Review:ReadWrite Gold for Mac

ReadWrite Gold is potentially a very powerful collection of tools to assist people with language difficulties to improve their read and writing while on the go, working with apps like Microsoft Word. However, the software is badly let down by its primitive 1990s style interface, which is very off-putting and makes the app feel like a total stranger to the elegance expected of OS X Yosemite apps. The icons do not reflect current norms, and it makes a clumsy use of windows, making the application very user unfriendly.
However, it does have some redeeming features including a good dictionary with a powerful thesaurus although a limited amount of words, as it did not have ‘wetsuit’ for example. I also liked the picture dictionary and the fact the dictionary and other windows automatically updated as you typed. The word prediction feature was basic and clumsy to use. It has many other features that are potentially very powerful and again let down by its poor interface.
Overall, while the features may warrant its heavy price tag, the application’s interface needs a major facelift to avoid it looking like fool’s gold! It is hard to fully appreciate its features simply due to the disappointing interface.
Rating: 50%

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Review: iReadWrite

iReadWrite is a neat word processor app for the iPad with powerful speech and word prediction capabilities. For people with speech or language difficulties, these makes a simple communication aid that is quick and simple to use. The word prediction side bar offers a seamlessly unlimited list of words that can be swiped onto the document as well as touched to speak aloud. The app also has a good spell checker and it has the option to storing documents on Dropbox, allowing them to by synced with the software on other iPads, although not desktop devices, as well as the usual sharing options.

The downside to the app is that it only comes with two voices, one of each gender, and I see no option to add more. The app offers no formatting options at all (eg Bold, Italic or Underline) or any option to change the font or its size, limiting its accessibility to many users. It is therefore a text processor as opposed to anything else.
Overall, the app is great if you want a fast way of typing text on an iPad to be sent to other apps or read out, especially in combination with the many keyboards with word prediction now available on iOS 8, but this is not a word processor.  
Rating: 70%


– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Everyone Should Have a Voice

The personal communication between each other is a central part of what makes us human but for some disabled people who have no speech, speech impairments or other speech or language difficulties, the ability and indeed right to communicate with others can be significantly compromised and this is where the need for argumentative and alternative communication (AAC), communication aids, comes into place.
The story of AAC can be seen in parallel to the incredible story of technology, where the computer and other devices, as well as the internet, has dramatically transformed the lives of so many disabled people who would have simply been regarded as unable to communicate, let alone work, in a previous era. This is a story that is indeed personal for me as without this technology, I am sure the totality of my existence would have been basket weaving, or rather trying to, in a day care service rather than being the active person I am today.
I use a communication aid, a Lightwriter, as backup to my preferred method of speaking, which is being translated by my personal assistants for those who have ‘listening difficulties’. The fact I use speech and a communication device can be seen in how I used both methods when I starred in ‘I’m Spazticus’. I think it is important to note that communication aids do not need to be high tech to be useful and I would advocate that it is important for people to have a range of methods available to them to suit the occasion. I also appreciate that as someone with a speech impairment, I am indeed an ‘AAC’ user, I do not experience the same level of difficulties as someone who has no speech and therefore may have a stronger identity as an ‘AAC User’.
One of the downsides of communication aids is the price of what is often very high tech and specialist equipment, especially when someone is also unable to use a keyboard and uses switches or now eye-gazing technology. This means that many people who use communication aids can not simply go out and buy what they need outright, and therefore means they are dependent on funding from the state or others. The iPad, and its relevantly low price, has however been one of those step change moments for the AAC industry, giving an affordable communication aid to so many people including many who would simply not previously be deemed as eligible or able to benefit from one. However, the iPad or other tablets is not suitable for everyone and while it has been fashionable to push the majority of AAC Users to having iPads, it is important people get what they actually need.
Within England, the funding and provision of communication aids has been since April 2013 in the hands of NHS England as a specialist service for the most part out of the hands of local CCGs. One of the significance improvements to be made from the NHS changes is that on paper at least, the NHS now realises the need to providing someone of any age with a communication aid as a health need, for however long it is needed, in the same way as other technical aids like wheelchairs or hearing aids. Before this point, it was at the discretion of each old PCT, as well as educational authorities, and very much a postcode lottery from impairment to impairment. Many people who need communication aids still find it difficult to gain state funding for what suitable devices they need and therefore have to fund it themselves or rely on support from charities.
I am not sure if it is any better but the important point that everyone must have the right to communicate, in the same way as personal mobility, has been made and won. For myself, having a voice and being able to communicate with others is not just a politically correct good thing but it is an important key and starting point to providing people with the ability to self-determined their lives, taking advantage of their rights, as well as their responsibilities. The right communication aid can revolutionise the lives so many people society would have previously just written off, and as someone who has many friends with no speech, I have been privileged to see the benefits they can bring for myself.
If we wish all disabled people to be included into society as fully active contributing citizens, this must include those with speech and language difficulties. I feel as someone with a speech impairment, it is one of the last taboos society has in terms of disability compared to how we see wheelchair users and others. Communication aids as well as other technology gives people the ability to take up their rightful place in society and to be seen as well as heard, helping society to embrace speech difficulties as just part of life. More importantly, communication aids give people their own voice and so enabled society to recognise their personhood in their own right as fellow citizens.


