There have been big changes within the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team over the past three years, we have been steadily recruiting more team members as we expand our services across the Yorkshire and Humber region as part of the staged roll-out of Specialised Services for AAC and Environmental Controls. You can read more about the history of this process on our website.
We are now almost at the end of this process. We currently cover most areas within Yorkshire and Humberside and will be accepting referrals from all CCG’s by the end of the year. Information regarding our care pathway and how we work with local services can be found on our website:
Supporting Local Services
We are keen to work with local services to support them through this transition period and beyond. We have already visited lots of teams to talk about our service and how we can work with each other to support people using AAC and Environmental controls.
We also offer a wide range of free training courses which can be delivered in your local area. Details of our curriculum are also on our website: www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/services/training-courses/
We are also trying to bring together local services to share and learn from each other. This includes setting up and arranging the Yorkshire and Humber AAC Clinical Excellence Network meeting which has been running for almost a year now. The group meets every four months to discuss a range of Assistive Technology issues and serves as a useful forum for networking and CPD.
Also on our website is a range of resources, including our popular ‘local services resource pack’ which details products and resources which local professionals will find useful: www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/services/resources-and-information/
NHS England have also recently published guidance about AAC provision from local and specialised services. This is a useful reference for local commissioners and managers when considering AAC provision: www.england.nhs.uk/commissioning/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/03/guid-comms-aac.pdf
We have received lots of positive feedback so far and are enjoying getting to know the professionals across the region supporting AAC and Environmental Controls. If you have any questions about our service or would like to arrange for us to visit your team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
To receive further updates and news from the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team, please sign up to our mailing list (we send a message or two per month).
I recently gave a lecture at Sheffield Hallam University about the importance of building accessibility options into information technology. Dr. Peter O’Neill had invited me to speak – he is a senior lecturer at Hallam, and runs courses on mobile applications. These students could be designing the apps we use in a few years time, so it was great to have the opportunity to explain why it is important to consider accessibility during the software design process.
Following the lecture we received the following very kind feedback – thank you!!
“What struck me the most watching Vicky’s presentation is how recent evolutions in the computing user experience are already being considered for the potential uses in assistive technology. Most notably with the leaps being made in home automation and advancements in gesture based input. Similarly, I also absolutely fascinated by the input methods we already have in use – I especially had no idea that eye tracking software was so capable.
This is especially useful as we have been talking about how best to grant users access to the assistive mode in our game. The presentation has encouraged me to think creatively and far outside of the box for this problem. I was previously stumped, but after seeing other solutions we have in use I feel inspired.”
“I thought the presentation as a whole was very useful and provided lots of valuable insight into the different accessibility requirements. It was also very useful to see examples of devices which have been adapted for assistive technology, showing how different methods can be interpreted using physical implementation rather than just software based.
It was also very interesting to see how the devices are used in a real world situation, as demonstrated through the videos shown in the presentation. This gave a good idea for how I could interpret assistive technology into the mobile app we are currently developing in the module. One particularly useful discussion was the need for high contrast images (yellow text on black background, for example) as this will be one of the essential things to consider for our app.
To summarise, I think the presentation as a whole is key to understanding the needs and uses for assistive technology in application development as well as many other areas. I hope Vicky can return in future years so other students can be enlightened on the topic and gain further understanding.”
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
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
The 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: http://www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/services/training-courses/
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 email@example.com so that resources can be allocated.