Australia’s First Model Classroom For Deaf Pupils

Australia has introduced its first mainstream “Model Classroom” for deaf students at LaSalle Catholic College in Bankstown. Classrooms are planned to maximise learning in mainstream schools with interactive whiteboards, captioned resources, visual computer content and sound-field systems.

The pilot project was designed by Media Access Australia in collaboration with the Catholic Education Office and LaSalle College.

During an Italian lesson at the launch, teachers showed how to display audio-visual content with captions. The teachers also use microphones to transmit sound directly to students’ hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Mary Connon, a teacher at the school, believes the students are already benefiting. She says of one student “This year he has been much more engaged. In his Italian classes this year he participates much more, while in another class without the system, he doesn’t participate as much.”

It is hoped Media Access Australia will offer this facility in more schools. An Accessible Education Database of captioned education resources is being devised for teachers working with deaf pupils in model classrooms.

Could this be the classroom of the future? In the US, similar pilot projects are being rolled out in schools in North Carolina, in collaboration with theUniversity of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Projects like this are essential for identifying and sharing information on what IT tools work for deaf pupils in inclusive classrooms, while documenting how students benefit from appropriate literacy and communication supports.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Further Reading

Australia’s Accessible Education Database

Practical Inclusion Tips From A Pretoria School

Inclusive Education Is ‘All-Encompassing Learning’

Language And The Seven Forms Of Intelligence

Many people are unaware that seven different forms of intelligence are known of. Few people excel in all areas so it helps to identify where you fit.

Recent studies show that deaf people can have a head-start in the area of language, when consistent teaching is received from an early age. Someone who does not speak a foreign language is not necessarily less-able.

In fact, sign language is a visual language in its own right. It may not be a spoken language, but does this really matter? The human brain is designed to produce language, be it spoken or physical.

In one study, Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto of the University of Toronto notes that there is nothing special about speech. Language can take the form of speech but it does not have to; language can just as easily take the form of visual signs. She frames the historic misunderstanding of language: “the human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue… people do”.

The recent popularity of “baby signing” results from the discovery that cognitive, social and psychological development can benefit when the brain’s capacity for language is stimulated through visual/gestural communication.

While influencing a child’s language intelligence, infant signing also benefits the development of visual / spatial intelligence. Some people are excellent at visualising different scenarios, shapes or places and have a high sense of spatial intelligence. They will be observant of their surroundings, have a good sense of direction and be very good at crafts and creating projects.

Below are the five other forms of intelligence:

  • Kinesthetic intelligence: if your child enjoys dancing or working with their hands, they have body-kinesthetic intelligence (signing ability)
  • Musical ability: if your child spends their time singing and playing music. They quickly pick up tunes, rhythms & different accents.
  • Interpersonal individuals are good listeners and participants in group activities. People with high inter-personality intelligence make great teachers, nurses, salesperson and politicians.
  • Intra-personal ability is similar to the above, however the individuals understand themselves more than others. These people do not rush decisions, but consider the options carefully. They enjoy solitary hobbies and games and often keep a journal.
  • Logical/mathematical intelligence.Some kids may excel in science, maths, logic and puzzles. This is perhaps the closest form to what is seen as the traditional definition of intelligence.

So, can you see where you fit in now? What skills you possess and what form of intelligence you have? Everyone is different and has varying skills and abilities to offer and make the world an infinitely more interesting place.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Further Reading:

Bauman – reframing the the future of deaf education

Including Deaf Children At Preschool: Part One

IBM’s KidSmart PC Supports Language Teaching

SMS Texting Supports Inclusive Education In Africa

In Ireland deaf children have the chance to communicate by text, sign or voice. This is not always the case in developing countries, where children can be isolated from society due to the lack of access to communication.

The world’s first project in which deaf  & hearing classmates use SMS to chat face-to-face for inclusion, is being piloted by The Child Africa International School in Kabale, Uganda, with the UK-based Cambridge in Africa NGO.

