Using Windows-based tablets as assistive technology

Guest post from Trevor Mobbs, Assistive Technologist at Beaumont College. 

Scope’s Beaumont College offers both residential and non-residential programmes for young disabled people, all of whom are between the ages of 19-25 years.

Hand selecting a TV channel to watch on a touch screen

In recent years, the College has attracted an increasing number of learners with complex needs and those on the autistic spectrum.  As an Assistive Technologist, it is my role to provide bespoke solutions for individual students to access IT and communication technology. This includes assessment, provision, training and on-going support for students, tutors and support staff.

Over recent years, the use of mainstream tablet computers as assistive technology has increased significantly and many of our learners are now benefitted from this mobile technology.  The solutions which we provide are tailored for the individual, and so therefore we do not standardise on one particular operating system.  We have many students using iPads (in similar ways to those described in Margie Woodward’s excellent blog post), but they are not necessarily the most suitable devices for everyone.  Here I will attempt to illustrate why Windows based tablets can be a better alternative for some.

Choice of input methods

Hand using a special keyboard

The standard USB port on a Windows tablet enables any kind of input device to be used.  This includes head mouse, eye gaze, switch, joystick, rollerball, high contrast keyboard etc etc.  Most of these are either not possible or have severe limitations on an iPad.  Having this full range of access methods available is a key benefit of a Windows based device.

Special access software

Screenshot of Grid 2 - special communication software

Having access to software packages like the industry leading Grid 2 software on a Windows tablet means that individual solutions can be created for communication, environmental control, social networking, office productivity etc.  The software available is more powerful and fully featured than the cut down or ‘lite’ versions which are available as apps (e.g. GridPlayer, Clicker Docs).

Accessibility of the operating system

Screenshot of access features in Windows

Even without any additional software, Windows has many in-built accessibility features via the “Ease of Access Center” such as a magnifier, voice recognition, on screen keyboard, high contrast colour schemes, text to speech etc.

Networking

A Windows tablet can be joined to an enterprise network, and thus configured and managed in exactly the same way as any other computer.  This means that our students can access their documents and email on the device, and more importantly all their customised settings will be applied whether they log on to their tablet or a desktop computer.  They thus have a unified user experience, irrespective of which device they are using at a given time.

Computing power

With recent advances in hardware, Windows tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro are now available which have as much computing power as their desktop counterparts.  This means that multitasking or more demanding applications such as games or video editing are now possible.

“Instant On”

Waiting for a Windows computer to boot up used to be a frustration, and perhaps an argument for using an alternative such as an iPad.  However with a combination of the software improvements in Windows 8 and the speed boost brought by solid state hard drives (SSDs), the time taken to start up a Windows tablet can now be measured in seconds rather than minutes.

Case study: Dominique

Dominque using a computer attached to her wheelchair

Dominique has moved from using a specialised dedicated communication aid which was very costly and somewhat limited in computing power, to a wheelchair mounted mainstream tablet (or “Wheeltop” as we like to call them!).  The tablet is a £700 Microsoft Surface Pro which meets her needs for communication (using Grid 2 software), web browsing, listening to music, social networking, Skype, environmental controls or anything else she fancies.  The next step is for her to trial an “iPortal” controller which will allow her to control the tablet with her wheelchair controller and eliminate the need for an additional joystick.

Sue’s story

Guest post from Sue who is a mentor at Scope’s Our Generation project.

I became involved with the Our Generation Project after being with the mentoring scheme through Scope for about three years. After I lost my husband I needed to fill my time. Initially it was to help me stop thinking about my loss but I also realised that I could use my experiences to help others. 

I would soon meet my first mentee. We went shopping one week and on alternate weeks we met at the office to improve his reading and writing skills. Eventually, he decided to go on to college which was very pleasing to me. I felt I had helped a little on his path to improving his life.

Then I met two people who had suffered breakdowns and who were not coping so well. One became a close friend; we still meet every week to chat and shop. The other liked to walk, so we would walk around the local lake.

My latest mentee has been house-bound after suffering a stroke. We enjoy a chat every other week. We are now looking into what we can do to help him get out and about.

We talk a lot, something I have always been good at, and I hope I give him something to look forward to when we meet. He usually seems more cheerful when I leave. That may be because he is glad of a break from my talking, but I hope not!

I have really enjoyed meeting new people through the Our Generation Project. It’s been really rewarding for me knowing that, in a small way, I can support people to feel more confident in achieving their goals and improving their lives.

Our Generation is a free mentoring and befriending service that offers one-to-one support for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions over the age of 50.

