Inclusive Technology Prize finalists!


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Kate and I are in there somewhere!


Bit of an announcement – AzuleJoe, has been chosen as one of the ten finalists for the Inclusive Prize (we’ve known for a little while, but the embargo has only just been lifted).
We’d reached the semi-finals a few months ago, I didn’t do a post on it at the time for a few reasons – I didn’t feel it was interesting enough for the readers, and it was a relatively self-centred thing.  More to the point, I was still getting my head around the business aspects of the prize and hadn’t got a far as a clear vision about how everything fitted together.
Kate and Joe holding a tablet in front of an 'inclusive technology Prize' sign

This is us showing off something that I haven’t even mentioned on the blog yet… *blush*

I have now reached that point and we have a clear view on how we can keep our development open source, ensure that it’s free at the point of delivery, and user-focused, while still presenting strong business outcomes.  More on that in a future post.
As a sidebar – we were slightly unusual in avoiding publicity at this stage – because of my position as a blogger I was getting a few press releases from (to be fair, media departments that worked with) other competitors about their work and how the’d reached the semi-final – although to be fair, everyone who sent a press release also made it to the final…     
A lot of the other semi-finalists do have extremely strong ideas and I intend to be featuring some of them on this blog in the near future. I’m going to start with my favourites of the ones that didn’t make it to the semi-final so that there is no suggestion of competitive scheduling 🙂
The final is slightly different. For a start, it’s one of ten, rather than one of 25, and for another thing, finalists are given £10,000 and, equally importantly, lots of help and guidance in the following eight months to develop to a full prototype.  This money is desperately needed to help develop both AzuleJoe’s technologies and CommuniKate’s reach.  The development day Kate and I went to yesterday was fun and interesting – we chatted to Justin Tomlinson the new minister for disability, and we worked with lots of cool and interesting people to really nail down some of the ways to move forward.
It’s also the biggest grant that eQuality Time has ever received.  This means excellent things for eQuality Time.  Not only is it definitely going to be in operation come April 2016 (which, as you’ll remember, is almost twice as long as we expected it to be running when we started), but it’s got budget, and guidance and a clear vision going forward.
As always, there best part was meeting the very cool people there… This is me getting the opinion of Open Bionics on a 3d printing project that is completely separate to either of our projects but that should be part of the blog sometime soon…
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…and us having a really good chat about going forward with handy experts from Leonard Cheshire Disability (I know it looks like we were the only people having fun, I think that is just a trick of the photo, I’m assuming everybody else was having fun too… )
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Fail post: Supertitle Funding

This is a fail post – a post where I talk about something that didn’t go well.  I think the site should reflect a full version of me rather than an edited one so I make an effort to put up a posts that show when things go wrong. If you’d like more information on my reasoning, feel free to read this post. 

So I’ve the last few months I’ve been talking a little about the Supertitle project,  We introduced the concept, then we talked a little bit about the prototype.  I’ve also been trying to get a little bit of funding to develop the project
Our first funding application was to Unltd, which actually funded some early development on Project TooManyCooks.
Unfortunately they recently came back to us with a rejection.  I’m surprisingly upbeat about funding rejections – it’s data at the very least and it generally helps to know where you went wrong.  It also means that I’m at least reaching for things that are difficult.  I’m a big believer that if everything is going well, you probably aren’t ambitious enough.
I’m very keen to run eQuality Time as an absolutely transparent organisation, and this includes the failures as well as the successes.  So if you’d like to read my unsuccessful bid for funding, you can find it here: SuperTitleUnltd.doc. (I’ve redacted some of my details and those of my references).  As with all funding proposals, it’s slightly different from the more broad goals that I normally talk about. It’s very concentrated on a small-scale proof-of-concept event.  Looking at it now there is a lot I’d change about it, which is always a good thing 🙂


Speaking at TEDx Derby

So a few months ago I gave a talk on CommuniKate and associated ‘stuff’ at TEDxDerby.



I’m putting up this post to supply some of the supporting information.  The information on how expensive AAC devices get comes from the Domesday Dataset, as does the “9,000 who do” part.  The 32,000 people in the UK who would be helped by AAC comes from this report (and a small piece of maths via the size of the UK population). The transcipt for the talk is here for the talk is here in case anyone is interested.


Flowers for Turing progresses to its own Subsite!

