Two ready-to-use Acorn Risc PC computers withpre-installed software, 210-megabyte hard disc, 5 megabytes of memory (Ram) and specially set up for special needs users, Pounds 1,400 ex VAT and Pounds 1,550 respectively. Second version includes CD-Rom drive. Northwest Semerc, 1 Broadbent Road, Watershedding, Oldham, OL1 4HU. Tel: 0161 627 4469