Technology that gives children a voice

A mobile phone is helping children in the U.K. who cannot communicate effectively through speech alone to gather data about what they have been doing during their school day, reports the Guardian. For many young children, talking to their parents about what they’ve been doing at school is a natural, daily event. However, parents whose children have complex communication needs (CCN)—meaning they are unable to communicate effectively using speech alone—cannot take this for granted. One project trying to help is called How Was School Today?, a collaboration between Dundee University’s school of computing, Aberdeen University’s department of computing science, and Capability Scotland. As its website points out, people with CCN may rely on computer-generated speech, but devices providing this technology “are currently limited to short, pre-stored utterances or tedious preparation of text files which are output, word for word, via a speech synthesizer. Restrictions in speed and vocabulary can be a frustrating experience and are an impediment to spontaneous social conversation.” The How Was School Today? project aimed to develop software that would collect data on what a child had been doing at school, then turn it into a natural-language story to tell their parents when they got home, while also personalizing the details and answering questions. It used sensors attached to children’s wheelchairs, tracking their movements during the day. Meanwhile, teachers were given swipe cards, used to enter data about what the children had been doing. An additional recording device enabled more detailed information about the day, while the children could add emotions using accessible icons like smiley faces…

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