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My projects are run fairly transparently and it’s possibly to see their evolution on this blog (indeed, that’s one of the reasons to have a blog)  so you see examples like me saying it would be nice to have the ability to do your own movie editing, followed some months later by a post were I found time to build the prototype and see how it worked (one of the most highly trafficked posts of the year actually), I’ve got a few future plans for it but they are on the back burner for now.
Similarly you can see the progression of the CommuniKate project from way way back here to the thing it’s grown up into, or see how the Disability site ranking went from being a one off post, to an occasional post, to a regular post, to a significant part of the site.
My intended arc for any given project is that it should start with an idea post, tell you about the ‘prototype’ or initial investigation, then it should talk about future goals (in the case of projects within eQuality Time, it would seek funding).  Every time there is a bit of progress or a major event then a new post is added and eventually it might get promoted to being a page on the website like the teapot is.
From there projects that grow end up with this sort of ‘internal subside’ arrangement as more and more information is added.  If it makes it out into the big bad world it might even become it’s own concern like White Water Writers did.
This week I’m promoting the Flowers for Turing project to having its own wordpress installation, please go take a look!   It’s something I should have done some time ago: blogs like this are laid out very differently from events pages like Flowers for Turing ( or indeed projects like CommuniKate, which will be next to go).
I’m hoping that at some point Supertitle, which I’m putting a lot of resource into at the moment, will graduate to the same level.  Indeed, eQuality Time should as well.

Oncoming Storm

“I wonder if it’s like this for mountain climbers, he thought. You climb bigger and bigger mountains and you know that one day one of them is going to be just that bit too steep. But you go on doing it, because it’s so-o good when you breathe the air up there. And you know you’ll die falling.”
The next seven weeks are going to be exceptionally busy for me and the people working with me on the White Water Writers Project.  We’re doing a number of things bigger and better than we’ve ever tried before.
Long time readers might remember that we launched White Water Writers over a year ago.   One of the quirks of the school calendar is that schools tend to want things to happen at the same time – which means that over the next seven weeks we’ll produce (we think) thirteen novels. Over 100 schoolchildren will hold in their hands a book they have written. Some of the students will be from gifted and talented groups, some of them will be in SEN provision, some others groups will be vulnerable in a variety of ways.  It includes anyone we think we can make a difference with.
Between now and mid-July we’ll run almost as many camps as we have in the previous five years combined.  In the process we’ll train up 25 student volunteers who will be able to come back and run their own camps next year (if, of course, they want to) – this year we had to turn away school after school because we hadn’t yet developed the capacity.
Of course, because we tend to push in a whole range of directions at once we are pushing the boundaries further than we have before. We’re working with primary schools for the first time.  Because of the bank holiday we’re also testing squashing the five day process into four days.  Several of the people leading camps this year cut their teeth under me on previous books and I’m really looking forward to see what changes they bring.
Some things are going to go wrong, that’s a given, but we’re working as hard as we can to make sure that we have the support mechanisms in place.  One of the things that is surprisingly difficult for me to come to terms with is that there is a ‘we’.
Right now there is a guy rewriting the training manual for us so that it’s written for people who think like humans (rather than by me, who thinks like a robot). While I’m up to my nose in a brainstorming session next Tuesday, one of our team is going to be entertaining one of our wonderful funders.  Yesterday another of our team put on a superb training session that included visits from previous volunteers and a talk from experts in dealing with some of the special situations that people might find themselves in.
I’ve got a stack of wonderful volunteers and supportive teachers who are involved because they believe that holding your own book in your hands is a feeling that every child deserves.

I really think this might be the summer that really puts the White Water Writers project on the map.

Of course… my life wouldn’t be simple enough to give me just one thing to think about.  Slap bang in the middle of this period is Alan Turing’s 102nd birthday – I’ll be hoping to break last year’s record of £532 raised and you’ll see a few posts about that cropping up in the near future.
In a sense, this is a bit of a warning post – over the next little while these two projects are going to dominate my life and this blog.  I may just have to spend August asleep.

Supertitle, a project for school students with English as an additional language.

So I’ve been ‘incubating a new project. It’s existed within eQuality Time as a concept for a while and over the last few months I’ve been making connections around it and putting things into place. It’s time at this stage to put the ‘broad brushstrokes’ out there. The intent of this article is to describe a problem space and present the strong case for a particular program that will relieve some of the pressure.  


The context: language can be a barrier both inside and outside of schools

Almost 1 in ten UK households have a non-english speaking member. In such households UK TV is generally not watched to avoid further isolating household members, even if others have a desire (or even, given the politics of the playground, a social need) to consume traditional UK media. This state of affairs perpetuates at the expense of that households. The non-english speaking members continue to be isolated, and barriers are formed between the bilingual members and their peers.
Children in such households are bilingual by necessity, but when you look at their school performance, their results in English are, quite understandably, much lower than their scores in, Maths and Science (in many cases, they still perform better than their peers). Pride and fear of labeling are big reasons why these kids don’t accept extra help from teachers.