Your verdict: The Undateables

The people from of The Undateables

The Undateables is back for a third series. We asked on Twitter and Facebook what you thought of the show and here’s what you told us:

You really don’t like the title

“Why call this programme by this horrible title? Doesn’t this just perpetuate stigma?” – Pauline

“Can’t stand this show. Yes it shows that as disabled people date etc. but the title is an automatic barrier. Why are we UNdateable?” – Stixie

“Wish it was called something less awful.” – Davida

“I am really offended by the title.” – Christine

“I’ll be watching! The title is dreadful but the programme is really good at understanding disability.” – Elizabeth

Many of you enjoy watching the show

“I love the show. As a mother of a severely disabled little girl it gives a lovely insight to adult life of disabled people. People who take the mickey are just ignorant. I will be tuning in to watch every week” – Tanya

“The programme shows that the people on it are just people with feelings looking for love, like the next person” – Julie

“It’s actually an ironic title. A friend of mine was trying to get on to the programme. It’s seen through able bodied – so hence the title. But it turns out that they are not undateable but very pleasant people.” – Steve

“As a lesbian woman with diplegia and spastic cerebral palsy who is married with step children, I celebrate this program as it forces people who would be uncomfortable around disabled people to see just how ordinary we are in our need as any able bodied person.” – Tre

“I’m really looking forward to watching it. If you’re going to watch it with a closed mind, chances are, the program won’t change that – it’ll need much more than one show to make that much of a change.” – Faye

“Love this series. Good to see people’s personalities coming to the fore rather than their conditions.” – Heidi

But many worry that disabled people are being used for entertainment

“So many people sitting in their homes tonight will be taking the piss or passing their negative comments . Why is it so shocking that people with disabilities want to find love?” – Christine

“I love this program but I’m getting so fed up with lots of people taking the mickey out of them all!” – Sheenagh

“Personally I think it paints a bad viewpoint of disabled people, and I am disabled, so I have an idea.” – Shau

“Hate the title, hate the idea. Disabled people are not frickin entertainment.” – Shohna

“I also feel a small degree of shame and anger. Segregating disabled people from other dating shows and creating a special show angers me but I can’t quiet articulate how. It’s like deep down I’m feeling this anger because the show almost makes it look like while disabled people are great – it takes a special person to see past that an love them, when that’s not the truth.” – Tre

It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start

“The show has a long way to go, but maybe it’s a start. Having spoken to the creators on the phone, I realise they have a set agenda…” – Downs Side Up

“I think we have to start somewhere. Disability issues are so far off the mark and ignorance is the only reason for this.” – Emma

Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

The kindness of strangers

Guest post from Hayley. Hayley’s daughter Beth is three and has cerebral palsy. After they were told Beth would have to wait up to two years for an appropriate wheelchair, the whole family pulled together to raise funds so that they could buy her the chair she so desperately needed. But then their story caught the eye of an American stranger, who stepped in to help out.

Beth and Hayley
Beth and Hayley

I have the pleasure of bringing up my four beautiful children, alongside my husband Mark.

When my youngest child Beth was born it wasn’t too much of a shock that she was premature, all my children were born early, my eldest at just 29 weeks. But we were so lucky, after short stays in hospital they all thrived.

Tip toes

But when Beth turned one I noticed that she was struggling to walk properly – she was walking on her tip toes. The doctors kept telling me it was something ‘she’d grow out of’.

Beth then started to have seizures, and just after her second birthday she was eventually diagnosed with both cerebral palsy and epilepsy. There were a lot of tears.

Due to her seizures and the effects they have on her she is at times unable to walk safely or at all, so we were referred to NHS Wheelchair Services. We were told it would be a long wait for a suitable chair – as long as two years!

Our family pulled together

My beautiful cousin Kiera then surprised me by saying that she had signed up to do the 50 mile Longmynd Hike to raise money to get Beth her wheelchair. We backed her in every way we could. We got in touch with our local paper and they came and took pictures of Beth and Kiera.

I put the resulting article in the paper on a blog which is called Kristen’s Life with Cerebral Palsy. I wanted to let people who might also be struggling to get the support they need know that fundraising is sometimes an option when the usual routes don’t work.

Letters from America

I then received an email from somebody that I will forever be indebted to. A woman called Judy had seen the newspaper article on the blog, explained that her daughter Lydia’s old but immaculate chair would be perfect for Beth, and that she would love to donate it to us.

I thought – ‘what an amazingly lovely thing to do’. But there was another hurdle to get over – a problem we thought it would be impossible to overcome – you see Judy lives in the USA!

After looking into couriers to bring the chair over, and finding that it would cost thousands of dollars, we felt the idea of ever getting the chair to Beth was lost.

Woman on a mission

Then earlier this year, on a very normal Friday, my husband received a call from Manchester airport saying there was a delivery currently going through customs for me. I was puzzled. We didn’t have a clue what it could be at first…then the penny dropped…

Unbeknown to us Judy had become a woman on a mission. She had got in touch with Delta airlines and told them the story. Days later they had taken the chair and within 24 hours the chair was in England, absolutely free of charge!

