New software helps disabled children communicate


A new technology allowing children with disabilities to engage in conversations more easily has been launched today.

The "How was school today?" software system was developed by the Universities of Dundee and Aberdeen as well as disability charity Capability Scotland.

Rolf Black, from the University of Dundee's School of Computing, said in a statement: "For a child with severe motor disabilities and limited or no speech, holding a conversation is often very difficult and limited to short one to two word answers."

"To tell a longer story, a communication device is often needed to form sentences but this can be very time consuming, putting a lot of strain on holding and controlling the conversation."

This technology simplifies the task. It starts with a sensor attached to a child's wheelchair which in turn tracks where they have been and what they have done during their day. Swipe cards enable adults, such as carers or teachers, to log when they have interacted with the child and a recorder is built in allowing people to add in more details about what the child has done.

Once all the information is collected, natural language generation (NLG) is used to create simple sentences to describe the activities a child has taken part in, letting them have a discussion about their day unlike they have previously been able to.

The scheme was piloted at Corseford School near Glasgow by two of the pupils.

Sue Williams, head teacher at the school, said: "In the week we used the system we found it very useful to pupils, teachers, therapists and parents alike. It allows children to take control of the conversation without having to rely on help from us."

The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

A statement from the University of Aberdeen said that plans were in place to develop this design further and more pilots will be taking place in the future.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

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