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My colleagues Margaret McKay and Craig Mill from the Scottish RSCs along with the good people at TechDis have produced a superb resource containing 40 different open source and freeware assistive technology applications which can be accessed from a USB flash drive.  As they are accessible direct from the usb drive so there is no need to install any software.  This means that a user can just plug in the drive at any computer they intend to work on.  They offer software to support those with a visual impairment or motor difficulties as well as assistance in writing, reading and planning.

They are free to download from http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/accessapps/. They also contain a full guide to their use and a complete series of TechDis ‘Accessiblitly Essentials

They’ve even produced a video ad for them.

A great resource and as it is totally portable is completely inclusive.  We are getting some free usb drives with them all loaded so I’ll be handing them out like sweeties in the next month or so.   A full list of the applications is here.

I was in Glasgow last week for the inaugural meeting of the Accessibility and Inclusion role group.  Members from the other RSC regions who had responsibility for Accessibility and Inclusion were there and it was a great opportunity to discuss developments, and share experiences.  There is some seriously good work going on and I was particularly impressed with a project that Margaret McKay has been doing with Glasgow Metropolitan College.  They have implemented a cross college process to make learning materials accessible.  CALM – Creating Accessible Learning Materials – is a project to ensure that learning materials are ‘accessibile, readable and available in a variety of formats to meet the requirements of learners with a range of additional learning needs.’

This is a college wide approach and not one which is just for the learning support staff.  All staff have had training and more importantly, the college invested in admin staff to provide support in converting existing documents into more accessible formats.  As the continued gripe from staff that we get is – ‘we haven’t got the time’  providing admin and technical support has been crucial to the success of the scheme.

So now I’m wondering if we could do something similar in a college in the North west.  I have a couple of candidates in mind but may possibly speak to them before posting to here.

It was a great visit and we had a superb traditional scottish meal in the Bothy restaurant.  Yes I had haggis with neaps and tatties and it was very nice.  I also discovered ‘tablet’ which is like kendal mint cake without the mint – I think that’s the nearest I can get to it.  Thanks to Margaret who was a fantastic hostess and it was great to see everyone from around the UK and NI.

Well it was a week ago but the conference went really well.  It  was great to see so many of the great and good in eLearning in the North West and to meet some new friends also.  I was especially please to meet Nick and Paul from Janet.txt and think it is a fab bit of kit and am looking forward to finding more and more uses for it.  I’m sure I’ll be in touch with more ideas.  I managed to get a swim in the morning before the event, even though I’d forgotten to bring a swimsuit – good old asda – 48p!  How can you sell an item of clothing for 48p?  The venue was superb with fantastic views over the racecourse.

View from Princess Royal stand, Aintree

View from Princess Royal stand, Aintree

It was great that Bev from Accrington and Rossendale College had brought along some learners to deliver their seminar on using mobile technologies for learning.  During the day, I managed to get some people to record messages onto gabcast. A couple of my colleagues and I took photos and they can be seen using the RSCNW08 tag on Flickr.  Great day, great venue, fab food – can recommend it.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks getting ready to hold a conference last Monday in Manchester.  The venue was the City of Manchester Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club) and I was mortified to discover that the keynote speaker we had booked was a season ticket holder at the other club – United.  She was very gracious and only made a passing reference to their six nil drubbing of Newcastle at the weekend.  The day went well and was well attended and it was interesting for us to have a different audience than we are used to.  We members of the ‘elearning circuit’ for want of a better phrase, tend to talk to the same people – the converted as it were.  We talk to ILT managers or other advisers, consultants etc.  This conference was for learning support and senior managers from FE colleges in the North West and it became clear early in the day that we were making assumptions of knowledge that wasn’t there.  TechDis were fantastic as always, stayed for the whole day and just added their expertise along the way.

These things don’t happen overnight and thankfully we have a fabulous events organiser and a great team who all helped out.  Thanks guys.  Looking at the evaluation forms yesterday it seems the main complaint was – there wasn’t any pudding.  As the first to complain if the food isn’t good I can understand this, but if that is the main gripe, it must have been ok?

Well I’m back after a totally exhausting conference at the Blackpool De Vere Hotel. Whatever conceptions you have about Blackpool, the De Vere Hotel will challenge them. It is a haven of good taste, luxury and calm. Well calm till we got there – 25 exhibition stands, 16 workshops two keynotes made for a very busy day. Most of our team even managed to wear corporate (JISC) colours – orange and blue.

So hi to Ian, Kevin, Dave, Mick, John and Neil (who kindly put a comment on the previous post) Dee, Sue and Emma and John B – it was a ball.

On the Thursday of the second week, Steve had to go to Tanga for some shopping. We left very early – about six-ish and it was then that I took the photo at the top of this blog. Just because I like it I’m going to put it in again.