Essentially, SMS is used to integrate deaf and hearing children at the school, and is sometimes supplemented by sign language. The phones also link deaf students at the school with their parents, who may be living in remote areas.

Co-ordinators immediately noted the advanced sign language skills used by the hearing students with the deaf children, the linking of deaf and non-deaf teachers at the school, and improved writing skills among the deaf children.

In the project’s first phase, twelve children (six deaf, six hearing) were taught to use a mobile phone with SMS texts. The messages pass via a central server in Kabale for educators to see how the children communicate among themselves and merge this learning into the school’s curriculum.

One child in this project is Docus Ayebazibwe who at just 10 years old had no chance to communicate with the people around her. Having a mobile phone has given her access to the life that any 10 year old should have.

She says, “All my village mates used to laugh at me because I could not hear what they would say and also I did not have any way to speak to them. “I thank God who brought Child Africa institute leaders to my local village. Can you imagine an orphan like me using a mobile phone SMS facility at the age of 10 to communicate to educated people like you? God is great.”

Caroline Kembabazi, 12 also looks forward to a future with SMS. “I can now visualize a bright future because I am far better than what I was when I was still shabby in the village four years ago. I am now in Primary Four and feel that education, especially science, is good for sign language people.”

Phase 2 of this project will be implemented this month and it is hoped the project will be accessible to 50 students by the end of this year.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Further Reading

Deafness Led To The Phone, Internet and SMS Texts

Real-Time Captioning At School Via Mobile Phone

The Value of SMS Texting To Deaf Youngsters

Educational Revolution With SmartPhone Devices

Infant Literacy Skills – Newborn To Three Years

Children need to develop literacy skills before their first day of school and research consistently shows children learn literacy skills even before talking.

Emergent literacy theorists believe that children start learning about literacy (reading and writing) from birth. Infants can learn about the letters of the alphabet and concepts of print long before they are able to read.

Think about your child for a minute. If you hand them a book, do they hold it right side up? Can they point to the title? Turn the pages in the right order? Although they can’t read, they learn that print on pages has meaning.

If you take time to introduce young kids to letters and pictures, the benefits last. Early learning is the responsibility of parents and not a school-teacher.

While bringing literacy benefits. early learning helps a child’s concentration, communication skills, speech, language and general attention span.

Just a few points to remember:

  1. Always pick a time that suits you. Don’t try reading while dinner is on, or you’re heading out the door to work
  2. Take time to be with your child. Do not rush through a book, give the child time to look at pictures and tun the pages
  3. Make reading fun. You don’t want kids to get bored of learning at such a young age. Put some drama into the reading & use hand movements

A few items to help you along the way:

  1. Try to get picture cards for your child. They can play with these when you’re not around and it familiarises them with new pictures and colors
  2. Never underestimate fridge magnets. It is easy to find alphabet or number-shaped magnets and children have a lot of fun moving these about on a fridge door while learning the shapes of different letters
  3. When choosing books it can be difficult to know what to pick. Books with lots of repetition are good. They may seem boring to you but children learn best when they repeatedly see the words and pictures

The bottom line is, the more stories you share with your child, the more words they will learn – and the better prepared for school they will be.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Further Reading

Deaf Children – Early Language Teaching At Home

Communication Development – Linking Items To Words

Early Reading Skills For Lifelong Literacy

Introducing Babies & Toddlers To Books And Reading

Visual Learning In The Preschool & Primary Years (pdf file)

Including Deaf Children At Preschool – Part One (plus links)

IBM’s KidSmart PC Supports Language Learning (plus brochure)

Web Systems Inspire Deaf Kids To Learn To Dance

Late in 2009, South Africa’s “Got Talent” show announced its winner, a deaf hip-hop dancer named Darren Rajibal. The 19 year-old had danced for just four years when during a power cut he decided to entertain family and friends by dancing. Many of his moves were learned from internet videos.

After the show, the lead judge said: “We shouldn’t even mention the fact he has a hearing disability. The guy can dance.” Rajibal’s plans to invest his winnings (USD 33,000) into opening a dance school for deaf students.

