NTC at B.D.A. International Conference 2014

This week members of the B.D.A. NTC were involved in a range of presentation at the 9th B.D.A. International Conference.  This article provides summaries of each talk and link to download their slides.

Symposium title:

E-books and digital learning materials: breakthrough or missed opportunity to support dyslexic learners?

Accessibility of e-book devices & digital documents.

Authors: Abi James and E.A. Draffan.

Organisation: University of Southampton and BDA-NTC.

Not all that is digital in the realms of online documentation and ebooks is accessible for those who wish to read using text to speech, text highlighting or different coloured backgrounds.  This paper will explore the issues related to the accessibility of e-book formats, e-book libraries and the devices that carry the e-books.  A matrix system will be illustrated to show how e-book reading apps and devices can be differentiated and the way they can be configured to suit individual preferences. Recent research has highlighted the pros and cons of e-books, where the technology can fail but also where in a positive way e-reading can engage some struggling readers.  Totally accessible e-reading on any device for those struggling with paper based materials, remains an unfulfilled wish. This paper aims to support the idea of a framework for making choices to guide learners and those that support.

Using text-to-speech in exams – practical solutions and pitfalls.

Authors: Paul Nisbet and Abi James.

Organsiation: CALL Centre. University of Southampton and BDA-NTC.

Since 2012 the JCQ Access Arrangements have acknowledged that candidates using a Computer Reader or text-to-speech technology are reading independently making such provision available to candidates in exams that test reading skills for the first time. While use of digital exams with text-to-speech has been widely supported in Scotland through the work of SQA and CALL Scotland for a number of years, the rest of the UK has not had equivalent access. From 2013/14 exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland propose to provide digital versions of exam papers to schools for text-to-speech users. This paper will draw on experiences in Scotland and the work of the B.D.A. New Technologies Committee to identify processes and best practices within schools for using these digital papers and to identify the best text-to-speech technology to maximise the benefits for students.

The silent majority – how dyslexic learners are overlooked in alternative format provision and what they and their families can do about it.

Author: Alistair McNaught.

Organisation: JISC Techdis.

In 2012, JISC TechDis – sponsored by the CLAUD libraries group – researched the provision of alternative formats in higher education. A previous survey in Further Education library services had indicated low rates of alternative format provision, particularly for dyslexic learners. For several reasons it was expected that higher education institutions would be better placed to serve the needs of dyslexic learners but the survey results demonstrated that huge numbers of dyslexic learners are overlooked in terms of alternative formats. In addition, low cost and no cost interventions that could transform the learning experience for dyslexic learners are routinely ignored. As a result of these findings, JISC TechDis has led a collaborative approach to raising student awareness of “reasonable expectations” that they should feel confident to demand.

This paper


  •      summarises the findings from the research;
  •      explores implications for policy and practice;
  •      highlights the guidance to empower learners and their families.



Changes in copyright law benefit dyslexic people’s use of accessible format materials.

Author: Ian Litterick.

Organisation: iansyst Ltd., Right-to-Read and BDA-NTC.

The government has proposed changes to the copyright law affecting both personal copying and disabled people. The World Intellectual Property Organisation is developing a new international treaty on copyright in 2013 and so should increase the availability of documents in accessible formats  for dyslexic people. Research recently carried out JISC in HE Institutions shows that adapted accessible format materials are very rarely provided for dyslexic students compared with students with a visual impairment, and even provision for the latter is very variable while recent project such as Load2Learn project have looked at delivering accessible format materials to schools. These legal, logistical and also technical developments make it much easier for people with reading impairments to access the written word than ever before. This paper will draw together these developments and provide an update for the benefit of learners and others with reading impairments, and those who support them.

Symposium title:

Exploring the experiences of applying technology-enhanced coping-strategies to assist dyslexic learners of all ages.

Technology support for potentially dyslexic very young children.

Judith Stansfield, BDA-NTC.

Whilst it is probably not a good idea to label very young children with learning differences, it is important for teachers and carers to be aware that there are potential issues,  address them and introduce tools and learning strategies as soon as possible.   Where there is a family history of dyslexia, or a mismatch between a child’s spoken language and reading and writing performance, it is vital to find its preferred learning style and introduce suitable interventions.  This will provide the child with tools for life and help prevent the loss of confidence and self-esteem that afflict children who are only identified after years of ‘failure’.  Technology can be used to screen such young children, identify their preferred learning style and provide activities to promote literacy, numeracy and the acquisition of general cognitive skills that will help them to become independent learners.

A study of the availability and use of assistive technology with dyslexic pupils in English schools.

Malcolm Litten, BDA-NTC.

Despite the existence of a variety of tools designed to assist individuals who experience difficulties in reading and writing, research reveals that only a minority of schools actually employ them with their pupils.  Even where there exist good quality freeware tools, few schools have a policy of systematically making these available on their network.  Research has demonstrated the positive value of such assistive technology and a recent change in exam access arrangements at GCSE argues that its use to assist print-impaired candidates read text is acceptable as proof of independent reading.  This paper describes the present failure to enable dyslexic pupils to engage independently in their education and explores the factors that prevented even the best-intentioned schools from offering their pupils the chance to use text-to-speech in the 2013 English GCSE exams.

Using Assistive Technology: Issues of Perseverance and Responsibility.

Cheryl Dobbs, BDA-NTC.

As part of a qualitative study that investigated the different contexts in which students used digital technologies to support their personal difficulties with writing, this paper focuses upon one student’s experience. It culminated in an exploration of his use of different technologies and specifically his adoption of speech recognition software to support his issues with dyslexia and dyspraxia. This student’s experience does not dwell purely upon successful implementation but demonstrates the problems, frustrations and barriers he encountered as he endeavoured to strive for productivity in different educational environments. This included his experience in both primary and secondary schools, and subsequently university. Some of the strategies he ultimately employed to facilitate use will be explored, since these emphasise the importance of personal autonomy and responsibility for his own learning needs.

The Student approach to Study Skill Strategies using Portable and Desktop Technologies.

E.A Draffan BDA-NTC and Abi James BDA-NTC.

A recent survey involving 841 disabled students in receipt of the Disabled Students Allowances (62.7% of whom had a SpLDs, including dyslexia) showed a high level of  satisfaction with the technology they had received with over 70% using them on a daily basis. However, the survey also showed that 65% of those with SpLDs had not used these types of technologies before starting their degree course and were dependent on training or learning by trial and error to incorporate these technologies as part of their study skills.  60% take up training, but there is rarely a review of their progress. This paper aims to explore students’ study skill strategies using general and specialist technologies and the blurring of these two types in the eyes of the students. It will highlight the use of both portable and desktop technologies as provided by students on the LexDis project.

The ‘Coping Strategies First’ Approach: Assistive Technology in Post-Education and the Workplace

Neil Cottrell, BDA-NTC

Drawing upon personal experiences in education and the workplace, Neil Cottrell will outline techniques and best practices for creating dyslexia coping strategies that make use of appropriate assistive technology. He will discuss relevant, up-to-date examples of coping strategies for reading, writing, memory and organisation. In doing so he will describe the processes used to identify individual needs, developing personalised coping strategies then choosing assistive software to match. This highly individualised ‘coping strategies first’ approach ensures that individuals with dyslexia use the assistive technology that is right for them, in a way that best meets their needs. Attendees will also gain knowledge of new assistive technologies for smartphones. Finally, the presenter will provide insights that will assist disability professionals to implement this approach in their own organisations. Themes include: Promoting early development and adoption of strategies; Using strategies in parallel with improving skills; Practical advice for developing and adapting coping strategies.

© B.D.A. New Technologies Committee. August 2015.
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