The BBC and the publishers, TAG, have combined to produce a story on CD that truly exploits the medium, says Sally McKeown
Although one in seven of the population is deaf, few are British Sign Language users and, until recently, software developers have been reluctant to invest time and effort in resources for deaf learners. As a result, most deaf pupils have to learn to read in their second language and rarely get a chance to hone their language skills on software and reading books that reinforce their mother tongue.
Now from the BBC comes Elmer, a CD-Rom produced in conjunction with TAG Developments. So how do you transform an English reading book into a fully-fledged resource for deaf learners?.
First you need a good book and a sympathetic author. Judy Brooks, of the BBC and the driving force behind the project, said: "The original story was written by David McKee and he and Andersen Press were far-sighted enough to see that this was a worthwhile project for a small but important group of children who do not have resources like this."
Each page of the book has three screens on the CD-Rom. One for pictures, one for signing and one for text. The signing is provided by Lesley McGilp who is well known in deaf circles for her work on the BBC programme See Hear. As with other signing books, the user can choose to hear the text.
A 16-year-old girl was chosen as the reader because she has a very clear voice which can be heard by those with only partial hearing.
There are also a number of tasks that involve matching and sequencing, working with numbers and colours. Some activities involve categorising information aboutanimals. Not only is this a very good introduction to database activities and research skills, but also it helps with concepts and vocabulary.
For TAG, the project presented a challenge as Tony Wheeler explained:
"While we had a clear view of our target group's needs, at the outset, we only had a very hazy notion of what a 'living book' for deaf children might be like. We were faced with a difficult compromise. The CD-Rom clearly had to belong to deaf children, but it also needed to have the features and qualities of a mainstream product."
Judy Brooks is full of praise for TAG: "They were terrific. We all got very passionate about making the story exploit the possibilities of the medium as much as we could. It's not a big budget project, but we did want it to give as much as possible to everybody who might use it - to the oldest and youngest child, to their teachers and to the family who we hope will share it."
Elmer is available for all school computer platforms from BBC Educational Publishing, Freepost LS 2811, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 6YY. Credit card hotline 0990 210234.
Sally McKeown is education officer for special needs and inclusion at BECTA.