Hello and welcome!

Hello and welcome!
I wanted to create a blog dedicated to talking about adaptive technologies and assistive devices for those with PMLD (profound and multiple learning disabilities) and complex physical issues. I have been in the field for about 8 years working with children and young adults to help them to develop their independent use of IT and devices such as VOCAs (voice output communication aids) environmental controls, and powered wheelchairs. Through these technologies people with disabilities can realise their potential like never before.

I hope that in time, this blog will generate useful, practical advice and a network of support to those seeking assistance on such issues.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Trabasack as an alternative tray....

When assessing people's need for specialist technology, one of the most important areas to consider is their physical positioning and the positioning of their access device, such as a switch or communication aid. The use of a tray can play an important role in both these areas.
When Netbuddy asked me to take a look at a Trabasack I headed straight for Google as I had no idea what it was! The Trabasack website describes it as a 'lap desk and travel bag with a firm flat tray surface.'
It is an ergonomically designed bag that can be placed on someone’s lap and used as a tray. There are a few different designs, varying in size and shape.
I received the ‘Trabasack Connect’ which has a Velcro top to the tray. The first thing I noticed was the weight of the Trabasack. It’s very light and actually slightly smaller than I expected it to be. It has a very neat design and comes with straps that can be attached very easily in different configurations, depending on how the bag is to be held.
It comfortably holds an Ipad or similar tablet device and also works well with various other smaller communication and assistive devices. The hard top and the cushioned bottom mean that any device stored in the bag is very well protected.
I wanted to trial the Trabasack with students in a special school that I work in so – Trabasack in hand – I took it around one morning to see how people reacted to it and how effective it would be.
It excited the staff in particular, as the two things that go everywhere with the students are bags and trays. To integrate the two meant less to carry on the wheelchair.
Many students tried the tray on their laps and it was surprising how well it worked for different students, irrespective of size or physical presentation. The bottom of the Trabasack shapes and moulds to a person's lap and a strap can be positioned to wrap around their waist, securing it in place.
Over the course of a week I held assistive technology assessments and instead of using a regular tray, I actually found that in most cases the Trabasack was a quicker and more efficient approach. The Velcro top meant that switches and mounts could be quickly secured and because it actually rested on the student’s lap it better fit the contour of the body.
It also allowed improved access by the students to devices placed on the tray compared with some wheelchair trays. One problem I often come across is students catching their hands underneath their wheelchair tray as it has to be positioned above the legs. Because the trays are usually solid plastic this can cause discomfort. As the Trabasack actually sits on the legs and it is a softer design this problem was mostly overcome.
I was extremely surprised by the versatility of this simple design. The Trabasack is an efficient and effective device and for many of the students who tried it, it offered a viable alternative to a wheelchair tray, while also offering the function of a modern bag to transport their equipment.
Of course, the Trabasack has its function in many situations and I can safely say that my next Ipad case will certainly now be a Trabasack!"

Monday, 18 July 2011

Question and Answer...

I also offer advice on a forum for the website Netbuddy, below is a question and answer from the forum


Hi Chris
I have twin 14 year old ASD MLD boys who have very poor writing and they will not find it easy to access their senior education over the next 2 years. They do not have work stations at their desks at their special school and they would not find keyboarding very easy, Could you advise us of any adapted technology which would be available to support and open up the boys education which is reasonably priced and accessible. Thank you.


Hi Virgomum – thanks for your question.

It is well worth having a look at Clicker 5 (I talk about this a lot!). Clicker 5 is a fantastic piece of software with a huge range of activities and supportive reading and writing tools. “Write on-line” is a Clicker 5 word processing tool that is designed for learners of your son’s age and incorporates word and symbol prediction along with auditory feedback. With Clicker 5 you can design bespoke “learning grids” for specific activities, tailoring them to an individual’s needs. There are many resources available to purchase covering many areas of the curriculum. There are also free resources available on-line created by other Clicker 5 users. If your sons find it difficult to use a keyboard then you could use an on-screen keyboard in Clicker 5 with the mouse pointer or touch-screen. To break this down even further, switches can be used with an auditory scan to simplify the sequencing process. This could be done with the on-screen keyboard or any of the learning grids. The RM Slate offers all the features of a Windows 7 computer but is easy to transport across the school and between home and school. It is £399 so very reasonably priced. Couple it with Clicker 5 and you have a really flexible, touch-screen, learning platform. Also check out the Intellikeys keyboard and accompanying software– I’m sure you have come across this but if not it may be something that would help.

Here are links to the various products

Clicker 5

The RM Slate


All these products are available to purchase at Inclusive technology


I hope this is of some help, please feel free to ask further questions.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Quesion and Answer...

I also offer advice on a forum for the website Netbuddy, below is a question and answer from the forum


Hi Chris, I have a 4 year old daughter (with a condition called Smith Magenis Syndrome) she attends a special school and loves using the touch screen pc's.... we are looking to buy her one for home, could you recommend somewhere I can get one from? It would need to be robust as she isn't the gentlest of children!!

