Multi Sensory Keyguide

Working with clients with visual impairments offers challenges within the field of AAC that are unique and can require imaginative solutions to enable the client access to their device.

After supporting  a young child with no functional vision for numerous months, progress  in terms of his ability of navigating through the ‘pages’ of his language package on his communication aid was limited. This child was  accessing  his 45 location Wordpower language package set via a standard key guard and appeared initially to be making good progress in terms of remembering where specific vocab items were located.

As a navigation strategy, the child was supported to place his hand at the top left of his  device and then move down the columns and then from  left to right across the rows. He was able to press a few  cells  before his chosen cell and used the auditory feedback to cue him in as to where he was on the page. However after a period of use of this method  his progress appeared to have plateaued and his targeting  was not getting more accurate.

After discussion with one of our mechanical techniologists a multi sensory keyguide was developed using the department’s new laser cutter. This keyguide was layered – the top layer splits the page into eight sections and then on the bottom layer within each section six shapes (circle, star, square, triangle, diamond, oval) are cut. In this way the child is provided with a sensory code/cue for each cell of the vocabulary package and this should allow himself to orientate himself and more easily learn the use of the system.


Multi sensory keyguide showing layered shapes

Multi sensory Keyguide showing vocabulary

Multi sensory Keyguide showing vocabulary

We are looking forward to reviewing this child and seeing if this multi sensory keyguide has supported his ability to learn his AAC language package more effectively.


Be a Field Service Engineer with a difference

We are currently recruiting for field service engineers.  This is not your average field servicing job though – this post is rewarding and challenging in equal measure. In addition, there are routes to personal development including working towards registration as a clinical technologist within the NHS.

These roles are key to our team’s ability to install, service,  maintain and repair the communication aids and environmental controls that our team provides to individuals with severe disabilities.

You will have to have a strong electronic/computing engineering background and the ability to communicate with a range of people and have an excellent ability to fault find and fix problems. You will also enjoy being a part of a supportive and dynamic team.

Read more about the job on the NHS Jobs page.  You can also see more about what we do on our website.

Eye Gazing in April

On Wednesday 6th April, the Barnsley AT Team delivered two new eye gaze courses.

The morning session was all about developing early eye pointing skills for communication and looked at how we can identify children who might use their eyes for communication and the resources we might use to develop these skills.

IMG_0008As part of this session we compared three different low tech AAC strategies: Etran frames, symbol boards and Eye Link boards. We even ran our own mini-experiment to see which communication method was the fastest! Not many Speech and Language Therapists are aware of Eye Link, but our experiment suggested that for many people this was an easier and quicker method of communicating using eye pointing. For more information on Eye Link and details of the study we took inspiration from, see a write up of a study on Eye Link.

IMG_0007The afternoon session focused on eye tracking technology. We looked at how eye tracking technology works and compared a range of eye trackers and software. Participants were able to try out a range of communication aids and eye trackers for themselves. We explored how to achieve a successful calibration and discussed a wide range of troubleshooting strategies.

The courses were very popular and we plan to run both courses again in the near future. For details of all our training events, please visit our website:




William Merritt Disabled Living Centre (WMDLC) in Leeds recently participated in GameBlast16, a nationwide gaming event to raise money for Special Effect, a gaming charity that helps people with disabilities access popular home video games.  The event ran 24 hours from 1 pm on Friday 26 February.  As it wound down, several staff and gamers alike had that glazed look in their eyes that comes with staying up all night, although most participants did the event in shifts.

Maxine McDonnell of WMDLC reports that gaming represents a natural progression for users who have mastered and perhaps become bored with switch-operated toys.  Judging from the focused attention of the young gamers in the room, the activity was highly motivating.  It is easy to wonder if video gaming is a better medium for some users to develop their access skills when learning to use adapted interfaces.

WMDLC’s support of accessible gaming extends well beyond the annual GameBlast event as the centre holds regular accessible gaming days throughout the year .  The knowledgeable and supportive staff have a variety of adaptations to hand to help gamers access popular consoles such as Nintendo WiiU, Sony PlayStation, and Microsoft Xbox.  The Maxgear CrossFlight allows an Xbox controller to operate a WiiU console.  For example, if a user is proficient with an Xbox controller but not with a WiiU controller, the CrossFlight allows you to use the Xbox controller on the WiiU.  The Titan One similarly allows users to swap controllers on numerous consoles, such as using an Xbox controller to operate a PlayStation. It also has an interface called MaxAim DI that supports keyboard and mouse support for accessing gaming consoles.  It can also run with OneSwitch Pulse software which is a programmable list of commands that switch users can scan through and send to a gaming console via a computer.  The Console Switch Interface Deluxe or C-SID is a switch interface that allows you to break out a button from most console controllers to a switch.  WMDLC frequently uses this breakout feature with game adapter cables to form teams of gamers controlling a single avatar.  In this setup, members of the team each control specific functions (button presses).  McDonnell revealed that many gamers that can play games independently prefer the social camaraderie that comes with working together.