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I actually saw this every morning as just by opening one eye I could look out of the window from my bedroom and see the sun climbing over the mountain in the distance. Anyway, Clive brought Maria and Rosa down from Emau Hill. Rosa is the cook – and a fantastic one at that can I add and she was shopping with Steve. Maria had a dubious pleasure of going fabric shopping with me.clive.JPG

Ooh look – clive with a TechDis travel mug – gracious it does get around!mariasmall.JPG

Maria is a real stunner and a lovely girl too. She not only is in charge of the workshop but is starting to do the buying of fabric and is keeping the books.

Once we got down to Tanga and my it was a hot and bumpy ride we went straight to a cafe for breakfast. I couldn’t help laughing at the spoof menu. This was the sign outside.roadkill.JPG

You kill it – we grill it. And inside the menu was even more detailed.

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Can I just add for those of a nervous disposition, it is a joke. It came from a diner in America but it did make me laugh. I think the daily special is just soooooo sick – Guess the Mess – if you can guess what it is you can eat it for FREE! I’ll talk about the shopping another time – it is fun!

A short way down the hill from the main site is the Amani Women’s Craft Workshop. There they have three old Singer treddle machines, the type I remember my Mum having. With these they make some fantastic bags, aprons and dolls. Pia has worked really hard with them and the girls produce some super stuff. I’ll post some photos of their products in a few days time. So here are Maria who is in charge with Pia, both modelling aprons on the verandah of the workshop.

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The other girls that work there ae Hadija – again modelling an apron.

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Vero seen here in action on one of the sewing machines.

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Maria again, this time doing a bit of hand sewing.mariastitcing.JPG

Little Baruti is Vero’s son. He is only 5 months old and a little corker and holding – yay a TechDis travel mug.

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Finally, we all took turns to look after and entertain him – here Maria is doing a grand job.

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I quickly became quite addicted to the bread that we had both at Steve’s house and up at Emau Hill, so Pia arranged for me to go for ‘bread making instruction”. Immaculata, was her new house girl and she was going up there on the Tuesday morning so I tagged along and asked stupid questions. We were given instruction by MamaHappy. She is called this because her first born child is called Happy, so I would be called MamaKate (sorry Jen Sal and Lorna!) Anyway we had some assistance in the shape of Hilda who is MamaHappy’s sister and Gelina who helps in the kitchen.

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From the left, Immaculata, Gelina, Hilda and MamaHappy. First part of the process and kneading the dough.

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After rising, the dough is rolled and then split up into small balls. These are then rolled out so make pitta bread shapes.

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So far, so well, bread making is much the same as here. The difference is in the cooking. The pot above is a charcoal burner as there is no electricity at Emau Hill, and that is a heavy iron griddle on the top. Believe me the smell is delicious and they taste just as good, both fresh and toasted.

I tried this at home last weekend – having bought a heavy sort of skillet. And yes they did taste good when they were first cooked but rapidly hardened to the cobblestones of the title. I’ll have another go next weekend!

This is one of my favourite photos of the whole visit. Gelina is such a delightful girl, full of fun and always always smiling.

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Oh and what are Gelina and MamaHappy holding?

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Yay – it’s the TechDis travel mug! By the way they are wearing kangas. These are lengths of cloth usually died in different colours and wrapped around in all sort of different ways. I’l tell more in another post.

Well here I am at the ICC in Birmingham for the JISC conference and have just met Sal Cooke from TechDis who has in fact just taken a TechDis travel mug to Oman and didn’t take any photos!!  Sal – next time next time.  I’m in the business centre and this is costing £2 for 15 minutes so this will be a very short post.  Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.  Oh – and well done on the new job Kate!

A theme seems to have crept into the photos. What is that strange blue thing? OK it isn’t in this photo of the men being manly. This is Clive one of the volunteers and Steve in typical alpha male pose on the house steps.

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But lo – what is this Clive is holding?

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Could it be – yes it is – a TechDis travel mug. How did that get there?

Girls

And the girls have one also. This is (clockwise from the top) Anya, Alex and Lauren – all also volunteers and they are sporting the best in blog cards for this very blog. I think Kizzi was being domestic in the kitchen.

There may be a theme appearing her. Good gracious – and Steve seems to have got in on the act.

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Is this the most travelled TechDis travel mug in theworld. I know Sal the boss went to India last year but – did the mug go??

On a more serious note, I got emails from Clive and Kizzi yesterday, they are stranded in Tanga with a poorly Toyota and Steve and Pia are stuck in Dar. Life in Africa – never straight forward. Sigh – oh well at least it is sunny here, the daffodils are out and there are lambs in the field. And yes Kate I will take some photos of the lambs!!

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