Willetts' cuts hit disabled students and may 'decimate' assistive technology industry, writes John Lamb
Mark McCuskerBATA chair Mark McCuskerSweeping changes to the disabled students allowances (DSAs) which cover the purchase of computers, laptops and specialist equipment and software, as well as the provision of support workers and help with travel costs, will damage prospects for disabled students.

The warning comes from the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and follows the introduction of the changes by minister for universities and science David Willetts MP, This signals a shift in policy that goes beyond saving money, said Mark McCusker, chair of BATA.

'With iPads and other tablets we have the beginnings of the dream device,' says Martin Littler
iPad  at Woodlawn School, Whitley BayEasy touch: iPad in action at Woodlawn School, Whitley BayiPads are the biggest “big idea” in special needs since the personal computer. I know that I’m supposed to say “tablets” or “mobile technology” – but actually, at the moment, it’s iPads.

iPads are making us think about all aspects of assistive technology and are bringing change at an amazing (or even alarming) rate. We hear of shares in communication aid companies going from more than $25 to less than 10 cents! We hear of special schools buying iPads in dozens. Meanwhile, most companies selling CD-based software into the SEN sector are seeing their sales decimated.

Talking Mats screenshotThere are lots of ways to start communication. 'Talking Mats' is a good one, says Sal McKeown 
Last week at Communication Matters, the annual conference for augmentative and alternative communication, I saw Talking Mats, a really simple but effective intervention which has just gone digital. Originally it was a textured mat – hence the name – but it is now available as a free App for iOS and Android devices.

At the top of the on-screen mat there is a scale which represents good to indifferent to bad. Users have a pile of images, symbols or words relevant to the topic. As with the old-style Fuzzy Felt (yes, it's still around), they move the pictures or words so they are in an appropriate place on the scale. Now they have a visual reference for discussion. Talking Mats is a great way of introducing a topic and eliciting views without interrogating the learner, and this is especially good in those situations where too much eye contact would be off putting.

Success keeps on coming for 'SEN Assist'. John Galloway looks at the stories and explains why
Early ShakespeareThey did it again. For the second year running the folk at SEN Assist received an Education Resources Award for its interactive stories, this time for Tales from Shakespeare.

SEN Assist produces those resources where simplicity disguises the degree of thought that has gone into it. It works as a story followed by some straightforward follow-up tasks, but it's actually a carefully structured sequence of activities that have been put together from the perspective of a practising class teacher, Adele Devine, assisted by husband Quentin, an animator and web designer.

Independent learners and students need digital friends like 'Read&Write Gold', says Sal McKeown
Texthelp students'Technology can make a newbie student's life a little easier.'Come the autumn thousands of students will be bereft. For years they have relied on the support of teachers, parents and a close knit group of friends for ideas and advice, for proof-reading services and maybe to test them as they revise.

Higher education can be a very lonely experience. Instead of being in a familiar class of 30, a new student may well be in a group of more than 100 strangers. It is easy to become demoralised when assignments pile up and there's no one to help them structure their answers, nag them about deadlines or cheer them on. Unless there is an alternative.