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Equipment and software

On this page you will find information about some pieces of assistive technology for schools. We have highlighted technology which provides a way for children with Additional Support Needs (ASN) to communicate, access and participate in their learning. We would recommend that schools consider purchasing these key pieces of equipment in order to create accessible communication and learning opportunities for children with ASN.

Single Message Devices

The symbolised BookBug resources provide labels to use with a simple talking button communication device called a 'LITTLEmack' and 'BIGmack'. They are powered by 9V batteries and can record speech, music or any sounds. You hear the recording by pressing the button style tops. The 'LITTLEmacks' have a smaller surface area and sit at a 45 degree angle. The 'BIGmacks' have a larger, flatter surface area. They can be used with the Bookbug Picture Books to record a repeated phrase, allowing a learner with a communication difficulty to join in with the story. For an A-Z of ideas to with a BIGmack see out CALL Scotland 'Keep Talking' poster.

Sequential Message Devices

There are also talking button communication devices which allow you to record one message and a sequence of messages, one after the other. Each time the button is pressed the next message in the sequence will play aloud. These devices are sometimes called 'multi-message devices' or 'Step-by-Steps' and like BIGmacks and LITTLEmacks are available as large and small buttons. 'Step-by-Steps' can be used by learners to give instructions, tell a joke, share information, and lots more. There are many different ways and contexts in which they can be used. See our CALL Scotland '20 Ways to be Excellent' Poster for ideas and instructions. To find out more about the range of talking button devices which are available, see our 'Guide to Single and Multi-Message devices poster'.

They can be an invaluable piece of equipment in a classroom and you should think of a multi-message device as a 'core' piece of assistive technology.

BIGmacks and LITTLEmacks are generally priced from around £88, and Step-by-Steps from around £135.

Where to buy littleMacks and bigMacks

Device Supplier
BIGmack Ability World
BIGmack Inclusive Technology
BIGmack Liberator
LITTLEmack Ability World
LITTLEmack Inclusive Technology
BIG Step-by-Step Ability World
BIG Step-by-Step Inclusive Technology
BIG Step-by-Step Liberator
LITTLE Step-by-Step Ability World
LITTLE Step-by-Step Inclusive Technology
LITTLE Step-by-Step Liberator

Please note that some of the prices quoted on these websites include VAT and some do not.

Multi-level Communication Devices

The symbolised Bookbug resources also include overlays for a 'GoTalk 9+'. The GoTalk 9+ is a simple battery-operated communication device. Rather than 1 message, you can record 12 different messages to create a simple communication grid. There are 5 'levels' in a GoTalk 9+, meaning that you can pre-record up to 5 different sets of 12 messages.
To help your learner understand that the messages carry meaning you slide the overlay under the grid, so that each message is represented by a word, photograph and/or symbol. You can store several overlays in the pocket at the side of the GoTalk, making it easy to swap when you change levels.

This means that your learner can practise joining two words together to communicate a message as well as using single messages. There are several GoTalk 9+ symbol communication overlays in the Symbols for All resources. Have a look at the example overlays which focus on playing with play-doh, jigsaws, and shared reading.

Symbol software packages such as Matrix Maker Plus and Boardmaker include blank templates for GoTalk overlays which can save a lot of time creating your own. This means you can quickly create symbolised overlays for any topic and set of vocabulary. Alternatively, you can create a blank template in Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft Word and paste in your own photographs and text. School staff in Scotland have free access to Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft Word though their Glow user logins.

You can download a blank GoTalk 9+ Microsoft Word template.

GoTalk's are usually priced from around £149.

Where to buy GoTalk 9+'s

Device Supplier
GoTalk 9+ Ability World
GoTalk 9+ Inclusive Technology
GoTalk 9+ Liberator

Free Apps for iPads

The BookBug P1 Family Bag resources have versions of the story boards which can be used on an iPad with an app called 'SoundingBoard'.  Look for the 'SoundingBoard' icon and click to download the board.

SoundingBoard is a free app for iPads and iPhones which allows you to create picture and symbol based communication boards which speak aloud a recorded message. You can create a single communication board with up to twenty messages and link boards to each other. The app comes with library of symbols provided by Ablenet, or you can use the photo library or camera on the iPad or iPhone.

Symbol Software

Symbols for All resources are created with various symbol software packages. There are many advantages to using symbol software to create learning and teaching resources. Your school or education authority may already have decided on a particular symbol set. Traditionally in Scotland many schools have used 'Picture Communication Symbols' (PCS). PCS are the symbol set which you find in Boardmaker Software. Our symbolised BookBug resources use a symbol set called 'SymbolStix'. SymbolStix symbols are available in various symbol software programmes like MatrixMaker Plus and SymbolStixPrime. Many schools with older learners use the 'Widgit' symbol set. Widgit symbols are available in various symbols software programmes like InPrint 3 and Widgit Online. If you are thinking about purchasing symbol software there are several questions you will need to ask to ensure you buy the most appropriate option for your setting.

Key Questions and Considerations

Software Symbol Set Printed Interactive Cost for 1 licence for 1 user Product type Free trial?
BoardmakerPlus! v6 Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) Yes Some £203 (can install on 2 computers) USB stick No
Boardmaker Online Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) Yes Yes $19.99 monthly or $199 per year or $360 for 2 years or $540 for 3 years
A subscription now includes a copy of Boardmaker Studio.
Online in a web browser with a user name and password 30 days
Boardmaker Studio Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) Yes Yes £246 (can install on 2 computers) USB stick No
InPrint 3 Widigt Symbols Yes No £179 Licence code 21 days
Matrix Maker Plus Widgit Symbols and SymbolStix Yes No £169 Licence code 2 week trial
SymbolStix Prime SymbolStix Yes Yes $87.10 per year Online in a web browser with a user name and password No
SymWriter 2 Widgit Symbols Yes No £149 Licence code No
Widgit Online Widgit Symbols Yes Yes £6 per month, £60 per year. Online in a web browser with a user name and password Yes, 21 day trial

In addition to the above symbol sets which are available in commercial software packages, there are some free to use symbol sets. These free symbol sets can be used as graphics which you can insert into documents like Word and Publisher to create printed symbols resources and communication boards.