Introduction to British Sign Language


Ah, some proper CPD! An intense three hour introduction to deaf awareness and British sign language taught by Robin Herdman with the aid of two interpreters, and a welcome change from the usual half hour webinar with a salesperson which I seem to have done a lot of lately.

The awareness aspect alone was packed. Important snippets I hastily noted are that BSL is the 4th officially recognised language in the UK, that it is used by 125,000 adults in the UK, though there are 11 million deaf or hard of hearing people in the country, that it has a different grammar from English, that it differs significantly from American sign language which is partially derived from French sign language, that BSL has regional dialects, particularly with numbers and colours, that evidence of the use of sign language in the UK can be traced as far back as 650 CE, and that deaf teachers and interpreters are in increasingly short supply, which has consequent effects on deaf people being able to access education, health and social care.

From the practical side of the session I learned that lip reading is very ineffective, with only around a 30% comprehension rate, the remaining 70% being guess work from context. Therefore BSL is much preferred. I learned the importance of facial expressions and non-manual features, a number of phrases for basic communication, and, in theory, the alphabet. There are some nice hooks in the alphabet which gives me hope that I’ll remember most of it a few months down the line, such as the vowels which correspond to each finger – ‘a’ being your thumb and ‘u’ your pinky – and the ‘s’, ‘n’, and ‘y’ from my name.

NERAC Training Day

NERAC, the North East Regional Assessment Centre, is based within the University’s Disability Support Service and provides study needs assessments for students at the University and from other universities and colleges in the North East. This training day was to provide an overview of the latest versions of software and hardware which can be made available to assist students with specific needs, and was very helpful in raising my awareness of what is available and which I will cascade to my team.

For literacy support two software packages were discussed, Read&Write and ClaroRead Pro. Both have functionality for converting text to speech, highlighting, conversation to other formats including MP3, and scanning tools. Read&Write tends to be the preferred software with students, partly for its better spell checker which can check as you type and pick up on phonetical spelling errors, e.g. suggesting ‘enough’ for ‘anuf’.

There was an excellent presentation on hearing impairment which discussed the different types of hearing aids which are available and how these can be complimented by technology such as induction loops and the Roger Pen. Two software packages for audio note taking were introduced, Sonocent Audio Notetaker and Notetalker. Both packages allow students to annotate presentations, e.g. PowerPoint files, with audio recorded notes, and have text to speech functionality for the conversation of recorded presentations, though it was noted that these rarely work as well as intended in real world scenarios due to background noise.

Next, two tools for mind mapping were discussed, MindView and Inspiration. MindView was noted as being the generally preferred package at this time, as it has a familiar Office style ribbon toolbar and some nice features such as being able to add multiple notes and attachments to each branch, collaborative working, a citation tool, and a Gantt chart tool. Inspiration offers a word guide which can suggest synonyms and definitions, a presentation tool, and mobile apps, though it was noted that these were fairly basic.

Finally, software for screen reading and magnification were presented – Supernova and ZoomText. Both tools can do screen magnification, and ZoomText is able to apply different colour schemes to open windows and applications, as well as to the mouse cursor and pointer. It also has a feature called AppReader which can convert text to speech and can reflow the text in a magnified window as it is reading it out. Also demonstrated was Readit which can scan images and convert to text using optical character recognition. This also works with PDF files in which the pages are image files rather than text, useful for older journals which have only had simple scans. Readit can export to various formats, including Word and MP3.