Language barriers remain a major obstacle in UK healthcare [1], child protection [2], and involvement in local issues [3]. We developed this project in response to not only the academic research but also from the written and verbal feedback from teachers and students that we have previously worked with on literacy issues.

Our idea: translating subtitles using teamwork and technology

The TooManyCooks project has worked with many skills to improve teamwork and creative writing.  To get TooManyCooks working I had to develop a lot of techniques to get kids to work together on tasks, make sure everyone had a job, a vision, and knew where they were going. I’d like to make use of some of the techniques we developed in TooManyCooks and apply them to this context.
So I believe that every child has a right to sit down with their family and watch Doctor who, and that’s a bit difficult when the iPlayer doesn’t subtitle in Urdu, or in Polish, when it doesn’t include simplified English and in some cases when it doesn’t subtitle it at all. But I’ve got lot of contacts with schools in London who have a lot of bilingual kids, and I have got a bunch of techniques that get kids to work together on literature.  So I want to go into a school, take 10 kids who want to give something back to their community and say to them that we’re going to do an hour a week after school, doing a bit of translation work. And every week they can take home their translation, and have it running in front of the TV.
I see a network of schools: “You are the Eastenders school!”, “You are the Cash in the Attic school!”, “You are the Sherlock school!”, “6th-formers? You get to do the thick of it.”. Everyone shares.
This is just a concept note, but I think it’s a way to bring communities closer, to end isolation, and to sneakily get an hours extra help with English to a group of kids whose pride might stop them taking it any other way.

[1] JACOBS, E., CHEN, A. H., KARLINER, L. S., AGGER-GUPTA, N. and MUTHA, S. (2006), The Need for More Research on Language Barriers in Health Care: A Proposed Research Agenda. Milbank Quarterly, 84: 111–133. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2006.00440.x

[2] Kriz, Katrin, and Marit Skivenes. “Lost in translation: How child welfare workers in Norway and England experience language difficulties when working with minority ethnic families.” British Journal of Social Work 40.5 (2010): 1353-1367.

[3] Livingstone, Andrew G., et al. “The language barrier? Context, identity, and support for political goals in minority ethnolinguistic groups.” British Journal of Social Psychology 50.4 (2011): 747-768.

Half a million siblings under 16

My little brother, via Skype

My little brother, via Skype

I post occasionally on Sibling Issues, partly because, as we’ve noted before, there are relatively few other people doing itA few of the guest writers on this blog are siblings themselves and we’ve talked a few times about them being a ‘hidden’ population.

In October, I set out to find out how big this hidden population was. When you can put numbers around something, you can start to understand it a little more. It can inform research direction within academia, and funding decisions outside it. It can focus minds and help people make tough decisions.

Traditional research, of course,  would be to send out some surveys and try and extrapolate from results. I’ve used this style before on papers, but it’s frustrating when you know the data is already there. It’s particularly annoying when you know that much more accurate data already exists.

In this case, almost all parents of children in the UK are in receipt of Child Benefit.  Also almost all parents of children with disabilities in the UK are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

If you had two lists, one containing all the households that contained all the households that received Disability Living Allowance for someone under 16, and one containing the amount of Child Benefit claimed by each household, then we could count up the number of siblings. You’d only count the cases where both the ‘glass‘ and the DLA sibling were under 16, but you’d get better data than ever before.


What’s great is that we can do this.

If you worked for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and had these datasets handy, then it would take you about 15 minutes to interrogate the system to get the numbers out.

In October last year, I made a Freedom of Information Request asking for

“the number of people receiving Disability Living Allowance on behalf of an under-16 year
old. I would like this information broken down by the overall amount of Child Benefit claimed by the person.”

This is the sort of the thing that the Freedom of Information Act is particularly useful for. There is no political point scoring happening here. The DWP know that this isn’t information that people are going to shout at them over, this is information that the government can release to the public to help make the world better.

This Friday, they came back to me;  Here are the figures.


Number of Children per Household Frequency Total Number of Siblings
1 101,100 0
2 144,590 144,590
3 81,270 162,540
4 34,310 102,930
5 12,120 48,480
6 4,200 21,000
7 1,520 9,120
8 540 3,780
9 210 1,680
10 80 720
11 30 300
12 10 110
Total 495,250


That’s 495,250 in total. As a minimum number of the siblings (under 16) of children (also under 16) with disabilities. I haven’t worked out how to extrapolate this to the siblings under 18, or adults. But I think that’s a very, very big number considering the tiny amount of attention paid to it.


Note – lots of caveats can be put in here, but I wanted to put these numbers out. This is clearly only one datapoint, but the DWP figures are as solid as one can imagine. For those interested, you can compare with the Office for National Statistics numbers here (there will be a couple of follow up (and very nerdy)) posts on the statistical differences.