Widgit Software and Inclusive Technology have produced Inclusive Writer, a new word processor for Windows 9598, which has attracted considerable praise from teachers and advisers. However, the good news for the computer novice is that it is really easy to get started.
First of all, the tutorial is well thought out and assumes no prior experience of word processing. So what is it and what is different from other packages? Put simply, it is a word processor with visual and audio support in the form of speech output, picture or symbol annotations of words to help learners with poor reading and spelling skills.
A document can be set in text or picture mode, or you can toggle between the two by clicking a key. This puts an image over the word if one is in the dictionary. Some words such as "sets" and "paints" have several pictures. The pupils click until they find the one they want.
The package is quite good for homophones, so pupils can check if they are using the right word. It covers many of the ones you would expect, such as "to", "too" and "two", "their" and "there", "piece" and "peace" and "hare" and "hair". But there are some odd omissions. "Caught" has a symbol, but not "court"; we can see "bear", but not "bare" and those often confused words "accept" and "except" have no linked pictures. Similarly, "key" has a picture of a door key but not a computer key.
For those who do not want to use the picture option, there is a good range of spelling support in the text mode. This word processor will speak letters, words and sentences, so you can hear the text. This can be particularly useful for learners who type words which are correctly spelt but wrong in context - for example, "the sun was shinning".
The spell-check has some good features. You can hear words or try them in a document before moving on to the next word. The program alerts you to mistakes as you type by putting a red box around errors.
One of the nicest features is that you can have multiple windows open at once and they can "talk" to each other. So you can create a word or phrase bank in one window, and send the words, letters or phrases into your main document. Any window can be easily edited, so you can modify or add new words quickly.
Maggie Wagstaff, who is supervising the introduction of the National Grid for Learning in Warwickshire, says: "This facility is particularly useful. Because it is so easy to add words, you can keep the writing process alive for a child, more so perhaps than you can with a conventional wordbank or grid." I particularly liked the 25 environments which show ways of using the package to support literacy activities in the classroom. Often people learn by seeing a sample and changing it. There are word lists which contain theme words for Christmas, and science words for the national curriculum. You can tell the program has a strong primary emphasis, though, when you see a Fantasy file that contains words such as "castle", "frog", "dragon" and "kiss". They are such sweet romantics at Inclusive!
Judith Stansfield, education adviser and chair of the British Dyslexia Association's computer committee, said, "This package provides differentiated support without being patronising."
Sally McKeown Inclusive Writer CD-Rom for Windows PCs pound;163-pound;80 (single-user licence); pound;163-pound;120 (5-user); pound;163-pound;220 (10-user). An update will be available to existing users soon to include switch access and extra functions Inclusive Technology 01457 819790 www.inclusive.co.uk