2000 Conference Proceedings

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Gareth Evans, Paul Blenkhorn and Chris Painter

Evans and Blenkhorn are with the Centre for Rehabilitation Engineering, Speech and Sensory Technology (CRESST), Department of Computation, UMIST, Manchester, UK, g.evans@co.umist.ac.uk Painter is with RNIB Condover Hall School, Condover, Nr Shrewsbury, UK

Introduction Software packages are used quite extensively by children and adults who have profound and multiple disabilities. These packages are used for a variety of reasons. Some are designed to be used for sensory stimulation, where the intention is to attract and hold the client's interest and attention on a set of visual images and/or sounds. Other software is designed to stimulate the client to interact with the computer, with the intention of developing the client's understanding of cause and effect concepts and the development of the client's skills in using an access device, typically a switch or touch screen (we will, for simplicity's sake refer to these activities as switch skills). Other programs are used to give the client access to the school curriculum and support numeracy and literacy skills. In this paper we focus on one program, called Carousel, which was originally designed to address the development of switch skills. However, as can be seen in the examples discussed below, it is actually being used for a wide range of activities involving the presentation of visual and auditory information/stimulation. There are a large number of commercially available programs that address this area, therefore, before describing Carousel and some of the activities that have been developed for it, we will briefly review the features of other programs and try to identify the novel features of Carousel.

Most software designed to develop switch skills works in a similar way. When the client activates their input device the software carries out some action, which generally involves the alteration of a visual image and/or the production of some sound. The way in which the software interacts with the input device is often configurable. For example, when using a single switch, the action may take place when the switch is first depressed or when it is released. The former teaches switch location skills, the latter develops skills in leaving the switch. To prevent 'switch banging', i.e. a user who repeatedly hits his/her switch and pays little attention to the output of the software, delays may be set so that software only responds if the switch has not been depressed for a certain amount of time. One typical activity is picture building. Each time the switch is activated a new element is added to the picture. When the picture is completed, it is often animated and/or a 'completion' sound is played

Software packages that address the development of switch skills can be classified into two types, as either fixed-activity or framework packages. Fixed-activity software provides a fixed set of activities, that is, a sequence of switch presses always has the same result in terms of the images and sounds produced. This type of software has considerable advantages. Firstly, it is usually straightforward to set up and run; this is particularly important where the teacher or carer has limited time or rudimentary IT skills. Secondly, the images and sounds can be very appealing, drawn and animated to professional standards. Finally, some packages of this type allow a degree of configuration so that the images can be altered to meet the user's preferences. For example, the colour, size and complexity of images might be altered to address the client's visual and cognitive abilities. However, fixed-activity software has a number of drawbacks. Firstly, the user is usually presented with the same set of images and sounds, whilst familiarity and predictability can be good over a short period of time, the client may well become disinterested over a longer period. Secondly, the images and sounds my not be age and/or culturally appropriate. For example, most of this type of software is designed for young children, yet it is used quite extensively with older children, teenagers and adults. Finally, the images and sounds used may not be suited to the user in other ways. Many users respond better to images and sounds taken from a familiar environment than to the type of images and sounds that are presented in typical fixed-activity software. Therefore, there is a need for the software to be configurable so that it matches their interests and needs.

Framework packages allow the set of images and sounds to be configured so that they are appropriate to the client's needs and interests. The fact that the content for the activities can be configured is very desirable. However, they present one very significant problem, that is, who is to configure the software? The general assumption is that this is the teacher or carer who is working with the client. However, the development of reasonably complex activities such as picture building requires a large amount of time and reasonably significant IT skills. It is not thought likely that any but the most interested and IT literate teachers and carers will develop such material. One way of addressing the problem is to attempt to make the framework program as simple as possible, from the perspective of both the teacher/carer and from the client. In this way it was hoped that teachers and carers would be able to develop activities appropriate to their users needs. Carousel was, therefore, developed as an experiment, to see whether teachers and carers would use a simple framework program and whether the simple activities that could be developed would lead to a rewarding experience for the users.

Carousel was designed for, and by, members of the UK's CAMI (Computers and Multiple Impairments) group. Most of the members of the group are practising teachers, and advisors who work with the user group on a regular basis. Whilst many members of the group are skilled computer users several are not. Carousel was presented to the group on CD-ROM together with a large number of resources (images and sounds).


