Page last updated at 23:25 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 00:25 UK

Software 'gives children a voice'

Child with cerebral palsy with a classroom assistant
Pupils with communication problems have been testing the software

Scientists claim to have developed the first technology of its kind to allow children with communication problems to converse better.

'How was school today?' is software to help children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy communicate faster.

The system is the result of a project between computing scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee, and Capability Scotland.

Pupils from Corseford School in Renfrewshire were first to trial it.

I was happy to take part in How was school today? It made me feel good about myself
Nicole Vallery
Corseford School pupil with cerebral palsy

Dr Ehud Reiter, from the University of Aberdeen's school of natural and computing sciences, said: "How was school today? uses sensors, swipe cards, and a recording device to gather information on what the child using the system has experienced at school that day.

"This can then be turned into a story by the computer - using what is called natural language generation - which the pupils can then share when they get home.

"The system is designed to support a more interactive narration, allowing children to easily talk about their school day and to quickly answer questions."

Rolf Black, from the University of Dundee's school of computing, said: "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."

'Talk easily'

Sue Williams, head teacher at Capability Scotland's Corseford School in Kilbarchan, 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."

Child with cerebral palsy
Children said they enjoyed using the new software

Nicole Vallery and Rebecca Clelland were two of the pupils at Corseford to test the new software.

Nicole, 11, who has cerebral palsy, said: "I was happy to take part in How was school today? It made me feel good about myself."

Rebecca said: "It was something different, I enjoyed it."

Nicole's mother, Jan, said: "We really enjoyed using How was school today? and hearing Nicole's story.

"The programme enabled her to talk easily and answer questions quickly, prompting more interaction and giving us a very detailed insight into her day."

Plans are in place to examine how it could be used to support children with different levels and types of impairments.

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



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