Ultimately, children who’re deaf or hard-of-hearing can learn to dance with the benefit of new web technologies and systems.

Deaf or hard of hearing kids can access web systems with live captioning or sign language. Learning to dance can open up opportunities in life to have fun, keep fit, to get a college scholarship, or enter a talent competition.

Students at Northern Elementary School in Minnesota are among the first to use these web systems. The distance-learning classes are taught by varied dance instructors who teach everything from African dance to hip hop.

All that’s needed is a large screen to project images and two-way webcams. This means dance teachers can teach moves from anywhere in the world for broadcast to a small class group, or even many school groups at a time.

In this school, the images are projected onto a screen in the gymnasium through video-conferencing technology. The classes are free for schools and taught through the Minnesota Schubert Centre.

The classes are taught in real-time so the teacher can stop for a break if required, or comment on the childrens’ performance.  “It’s neat because even though the instructor is on a big white screen, he can say to the kids, ‘Hey, you, in front wearing purple,” said instructor Sherry Holloway.

The kids enjoy their fun, and the technology is not only limited to dance. In the classroom, it can be used for subjects such as geography, maths and history, maybe by video-conferencing with classrooms in schools overseas.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Further Reading

Low-Cost Internet Video Streaming For Educators

Subwoofers Give Access To Dance, Art & PC Games

“Through Sophie’s Eyes” – Deaf Children Do Dance

Digital Media Content Accessibility For Deaf Students

Web Technologies Make Storytelling Inclusive

Future Arts 2010: Interview With LifeFM in Cork

On April 8, 2010, Anna Daly from Cork radio station LifeFM talked with IDK’s Miriam Walsh, an attendee at the Arts Council’s Future Arts conference in Dublin from March 27-29, 2010. A podcast of this interview will be posted here asap. IDK’s Caroline Carswell also wrote an arts inclusion advisory for administrators after the event.

AD: Anna Daly (LifeFM) and MW: Miriam Walsh (IDK)

AD: I suppose with The Arts Council and looking for space I know one of the issues at this conference was the fact that budding artists, musicians, sculptors…. need a place to work and practice and hone their skills.

MW: Yes, it’s really expensive for any young person to afford their own space. So what we are looking for is to be given these spaces and have mentors (on-site) like in music, instead of renting space which is too expensive for any young person to do. Or to have a space if you are an artist to show your work or if you are into film to have it as a film set.

AD: I know the whole area of arts and funding we always hear about the top rung of society and about this whole tax incentive and it always seems to be the very rich that get targeted and say well, why are they paying the tax? But there are a whole lot of other people underneath that top ladder of the rung and I suppose as a parent, if one of my children turned around and said they wanted to be an artist or a sculptor or a musician, my big concern would be, well, how are you going to feed and clothe yourself, you know, the whole area of wow, you may not be able to survive financially.

MW: Well, at the moment there is no good job to be in and you can’t really say there is an area you should go into. So… if you go to your guidance counsellor in school, and say you want to be an artist they are going to say “no, be a doctor, be a lawyer,  be a teacher”. But they are not going to say be an artist or a musician, they are going to say do that outside work but just don’t go and do anything towards the arts. So we are trying to change the stigma towards being an artist as well. Like, personally as someone who studied journalism it was one of those areas where it is hard to get work but if it’s what you want to do, you should do it.

AD: And talking about the arts and how it may work in other countries, have we been looking at the models in the US, in France … in continental Europe how do people get into the arts and how do they survive the beginning of those hard years?

MW: Well, for us what we are looking at now for the next meeting is to get different models from other countries and see how it works there. Youth arts gets under 5% of the Arts Council funding and it can’t be that way everywhere so we are going to see what we can learn to change the way things are in this country.

AD: And just looking backat the whole area of these empty or derelict buildings. How exactly could that help?