Carousel presents an activity as a sequence of frames. Whenever, the client depresses his/her switch the next frame in the sequence is presented. If a second switch is available, operating this replays the current frame. A frame consists of one or more of the following:

An image. This may be a static drawing created using a graphical drawing package or selected from the wide range of public domain 'clip-art'. Carousel supports bitmap and Windows metafile formats for this purpose. The image may be a photographic image (in JPEG) produced using a digital camera or a scanner. Finally, the image may be a video clip (in avi format); this can be captured using a standard video recorder and processed by digital editing software or may be a produced on a digital video camera. The background colour, that forms the border around most images, may be changed. A sound. This is played when the frame is first displayed. The sound may be selected from the wide range of public domain files that are available (wav and MIDI files can be played) or the sound may be captured on a multimedia PC. Text. Text can be placed above or below the picture or in the centre of the picture. Text uses any of the system's installed fonts, font sizes and colours. Each activity set can contain up to 50 frames. It is possible to link activities, so that sequence length is effectively unlimited. Activities are reasonably easy to configure. Images and sounds are selected from files. The creator / editor of the activities can see the image and hear the sound when it is selected. Text is typed as needed. Example Activities

Activities constructed from available image and sound files

There are a huge number of images and sounds that are freely available on the Internet. These can be readily used in programs like Carousel, although we have found it convenient to gather some of them together onto a CD-ROM and distribute them with the software. An example activity is one that presents an image together with a matching sound (for example the image of a telephone is presented with the sound of a telephone ringing). Another example, developed for a deaf-blind adult, has no images but uses a sequence built of sound files of people laughing. This client rarely smiles except when she is using this activity. This type of activity has also been used to create software that is age appropriate. For example, activities have been made for an adult client who was interested in steam trains, these have been developed from public domain images and sounds.

Activities created from available images and custom sound

Multimedia computers have reasonable sound recording facilities. This allows the sound files to be customised. Examples include activities that support early numeracy and literacy skills. The advantage of using specially recorded speech is that the material is culturally appropriate, in the appropriate language and accent of the client. One example, that was developed to grab the attention of a client, consisted of a sequence of images, some of which had his name associated with them.

Activities created from custom images and sound

A digital camera or scanner can be used to produce images for Carousel. This allows images that are familiar to the client to be entered into the system, for example family, friends, pets, etc. This style of activity may be viewed as a talking photograph album. This can be extended to make stories that have characters (people, pets, and toys) that are relevant to the clients. By using images taken by a digital camera and a mixture of recorded speech, sound effects and music it is possible to create quite sophisticated stories that clients really enjoy.

The ability to display video sequences is used in an activity designed to assist in teaching deaf-blind adults finger spelling.

Other activities

The activities described above require the teacher/carer to develop activities for use by the user. However, with Carousel the user can, with assistance, have editorial control over an activity. This gives the users the ability to create stories and describe their activities. Carousel has been used by one user in his annual educational review to describe his activities, in pictures and sounds, over the previous year. Carousel is also being used as the medium for displaying the results of a story developed by a class of pupils.

Concluding Remarks

Carousel's activities consist of a simple sequence of images, sounds and text and it is not really suitable for developing more complex activities such as picture building or maze solving. However, its very simplicity means that it can be configured by teachers or carers who have limited time available to them and only basic IT skills. This means that users can be presented with activities that match their interests and needs. At the time of writing Carousel has been available to a relatively small number of people for about 6 months. It is interesting to note the range of activities that have been developed for it to date; ranging from simple attention grabbing activities to activities designed to assist the teaching of finger spelling.

Carousel is easy to configure. The most time consuming element of building a Carousel activity is the selection of images and sounds. If these are specially captured, say by a digital camera or by using the sound recording facilities of a multimedia PC, they can be easily integrated into an activity. However, where pre-existing images and sounds are used, finding the right image or sound can take a considerable period of time.

Carousel is public domain software, which may be freely used and copied. A CD-ROM including Carousel, a range of Carousel activities and a large set of image and sound resources will be given to all attendees of this session. The Carousel program and some example activities can also be accessed from http://CRESST.co.umist.ac.uk


The authors would like to acknowledge the help given by members of the CAMI group in the testing of, and the development of activities for, Carousel.

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