There are not enough ‘thank yous’ in the world to pay back the generosity of Judy for making the impossible possible.

Friendship and freedom

Whilst speaking with Judy through emails I had learnt that her daughter Lydia needed a special chair for school. We decided there and then to send some of the money we had raised for our campaign to kick-start their own fundraising appeal. We donated the rest to Shropshire Cerebral Palsy Society.

Beth, who is now three, can now go everywhere with us now without any worries at all, and she loves her new freedom.

Before all this started we felt afraid of the future and didn’t have a clue about fundraising. Now after a further two more fundraising events, in total we have actually managed to raise an amazing £4,090 for Shropshire Cerebral Palsy Society.

I am so very proud of my fantastic family and we really feel anything is possible now. I want to tell other people not to be forced to go without what your child needs. Fight for everything and you will be rewarded.

A question of confidence

A guest blog from a volunteer at Scope’s Our Generation project. 

After two bouts of illness earlier in the year, I found I had lost my confidence and was struggling with anxiety and depression. The Health and Wellbeing visitor called and referred me to Our Generation Mentoring and Befriending Service. I hadn’t heard of the service and to be honest, I didn’t know what mentoring was. The Scope Co-ordinator called and explained everything. They matched me with my Mentor and we met at the office, which felt safe for our first meeting.

The meeting went very well and my Mentor really made me feel at ease. One of the things which we discussed was that I should like help to become more computer literate as my daughter is living overseas and it would help us to keep in touch. I made such good progress I surprised myself and have even bought an i-pad! My confidence in using it increases with each meeting. I have found that this increased confidence has permeated other areas of my life and I am now able to meet my Mentor in town.

Every two years I visit my daughter. I am due to go next year but the anxiety and depression I have experienced has made the lone journey seem incredibly daunting. However, since working with the Our Generation Mentor I can feel my confidence returning and I’m beginning to really look forward to this years visit.

I recently attended the Our Generation Xmas party which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have believed that I could have the confidence to go along on my own.

The Co-ordinator has suggested I attend the Mentoring Skills Training Course at the office as my next challenge and I surprised myself by saying that I’ll think about it!

5 top tips for dealing with Christmas debt

And so begins another year. Welcome to 2014 from us here at the Scope helpline. May this year be a good one for all. Last year we saw savage cuts to the welfare state leaving our most vulnerable members of society in deep distress, anxious about their futures.

We have heard some shocking stories about how people are coping with the cuts and the challenges they’ve faced to get through each day on budgets stretched to the limit.

We wanted to turn our attention to the help available if you’re struggling with debt. At this time of year after the Christmas festivities have ended, we often look to our finances and realise that we’ve spent far too much money and have to pay it back and try to get through another year.

Here are the helpline’s top tips to help you get back on track for 2014.

1. Prioritise your outgoings

Your priority outgoings are rent/mortgage, Council Tax, utility bills and court fines. You should pay these bills first. If you are having difficulty with any of the above, please call us free on 0808 800 3333 and speak to one of our response workers or email response@scope.org.ukDon’t avoid dealing with these issues as they will get worse if left.

 2. Maximise your income

Are you getting all of the benefits you are entitled to? Try a benefits check with Turn2us – they may also be able to help you apply for other financial help.

3. Are you struggling with debt?

There are various sources of help available to help you manage your finances. You can seek help from charities such as Step Change, Money Advice Service and National Debtline. Do not pay for financial advice. There are plenty of advice agencies around who offer free advice. Avoid payday lenders who charge excessive amounts of interest and avoid debt consolidation without getting advice about this first. You can access money advice at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, approach your local credit union and, in some areas, your local council.

4. Emergency help

If you find that you have no money for essential bills you can apply to your local council for welfare provision payments which replaced community care grants and crisis loans in April 2013. The Children’s Society has created an online database of services in your local area. Every scheme has different criteria but would usually be considered as a last resort.

5. Fuel costs

See the pages on our website to help you tackle your fuel bills and get help to reduce large utility arrears bills – see Scope’s information on helping with fuel costs.

I was bullied because I’m disabled – part 2

Trendsetters is Scope’s project for young disabled people. In November we posted a blog and video about being bullied because you’re disabled.

We caught up with the Trendsetter who made the video to find out how things are going now.

Your film has had around 9,000 views so far. How do you feel about this?

It amazes me that we’ve had over 9,000 views of the film. I don’t think any of us expected the response to be this great, especially as there was nothing that we could find on the internet about disability bullying.

You mentioned in the past that you wrote about your feelings. Was this helpful in dealing with the experience of bullying?

The poetry I write helps me deal with what happened to an extent. It was very useful when talking to the guy at school because I found it really hard to just talk about the bullying at first, so knowing he already knew took the pressure off me a bit.