MW: Well, if you have no space and if you want to be a musician, what are you going to do?  Not everybody has the money to rent a space, so what we are planning to do is to try and get some of these buildings to showcase your art or to just play music with your friends so that you can still be involved in the arts. And have full access to space – we want to make use of these buildings. They will just be derelict, decreasing in value otherwise and this is a way they could be used.

AD: And exactly what kind of a relationship does The Arts Council have with the government at the moment – have there been any discussions towards this so far?

MW: Hmm… not as far as I know. At the conference it was between the young people and The Arts Council but there were also policy makers from different organisations. The IFI (Irish Film Institute), from RTE, from The Ark (a children’s centre in Temple Bar that supports the arts) and we are trying to work with the policy makers and with The Arts Council to get the space.

AD: I suppose taking a look again at the arts in Ireland there are a lot of talented people here who may not get the chance to progress in the area that they want to work in but we can see just alone from say the Oscar nominations, there is an incredible amount of talent in Ireland that really needs to be showcased.

MW: Exactly. Like I was in the film group for the weekend and two of the people mentoring our group were two young guys who at the ages of 10 and 15 were given a camera. They lived in Fatima Mansions in Dublin that were being demolished so they filmed the whole process to how it was when they built the new houses. These people were really young 10 and 15 at the time and they won an IFTA award for their work. So it proves that if you have the equipment you can do whatever you want, and there is a lot of potential.

AD: The IFTA’s are the Irish Film and Television Awards?

MW: Yes. Exactly.

AD: And I suppose looking back to these derelict buildings what would The Arts Council envision them to be?

MW: They want them to be centres where young people can gather and be creative and use them. Like there is a place in Temple Bar called Exchange where young people can gather and play music. One of the groups at the weekend was a music group. They never met each other before but went into Exchange Dublin and recorded a piece from what they learnt within two days.

AD: And I know here in Cork there is a very vibrant arts community and there is a lot happening particularly if you look around Shandon, the Firkin Crane… that whole area seem to be developing as an arts quarter.

MW: Yes, a lot of talent is out there – we are trying to get that talent together and get the space for people to develop. Even if people want to hang out with their friends and play music that’s fine, but there is a lot of talent out there that could become something more for the country. We could have more Oscar nominees, we could have musicians – we just need the chance.

AD: See, the thing that you mentioned, there could be a concern for many people that young people are just gathering together to hang out and play music that’s not really…that’s…that’s going to be supervised.

MW: Yes, it’s going to be supervised. Like we are not going to have people there saying “you can do this, you can’t do that” but our plan is to getmentors in. People who have been there, people who had situations where they weren’t given a chance…they might be in bands now, they could be artists now… someone to be there for the young people to look up to, and so it can be monitored because we obviously don’t want the buildings to get wrecked and we want to prove we do need the buildings so it will be closely monitored.

AD: Are you optimistic?

MW: After the weekend, yes. The young people, there was 60 of us and while there was a timetable, when people went away at night we spent hours talking about it, so we actually wanted to be there, and another meeting of young people is on 8th May in Exchange Dublin and anyone can attend or give their input.

AD: Now the beginning with these forums is to see exactly what can be done and what The Arts Council would like to see done, but do you think it’s realistic some of these buildings could be handed to The Arts Council?

MW: It won’t be an easy process but we hope it will be possible. One area we looked at is Smithfield (in Dublin), with empty retail outlets sitting there. They are not going to be used and we need areas like that, that can be handed over through NAMA and what else is going to be done? Like there is talk about affordable housing, but realistically what is going to happen? There are over 300,000 abandoned houses at the moment so we are trying to offer an alternative.

AD: And again just talking about the Future Arts forum. There is another one coming up in May and again what is the idea of that one. Is it similar to the last forum in March?

MW: The last forum was on The Arts Council’s grounds. They supervised and were telling us what to do. So when we meet in Exchange on 8th of May it will be on our grounds and they will attend, with some policymakers. We want to have our say and discuss our work since the last gathering.

AD: So what are you looking for people to do? You want people to come along if they are interested?

MW: If you are interested come along or visit the website – there is a live forum for people to login and give their own input.

