Monthly Archives: June 2010

Kill or cure: budget hits disabled people

As I write, we are just finishing Learning Disability Week, an annual event organised by Mencap to headline the needs of the 1.5 million people in the UK who have learning disabilities.

Now it’s not been a good week for people with disabilities. We have heard that front line services are to be protected in schools but many worry that teachers will be safe at the expense of care assistants and learning support workers. In addition, there are to be stringent new rules for claiming disabilities benefits to help “reduce dependency and promote work” and many current claimants are set to lose out under the new regime.

Obviously this move will help the blind to see and make those with mental health problems pull themselves together. Who knows? Perhaps it will turn the average wheelchair user into Andy out of Little Britain who leaps out of his chair to score a goal for England in the latest Nationwide campaign. That’s the attitude – now get a job! Osborne’s argument is that 2.9 million people are now eligible for the Disabled Living Allowance which is three times as many people as when it was introduced eighteen years ago. Of course, a lot of the increase is due to the improved healthcare – more children survive premature birth and neo-natal complications and people generally live longer but become increasingly infirm. People may be expected to work until their late 60s but every day in the UK 100 people start to lose their sight (source: RNIB ).

Short of killing people off, the numbers of people claiming disability benefits are likely to rise. Mencap are targeting the NHS in their latest campaign. Let’s hope this government is aware of the consequences of better healthcare.

Comic Sans – the Clown of Fonts

Comic Sans, one of my favourite fonts, has been in the news this week. The Guardian ran a full length feature by Patrick Kingsley.  I never realised it was so contentious. I have always liked the font and have used it for literacy materials, for work with dyslexic learners and, I have to admit,  for my own work on days when the words just don’t come easily. I don’t know why it works but if I hit a stumbling block I just turn the text into 14 point Comic Sans and it suddenly seems do-able.

So I was amazed to find that there is a Ban Comic Sans movement. Their main argument is that the font was originally designed to be used in talk bubbles containing informational help text but is now being used in hospitals, banks, museums and all sorts of places which require a font with a bit more gravitas. Holly Combs, one of the founders of the movement, said, “Using Comic Sans is like turning up to a black-tie event in a clown costume.” I guess that may be why I like it.

OBE for special needs and technology expert

Chris Stevens honoured for his work as Head of Inclusion at Becta

I am delighted to report that my former boss Chris Stevens received an OBE in the Honours list at the weekend. Chris was head of Inclusion Policy at Becta from 1996 until 2009. He led the special needs team through several re-organisations and changes of leadership and was respected for his honesty and integrity.

During his tenure, the special needs team worked on many high profile developments including Senco Forum, the CAP Project and the Home Access Project as well as smaller schemes of work such as art and mental health, Community Languages and ESOL.

Chris’s own particular specialism was children and young people with severe learning difficulties and he drew widely on his experience as head of a special school so that work on policy was always informed by practice.

Now retired and living in North Yorkshire, Chris is still involved in the field of technology and special needs. He is on the board of BATA (the British Assistive Technology Association) which campaigns for the rights and interests of those needing assistive technology and provides expert and impartial support and advice to government departments and agencies.

Now that Becta is being closed down, this organisation is likely to influence government policy and Chris’s expertise will be invaluable.

Ideal keyboard for special needs

Great keyboard for pupils with dyslexia or dyspraxia

I saw Inclusive Technology’s Jumbo XL keyboard at the nasen Live 2010 show at the Reebok stadium last week. It’s not a new product and I have no idea how I have missed it up till now.

It is brilliant! It has big chunky keys and has everything except numbers. The function keys are in a different colour from the punctuation marks and the vowels are a different colour from consonants. So now when we tell kids with dyslexia that every syllable or ’beat’ in a word has to have a vowel or the letter y, they have a good chance of finding them.

It costs £49 + VAT and you can choose an uppercase orlowercase keyboard and it even has 2 USB ports so you can attach a mouse or track ball or a memory stick
More info from Inclusive Technology