These two factors have made schools more aware of their responsibilities to pupils who have disabilities or additional needs. At BETT this year, we can expect to see better informed teachers asking some hard questions about what suppliers can offer to make their lives easier.
The new legislation means all disabled pupils must be able to use the computer systems in their schools so SENCOs need to look at access devices.
Penny and Giles is capitalising on the success of the rollerball range of products by bringing out new, smaller versions for different groups of disabled children including those with motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy who have good fine motor skills but little strength. The new range includes rollers with a jack socket for switches which can be used to emulate the mouse click; an A5 size Concept Keyboard product with different overlays including QUERTY and a design where the most frequently used keys are grouped closely together for those with limited movement.
The Department for Education and Skills (DFES) is launching a major project on communication aids (CAP) for learners with special educational needs. This will look at a wide range of products from switches and hand-held spelling checkers to more sophisticated voice-recognition systems and speech synthesis.
It will cover assessment of pupils' needs, provision of hardware and software and training for pupils, parents and teaching staff. Information will be available from Becta which is managing the project on behalf of the DFES.
Inclusive Technology, with particular expertise in supporting students with severe and complex needs across the curriculum, is staging its own show at the Hilton next door to the official exhibition. It will be demonstrating "cause and effect" software, switch toys and simple communicators as well as software using pictures, symbols, sounds and photographs to support literacy.
Don Johnston has teamed up with AlphaSmart so that the new AS3000 can be loaded with the Co:Writer UK SmartApplet. This means that SEN pupils can use a portable writing tool which will then link into a PC or Apple and have all the power of Don Johnston's predictive words processor. This is a practical low-cost solution for many learners with dyslexia who need access to a keyboard to produce legible text, but don't necessarily need top-of-the-range multimedia. A series of seminars on the products will be held throughout the course of the BETTshow.
With the revised Code of Practice, all teachers will bear some responsibility for recording information about SEN pupils. Two products can help here. IEP Writer from Special ITSolutions is now linked in with SIMS management information system for more effective transfer of data for all the professionals who need to be in contact with one another.
IEP Manager from Semerc/Granada Learning is a new report writing tool which will make writing Individual Education Plans (IEP) much easier. It has password protection and incorporates the new stages of the revised Code of Practice.
Semerc is also showcasing Out & About 2, a successor to the program which scooped two awards at BETT last year. This disc focuses on helping adults with special needs to look after themselves at home and includes advice from Ainsley Harriot on cookery. Semerc will be hosting BETT's Special Needs Fringe seminars, which are free.
Good software resources are often hard to find, especially at secondary level, but there's a reasonable range on offer this year. Softease has launched Textease Studio National Curriculum Packs (PC/Mac/ Acorn) for key stages 1 and 2.
Each pack contains activities which use videos, word banks, sound and clip-art to make them accessible to a wide range of learning styles. Titles include "Fractions, Percentages and Ratios", "Life Processes and Living Things" and "Developing Literacy". REM is collaborating with the National Literacy Association and many software developers to provide resources for children in care and is hoping to print a booklet of software reviews written by looked-after children and their carers.
Learning and Teaching Scotland has some good lifeskills products for older learners. Lifeskills - Travellers' Cheques covers opening and running a bank account, selecting, booking and saving for a holiday. Healthy Kids - Inside Outside is a CD-Rom in comic strip styles which looks at emotional, social and physical health issues as outlined in the curriculum.
Widgit has developed some excellent environmental resources based on the rainforests in Costa Rica. These can be found on its website and have full switch access and symbol support. They look at themes of destruction and sustainability and show what we in the first world can do to stop the economic ravages of this area.
Multimedia is the order of the day for Espresso too. Five special schools in Stoke-on-Trent are benefiting from a broadband initiative. Espresso looks and feels like a website, but is a massive resource of curriculum materials for pupils and teachers delivered via a satellite and updated every week. The content is easy to search and is all cross-referenced to national curriculum attainment targets. In many ways it is much better than the Web because it is reliable, easy to use and the school won't incur expensive phone charges.
Finally, I am delighted that one of my favourite products has been shortlisted for the Special Needs Software Award this year. Mastering Memory from CALSC is a program which helps pupils develop their visual and auditory memory. Used by schools, therapists, some prisons and the Army, this product helps people develop memory strategies that many of us take for granted and to identify their preferred learning styles. It is particularly gratifying to see a very small company getting national recognition at a show like BETT.
Sally McKeown is a freelance writer