AD: Again that website?


AD: Do you want to give us the dates of the upcoming FutureArts forum?

MW: On May 8th in Exchange Dublin which is in Temple Bar. It’s a Saturday at 12pm and young artists are invited to come along.

Further Reading

Future Arts 2010: FYI – Accessibility and Advocacy

Arts Council Invites IDK To Future Arts Conference

Subwoofers Give Access To Dance, Art, PC Games

How Educational Software Benefits Deaf Students

Young deaf students attending Lawrence Elementary School in the US have seen the literacy and numeracy benefits of a new software programme.

In the classroom, audio output from the computer is sent via radio waves, directly to receivers the students wear on their hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. Ambient noise is limited for the children to hear more clearly.

The technology gives students new opportunities as they benefit from hearing a computer’s audio output, unlike the past focus on visual teaching.

Paige DeWitt, Principal of the school has already seen the benefits.

“All kids like technology. It’s their world now. This has involved them more in technology. When you watch them, their faces light up. They squeal,” DeWitt said. “They can hear the sounds. It helps them learn more of the phonetic base of the language in a way they have fun doing.”

Computers provide endless opportunities for deaf/hard of hearing students.

One example is the iCommunicator software, which promotes independent communication and  increases literacy by ‘translating’ English in real-time.

Through the iCommunicator, speech can be translated to text, speech/text to video sign-language and speech/text to a computer-generated voice. Students have access to efficient, effective communication and equally, can access audio information. Language and reading skills also improve visibly.

The ABC software company offers a range of material to improve literacy and speech levels in children. The programmes operate via cued speech and give visual access to the sounds of spoken language.

Each ABC programme covers different subjects from animals to colours and more. The modular programmes teach through games and offer progress tests at each level for students aged 7-16 years old.

Further Reading

Using Software Tools To Teach Deaf Children

IBM’s KidSmart PC Supports Language Teaching

Schools ‘Must Change Their Attitude To Disability’

Computers Learn To Identify Signs In TV Footage

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

Deafness Led To The Phone, Internet & SMS Texts

Deafness had a key role in the invention of the phone, the internet and SMS texting. As voting for Ireland’s Net Visionary Awards gets under way, Miriam Walsh explains the link to each technology.

Would you consider deafness in any way to have influenced the telephone, Internet and SMS texting as everyday tools for communication? Most people would not – but deafness is the universal link.

Let’s start with the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the US in the 1870s. Bell’s mother had progressive deafness and this led him to study acoustics. Bell’s father worked to teach deaf people to speak. In their youth, Bell & his brothers learned to write visible speech (symbols showing lip movements to sounds) and to match symbols to their correlating sound.

As an adult, Bell studied sound and its creation. He used the telegraph as a basis for inventing the telephone. On October 9, 1876 the first phone conversation took place between Bell and Thomas A. Watson. A year later Bell Telephone Company was created and by 1886, over 150,000 people in the US had telephones (remember, the Internet runs over phone lines).

Next, the Internet. Vinton Cerf, Google’s chief evangelist, was central to creating the early Internet. Cerf is hard of hearing and in the 1970s was part of an initial research team into internet protocols under Steve Crocker. Cerf’s hearing issues meant he needed to share documents with associates instead of talking on a phone. The first IP-based network resulted in 1981.

Only since the early 1990s has the Internet been a portal for communication & social networking, with Facebook recently passing Google as a destination.

Finally, SMS texting. Finland’s Matti Makonen is credited with inventing SMS texting. The first SMS was sent in 1992. The idea of SMS was first discussed by Makkonen in a Copenhagen pizzeria with two other Finns, Seppo Tiainen and Juhani Tapiol.  Makkonen invented SMS texting for deaf people to communicate, but when SMS offered an incredible new method for saving telecom bandwidth, the world of cellular telecommunications changed.