Might other young people find this helpful, especially if they haven’t got someone they can easily confide in?

It can be really helpful to write about how you are feeling, but it will only get better if you tell someone, whether that’s a friend, a teacher or your parents.

What would you say to teachers about bullying?

If you are a teacher witnessing bullying don’t just stand there, actually do something to stop it, but in a way that is not going make it worse for the victim.

Creating Tim-Tron, the robot with a brain injury

Guest post from Ian Ray. Ian is editorial manager at The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury. He leads the Brain Injury Hub, an online resource and forum for families of children with brain injury.

How do you tell your child they may not be quite the same again?

Thousands of parents across the UK face this very problem each year after their child sustains an acquired brain injury.

It’s hard to overstate how shocking this can be for a family, as their otherwise healthy little boy or girl is hospitalised through an impact to the head, or a ‘non-traumatic’ injury such as stroke or meningitis. This shockwave may rumble on for many years afterwards, as children and families contend with a huge range of issues and impairments (it would take another handful of blogs to cover them all!).

Just one of these issues is the difficulty some children have with their own awareness about their injury and its effects. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, in that the very organ children use to make sense of themselves may not be at full strength.

On the face of it, this lack of awareness might seem a blessing, but actually, it may be hard for children to address their difficulties if they don’t understand them. They may push themselves too hard, or miss mistakes they’re making.

Heads Up, Tim-Tron

Cartoon of Tim-Tron, a robot with a dog
Tim-Tron with his dog

With Heads Up, Tim-Tron, we’ve tried to help parents of younger children broach this complex issue in a colourful and interesting way. It’s a picture book about a little robot who bangs his head, an idea that came about after one of our clinicians compared the human brain to a cluster of tiny working circuits.

We know boys are disproportionately affected by traumatic brain injury, and a comparison with the circuits in a little robot’s brain seemed like a funny way to appeal to them (hopefully without excluding little girls!).

The more we thought it through, the more aspects of brain injury seemed ripe for the robot treatment; the tiredness children experience after an injury might be rendered as a battery running low, or the difficulty some children have absorbing information might be trouble with a processor.

We’d recently launched our Brain Injury Hub resource and forum, and so a story for children seemed like the perfect next step.

Getting started

After working up the story from home, I nervously took my first draft to a writing tutor, who helped me get the book in better shape. He suggested I put together some guide illustrations to ‘storyboard’ the book, which was enormous fun.

As the story developed, it became increasingly important that we didn’t have a big, shiny happy ending. Sadly, we know rehabilitation can sometimes be an ongoing process for children, so it was important that our story ended on a cautiously optimistic note. I hope we’ve achieved this.

When I had something that looked like a (somewhat amateurish) children’s book, our own experts made sure it ‘did its job’ from a clinical perspective. We also shared the draft with some of our families, who weren’t shy about telling us it was far too long.

Illustrating the book

Our director of fundraising was able to have the project charitably-funded, and we were now ready to take on an illustrator for the book. This was far and away the most exciting aspect of the project, as I trawled through illustration directories looking at every conceivable style of children’s artwork.

We eventually chose Garry Parsons, an award-winning artist who hand-paints each page of his books. With his expert eye, Garry saw immediately that my version of Tim-Tron was too adult-like for young children, so he put together a collection of little robot drawings we could show to children to see who their favourites were.

With our main character designed, Garry developed initial ‘thumbnail’ sketches that soon became a pencil storyboard for the entire book. This itself then blossomed into a series of vivid paintings telling Tim-Tron’s story.

Tim-Tron playing with a dog outside his house
Tim-Tron playing outside his house in Transistor Avenue
Tim-Tron in a rocket, flying past a red planet
Tim-Tron on a trip to Mars

Richard Hammond lends his support

Richard Hammond in a recording studio
Richard Hammond records the audiobook

Over the last few years The Children’s Trust has benefited from the support of Richard Hammond, the Top Gear presenter who himself sustained a brain injury during filming. Despite a manic calendar of filming and appearances, Richard took the time to record an audiobook version of Heads Up, Tim-Tron for families to read along with.

With the audiobook recorded, our production process was almost complete, and after a couple of insomnia-inducing slip-ups in our schedule, we got the book to our printer.

Getting the final product back in a series of neat little boxes was a genuine thrill. And shortly afterwards, we were told the United Kingdom Brain Injury Forum had awarded us their “Innovation in the Field of Brain Injury” award for the project, a wonderful recognition of the hard work of our little team.

All we need to do now is get the book into your hands. I’m already proud of our little robot, and I hope his story will be genuinely useful to children, their friends, siblings and families.

Tim-Tron will be available from 13 January for just the cost of postage and packing from The Children’s Trust, email thehub@thechildrenstrust.org.uk if you’re interested.

Scope also has a list of positive children’s books featuring disabled characters and storybooks to download.