Hi Emma
Great to hear from you. Inclusive Technology has a great range of touch monitors and “all-in-one” devices such as the Inclusive One Touch. The One Touch is a very robust computer built for schools. It can be fixed to a desk and all the cables are hidden away at the back. The monitor is very hard wearing and can be easily wiped clean when necessary. I use Inclusive Technology a lot and have always been very happy with their products. If you already have a computer, the ELO touch monitor may be your best (and cheaper) option. I use the 15inch monitors and find these very good. There will be other touch monitors and devices on the market but the ones I have pointed out are built to be tough and to withstand a bit or rough play. I hope this helps.

Question and Answer...

I also offer advice on a forum for the website Netbuddy, below is a question and answer from the forum


Hi Chris, I'm thinking of getting an iPad for my son (19, severe CP) to use at school to Skype us in the evening. Any other ways he could use the iPad? Talking books, for example? I know we could put his iTunes on there and he could update his iPod from it. Just thinking, does he really need something as large as a laptop? He can watch DVD's on his laptop, but if he could do this on the iPad as well, that may be good enough. Any good Apps for those with physical/visual disabilities? Thanks, Erica


Hi Erica, great to hear from you. The Ipad is a fantastic device and for many people with CP and related disabilities it has opened up a new world of fun and interactive enjoyment. Access is always the key though. If your son is able to fairly accurately target on-screen icons with a hand or finger then it sounds like it would be a good option. If not there may be some other similar devices that could be used as an alternative. The RM Slate is a Windows 7 powered device. It looks and feels like an Ipad, however it acts like a touch screen computer. This means that you can install any software on it in the same way you would on a laptop. If your son uses any specialist access devices such as switches then these can be set up in the same way you would a regular computer. Some more information would be good around the way your son currently access a computer, I can then hopefully offer more specific advice.
Here is a link to the RM Slate http://www.rm.com/shops/rmshop/product.aspx?cref=PD1787832

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


This video was shared on the site http://www.netbuddy.org.uk/

Netbuddy is an award-winning site for swapping practical tips and information on all aspects of supporting people with learning disabilities.
I was introduced to the netbuddy website by a parent a few months ago. It is an absolutely brilliant resource for parents and I highly recommend it. I have recently been added as a "site champion" answering questions and offering advice on all things "adaptive technology". Check it out!

Big Bang for testing visual ability

Big Bang is a fantastic piece of software for testing someone's visual ability. The on-screen animations and graphics are bright and engaging. You can configure animations to move across the screen in many different directions and can set them to leave a trail. The background colour can be changed and there are various different types of activity that can be presented. When unsure of someone's visual capabilities, Big Bang is a fantastic tool to bring out.
Big Bang is also great switch practice for those who are developing cause and effect.  

Please feel free to ask any questions by leaving a comment

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Eyegaze Technology - Is it appropriate?

The emergence of eyegaze technology is causing quite a storm among parents, teachers and therapists. It is certainly groundbreaking and is yet another "game-changer" (we seem to be using this term rather a lot these days!). We've talked about the Ipad, Iphone, slates and now eyegaze (which by the way doesn't currently work with any of the afore mentioned...yet). So what is it? How does it work and the big question - is it going to actually change and improve the way people access the computer and communication devices? Well, the answer is yes but I urge caution...
Let's start off by briefly describing what it actually is. It is a technology that allows people to control a computer or communication device with their eyes. It can be configured in many ways but basically wherever you look, the mouse-pointer will go. Hold your gaze for a moment and it will open or choose whatever you are looking at.
This technology isn't all that new, it has been around for a while, but now it really works. It has been refined and the development of software designed for touch-screens has benefitted its cause hugely. There are also some really exciting developments in the area of eyegaze devices and sensory rooms, but that is for another post! Do check this video out though for a taster - all this stuff can apparently be controlled with eyegaze now... according to a solid source!

So why do I urge caution? Well, firstly the equipment is expensive. I believe we have to be careful when assessing people for equipment that we can't support the on-going learning of or actually provide. It may work, but it is an expensive option. I say that because in schools for instance, professionals are running assessments with eyegaze but unable to kit out their classrooms with the devices to support their use. We need to encourage inclusive learning practices by training teachers and support staff to lesson plan around the devices and support the user in the daily use and configuration of the device. All this can of course be combated and companies such as Tobii are leading the way on this.
It is Tobii who have taken this technology forward and developed it to work more effectively with their C12 communication device and have now developed a device to work with computers.
Tobii have realised the need to provide the facility to train up users who aren't quite ready to use eyegaze as a functional communication tool or to record their class work for instance. This may be because of age or because or cognitive development.
Have a look at these videos with my good freind Hector from Tobii and you will see what I mean.





So, to sum up, what is emerging is a groundbreaking way for people to access computers and develop their independence but along with that is the crucial understanding among developers that, although for many this type of access is intuitive, for some extra training and the software to facilitate this needs to be available.
So is it appropriate? For many, absolutely! This will offer the means to access IT, communication aids and other devices where there has been none before but for some it may not be appropriate. I think it needs careful consideration before an assessment as to how a device will be funded or provided if it is appropriate. Also over-hyping its potential before an assessment can cause huge disappointment if it works out not to be appropriate. But all in all a very exciting piece of kit!