WMDLC’s accessible gaming days are perfect for building up stamina for next year’s GameBlast event.  Although the service is drop in, it is helpful if call ahead on 0113 350 8989 or so that resources can be allocated.

Local Service Resource Pack – update

Following the well received publication of our Local Service Resource Pack last year, an updated version has now been produced, including even more information about Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Environmental Control and Computer Access devices, software, hardware and other resources.

The pack is designed as an easy to use resource and is hoped to be particularly useful for supporting those working in local services within the Yorkshire and Humber Region, who may be expected to provide and support clients with using assistive technology that does not come under the remit of the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team. This may include local Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Teachers and Teaching assistants.

The guide includes ideas including communication aids and apps, computer access equipment, simple devices for environmental controls as well as details of assessments, software and other resources that may prove useful.

Local Sercvice Resource Pack

Local Service Resource Pack

The pack is available from our website at

We hope that the resource will be useful and welcome any feedback, including any other products that you feel it would be useful to include. We hope to continue to update the resource on an ongoing basis.

Communication in ASD: AAC, Research & Practice Study Day – 20 April 2016

Helen Robinson, one of the team’s Speech and Language Therapists, will be presenting at the “Communication in ASD: AAC, Research and Practice” study day on 20th April in London.

Before joining the team, Helen spent many years supporting non-verbal children with ASD and has a keen interest in the evidence and clinical practice regarding the use of AAC with this client group.

Helen spent two years looking into the use of the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) approach and will present the findings of two projects which aimed to  identify criteria for children who are likely to be successful with the LAMP approach

Also speaking on the day are:

  • Dr Elaine Clarke, Great Ormond St Hospital
  • Darryl Morgan, The ridgeway Community School
  • Dr Greg Pasco, King’s College London

For further information and to book a place, click here booking form

‘Access to Assistive Technology’ – The Access Group National Training Event

On 12-13th November myself (Jenny) and Stewart, Occupational Therapists (OTs) with the Barnsley Assistive Technology team attended the Access Group National Training Event ‘Access to Assistive Technology’ at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney, London.

The Access group consists of a group of individuals working in, or with an interest in Electronic Assistive Technology, (including Augmentative Communication and Environmental Control), with a specific focus on accessing this technology for those with disabilities. The group consists of mainly OTs, but is open to other professionals working in the speciality also. The group is primarily a national online group, but with regular meet ups to share knowledge and best practice, including a two day training event every other year.  Details of the group and how to join their email list can be found on their website:

Due to OTs being a new addition to the Barnsley Team this year, this was the first time that the team had sent OTs to this event and we both found it a great opportunity to meet and network with others working in this specialist area.  The two days mainly consisted of sessions presented by group members on a variety of topics, but also offered a valuable opportunity for discussion and sharing of knowledge around accessing assistive technology.

Sessions were varied and included, amongst others: developments in computer access; functional vision assessment; the use of technology for profound and multiple learning disabilities; accessible gaming; and considerations in low tech AAC.

Accessible Gaming

The sessions by the charity Special Effect   and Geoff Harbach of Lepmis provided a great insight in to the adaptation of gaming consoles and controllers to enable individuals with limited movement to access gaming.  This is something that we are regularly asked about in regards to environmental control, but as a team have previously had limited experience in implementing AT in this area.  As a result it was really interesting to see the work and devices/access methods that these two organisations use and specialise in to facilitate, what is for some people, such an important and meaningful occupation.

Integrated access

Another session of note was ‘The Highs and Lows of Integrated Access’ by Jodie Rogers, OT from East Kent Adult CAT Service. This discussed experiences of the provision of integrated assistive technology, including integrated AAC and EC devices and integrating AAC devices with power wheelchair control.  This session focused on the need for strong communication between different services (AAC, EC and wheelchair services amongst others), highlighting the difficulty of jointly providing the increasing range of devices that do both AAC and EC across respective services. On a positive note, this did emphasise how well this works for the Barnsley team as both specialised EC and AAC services for the region are both provided from the same service, with team members experienced in both specialist areas.  In terms of funding, communication and seamless working, this does indeed make things much easier for the team, however it also highlighted the challenge for our team to be knowledgeable and up to date regarding both EC and AAC products and the implementation of these.

As a team however, we regularly have visits and demonstrations by various EAT companies to update us on their products.  We are coming to the end of our current run of these type of events, but we will likely be looking to book in some further sessions in 2016.  See our website for further details of training and sign up to our email list – selecting ‘training and education’ to receive information about future training events.

A positive event

All sessions were a great way for the group to share experiences and knowledge and discuss devices, software and approaches for facilitating access to EAT.  Thanks go to the AT team at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability for hosting the event and to the members of the Access group for organising and presenting.