Further education will have its own new special needs conference in May, writes Sal McKeown

While newspapers are full of stories of cuts to disability services and every week politicians demand that teachers create more pupils in their own image, it is heartening to see Barclays, with fresh kudos for its Digital Eagles scheme, sponsoring a new Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC) to be held at Jury's Inn, Oxford, on May 17.

picreezaawoodunReeza AwoodunThe idea sprang to life 12 months ago when Antony Ruck, of Archent Consultancy and chair of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA), and Reeza Awoodun of TechEd Marketing met up to discuss how they could promote best practice in the use of assistive technology.

While there is still some continuing professional development (CPD) for the school sector, they knew that post-16 it is a very different story. If you are in a further education (FE) college, a university, an apprenticeship or at work, your chances of getting help and advice are more limited. While there are some great assessors out there, there are also many people who lack the necessary knowledge.

Three keynotes and 20 breakout sessions at inaugural event

ATEC will combine interesting perspectives on accessibility with training workshops which show apps, programs and devices in action. Sponsored by Barclays, it will offer three keynotes and a choice of 20 breakout workshop sessions with an emphasis on CPD. Delegates will receive a CPD certificate for each workshop they attend. There is also an exhibition where they can network and update their knowledge of the most popular products such as Inspiration, Dolphin, Claro and TextHelp.

Paul Smyth, head of IT accessibility at Barclays, is delivering the first of the keynote presentations. Barclays was the first UK bank to respond to the RNIB’s Making Money Talk campaign, which highlighted the fact that fewer than 70 of the 64,000 ATMs in the UK had audio capability. Barclays has demonstrated that meeting the need of customers with disabilities makes financial sense.

screenglobalautocorrectThere are workshops which feature software to help students and employees to compose a good draft. Notetalker means users can capture information from a lecture or a meeting, bookmark the key points and use the camera to take a picture of slides or other visual information. All the data can be stored in Dropbox, Google or iCloud so they can be accessed on a computer for those who like to use a keyboard to compose.

Global AutoCorrect (left) is a spellchecker with a difference. It analyses sound patterns and offers instant intelligent corrections. It keeps track of spelling mistakes so users have a list of words they can work on away from the computer. Best of all it works with all programs – presentation software, email, the web and social media.

New robotic arm performs tasks 'others take for granted'

picherewardrobotarmJacoTM robotic arm can grip objectsThere are some new developments from the world of academic research. David Finch, from National Star College in Gloucestershire, will be talking about a project called Ember. The idea is to reduce employer or mentor support and help trainees to work more effectively and more independently. The technology consists of 'beacons' (pictured, top) which are attached to the wall and deliver support in the form of pictures, text, video or voiced instructions.

The ACCESS Research and Development Department at Hereward College has been developing an assistive robotic arm called JacoTM with charitable funding from Npower. It lets users perform tasks that others take for granted such as picking up a drink (pictured right), reaching for the phone or completing household chores. Jon McGeown, a former Hereward student, has been a beneficiary and has been putting the arm through its paces. It meant he could raise a glass to toast his grandfather’s health at his recent birthday celebrations.

picantonyruckAntony RuckGordon Morris produces and advises on assistive hearing devices including environmental aids and digital wireless hearing systems. Sometimes a hearing aid or cochlear implant is not quite enough but digital communication systems can make speech easier to decipher and lets people with hearing loss keep pace with conversations.

Antony Ruck is delighted with the response to the conference so far: "We wanted to help disability practitioners in post-16 education and the workplace learn more about assistive technology, get training and see good exemplars of usage. We see this as the inaugural event, and have a series of other conferences planned. Watch this space."

More information 

Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC), Jury's Inn, Oxford, May 17  
British Assistive Technology Association (BATA)  
TechEd Marketing  
Barclays Digital Eagles  

thumbsallymcSal McKeown, a recent runner-up in the “Best Author” category of Teach Secondary’s Technology and Innovation Awards, is a freelance journalist covering special needs. She recently published two packs of conversation cards about dyslexia aimed at Pupil Premium spending – Dealing with Dyslexia at Home and Dealing with Dyslexia at School. The cards cost £14.99 per pack and can be ordered online at www.finkcards.myshopify.com/.