Linda Evans discusses the best way to use technology to support children with SEN and disability

There is an ever-expanding range of technology to support children with SEN and disability. It can facilitate inclusion, improve access to the curriculum, enable pupils to work independently and of course, is often very motivating. Yet SENCOs and teachers in many schools (especially mainstream) have still to discover the potential of up-to-date hardware and software for pupils with SEN. This issue we encourage you to spend some time in finding out what technology can offer.

Support for SENCOs
There are two major education exhibitions coming up in the New Year, both of which will provide plenty of opportunity for you to look at, try out and discuss technological resources. The people who ‘man the stands’ at these events are desperate to show you their wares. They are knowledgeable (often teachers, or ex-teachers/advisers themselves) and understand very well any reluctance you may have about approaching them, perhaps anxious that any information offered will ‘go over your head’. Be brave! They don’t bite (some of them even give you sweets); they don’t do the ‘hard sell’ and they do understand your needs and the needs of the children you are responsible for. Talking to someone knowledgeable and experienced can completely change the way you think about IT – and bring enormous benefits to your pupils. In-school visits and training are sometimes on offer as well, enabling you to develop better use of IT throughout the school.

The two events are:
1. The Special Needs Fringe exhibition at the Olympia Hilton from the 13th to 15th January 2010. The exhibition is dedicated to ICT for people with special needs and will have a host of communication aids, computer access devices, technology for those with sensory impairment, advisory services, educational software and more. The free seminars have a theme of CommunICaTion and the full programme is online now at www.inclusive.co.uk

2. The Education Show at the NEC Birmingham between 4th and 6th March. One of the seminars here, ‘Technology tools for Inclusion’ will be run by Maggie Wagstaff who is a very well known and accomplished author and presenter.

http://www.education-show.com/page.cfm/Action=Seminars/t=m

As with any events like this, it is all too easy to be over-faced by the vast range of material on show and finish the visit feeling exhausted but not having actually achieved anything. A large and heavy bag of brochures may act as a sop for your conscience (especially if supply cover has been involved!) but how will these be used to good effect once you’re back in school? Much better to make a plan, talk to the experts and return to school with at least some ideas if not actual purchases. So, do a little prep before the event; discuss with colleagues, and the children themselves, where difficulties are encountered and the sort of device or resource that might help. A visit to a specialist school (technology) or a local special school might give you some ideas about what is available and how it can be used to best effect. The table below lists some ideas but is by no means exhaustive.

AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices

Picture/ symbol-making software; electronic/battery operated talking devices (eg Supertalker) and computers

Recording children’s experiences and achievements

Digital cameras and camcorders
Sensory equipment From a small ‘den’ to a whole room
Support for hearing impaired pupils Soundfield installations, etc.
Help with the printed word Voice recognition software; predictive text (eg Wordsmith);
easy-to-use, robust word processors (eg AlphaSmart)
Support with writing Writing frames, eg as part of the Clicker Suite
Resources for visual learners

Software such as ‘Two wise owls’ (mnemonics)

Mindmapping (eg Kidspiration)

Support for developing readers Talking books; phonics softwareReading scheme materials (eg Wellington Square, Oxford Reading Tree)

Reading pens

Easy access Switches, joysticks, large format keyboards and keyboard covers; touch screens, touch monitors
Support for dyslexic learners Spellcheckers, thesaurus, specialist software such as ‘Wordtrack’
Developing motor skills Software such as ‘Picture Builder’, Touch games
Practising skills Software such as Starspell, Numbershark etc
Independent work (stress free!) Number track, talking clocks
Life skills eg Out and About, Smart spender

If you do manage to visit one of these events, try to take at least one colleague with you. Two heads are usually better than one when it comes to remembering what was said in explanation etc. and it’s valuable to be able to discuss things there and then. (Nominating a TA or other adult in school as ‘IT specialist’ can be an excellent way of providing someone with the time and opportunity to develop skills in this area and support colleagues.)

Both shows will undoubtedly have ‘special offers’ in abundance, so if you can go armed with an order number /requisition, you may well find a real bargain. (You’ll probably need to do some research beforehand about the sort of products you’re looking for and approximate costs.) And if you buy in new resources, be sure to devote adequate time for someone to get to really understand them once they arrive. There is a lot of sophisticated equipment and software in schools that is not used to even one tenth of its potential! If the headteacher/governors have been generous in their budget allocation, they will want to see the evidence of real effectiveness – so make sure there is something tangible to show them after a few weeks of using any new product.

Home Access is a government programme managed by Becta which aims to ensure that more children in state-maintained education in England have access to technology at home to support learning. Eligible low-income families will be able to apply for a grant to purchase a Home Access computer and internet package. For more information visit: http://schools.becta.org.uk/

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.