Further Reading

The Value of SMS Texting To Deaf Youngsters

Real-Time Captioning At School Via Mobile Phone

NCIRL’s Parent-Child Programme Benefits Literacy

Just recently, the Early Learning Initiative at National College of Ireland launched its new Parent Child Home Programme (PCHP). Many of the programme’s “points” are similar to the home-work the parents of severely to profoundly deaf children need to do, to develop their child’s language as early in life as possible.

Based on a programme started in the US, the PCHP is a “learning through play experience” geared to pre-school children and their parents.

The programme is designed to strengthen the bond between young children and their parents while encouraging children to prepare for starting school.

In every situation, the parent is seen as the child’s first and best teacher. A home visitor employed and trained by PCHP visits the family twice per week for two half-hour sessions.

During this time the visitor interacts with the child while the parent observes. The child is given suitable books and toys based on their stage and needs.

A new book or toy is introduced every week.  In some cases, the child may not like the new toy or book, but doesn’t lose interest due to having options.

When a parent encourages and praises their child, the child’s confidence grows. In school, reading is often seen as something a child must do.  This programme aims to make reading and learning a fun experience for a child.

The PCHP website has lots of tips on how to make learning fun. These can be used in any family situation, regardless of childrens’ hearing abilities.

1. A parent should begin reading with a child very early on, before the child can even talk or sit up. This early introduction helps later learning.

2. A parent should read to a child every day even just for a few minutes. If you enjoy learning and interacting with your child, they will enjoy it too.

3.Make sure that there are lots of reading materials around the house. If a child sees you reading they will want to join in.

4. Cut down on TV time and give your child some paper and crayons to write on.

5. Finally and most importantly, talk to your child. The more words the child hears, the more chance they have to be a good reader and happy student.

In the Dublin area 46 children are participating in this programme, which is funded by local business. Beth Fagan of the Early Learning Initiative says, “If children are equipped with pre-literacy and numeracy skills before school-age they have a greater chance of success right through school.”

Individuals or community representatives who are interested in the PCHP can contact Beth Fagan at The Early Learning Initiative, National College of Ireland, Dublin 1, 01-4498627, or e-mail: bfagan<at>

Further Reading

Language Development: Linking Items To Words

Introducing Babies & Toddlers To Books & Reading

Baby Books & Flash Cards For Language Teaching

Early Reading Skills For Lifelong Literacy

Including Deaf Children At Preschool – Part One

Study: Video, Games Improve Preschooler Literacy

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

YouTube Automatic Captioning Moves Out Of Beta

In recent years websites such as CaptionTube and independent services made videos and audio more accessible to deaf or hard of hearing people. In November 2009, Google announced the automatic captioning of videos on its YouTube site to boost captioning provision and support text indexing.

Existing captioning services are not always user friendly or free. With over 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, captions were not a realistic option for each video until now. Google is now betting that this new service will encourage more users to provide captions.

How does it work? Google explains:

“We’ve combined Google’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video.

We’re also launching automatic caption timing, or auto-timing, to make it significantly easier to create captions manually. With auto-timing, you no longer need to have special expertise to create your own captions in YouTube. All you need to do is create a simple text file with all the words in the video and we’ll use Google’s ASR technology to figure out when the words are spoken and create captions for your video.”

This is a positive step forward for Google and one that is welcomed globally. Greg Rice from notes that there are more deaf and hard of hearing people in the US than the entire population of Canada – not to mention the worldwide deaf population. He also hopes that this will lead to “the making and showing of captioned films for sales and exhibitions.”

Captioned videos also stand to enhance education. Students can access videos worldwide. National Geographic videos support captions but students can now access new topics like the sciences and even additional languages.

One teacher commented, “working in a district with 5-10 deaf students, this is huge. By law, all DVD’s sold should be CC-enabled but close to one-third do not, and our sign interpreters have to work extremely hard to keep up”.

Further Reading:

Google’s video tutorial for automatic captioning (with captions!)

Captioning YouTube Videos With CaptionTube

TranscribePod Make Podcasts Fully Accessible

Digital Media Content Accessibility For Students

Using Blog Tools For Storytelling & Picture Diaries

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)