Why Can’t Disabled People Be Positive?

My all-time favourite song and my personal theme tune is Proud by Heather Small, because it sums up how I feel about my life and who I am as someone with cerebral palsy. I believe the media along with the disability charities and many activists has polarised the lives of disabled people, where we are either heroic paralympians or more likely, and as they wish us to be portrayed, miserable benefit claimants living a life comparable to being in a Victorian work house. But disabled people are three dimensional characters who have plenty to offer society, plenty of wonderful experiences to enjoy, and can lead amazing lives in a way that is just normal.


A perfect example of something positive I have every reason to feel proud about is I’m Spazticus, which broadcasted the first episode of its second series last night, and starred myself as well as a whole diversity of disabled actors. This cutting edge and controversial prank show is one of the few positive but not patronising representations of disabled people on TV to date as its shows we can be funny on many levels.
The show is a combination of hard work and irrelevant cheek that shows we do not always need to be the victims of the story, puppets for others but we can also be the puppet masters, pulling the strings of the poor unsuspecting public. I’m Spazticus does not show the exception but the norm people have forgotten in this era of welfare reforms.
But disabled people do not always need to be this extreme to be positive. One of my greatest personal achievements has been Wheelies, the world’s first virtual disability themed nightclub I founded seven years ago that is still running using the 3d virtual environment called Secondlife. The club has never been for disabled people but simply disability themed becoming a virtual place for people to come and relax, listen and dance via their avatars to music, live DJs and artists.


What so many people found revolutionary was that my avatar used a wheelchair, the very first to do so, despite the fact I could be anyone I wanted to be. I wanted to be me as someone with cerebral palsy and this has continued to capture the excitement of the media and academia ever since I started. The idea someone would choose to appear disabled when they did not need to has helped people understand the positive side of disability especially as the number of virtual wheelchair users around the world have grown.
But these are two examples on being positive at work, where it is ‘easy’ to put on a brave smile, but surely I have no time for fun? Well, I am not when of these many ‘disabled people’ who sit on their beanbags all day on their laptops writing blogs or tweeting how life is terrible! My life is in fact great and I have a great social life. My passion is water sports and I love doing anything that involves wearing a wetsuit and getting wet!


I am no paralympian and I do these activities simply because I enjoy them and they are fun. At the end of August I am going on a week long disabled windsurfing camp in Belgium, as the only Englishman there and it will be my second time at the camp. I windsurf sitting down using a specially adapted board and it is great fun. It will also be great to be around a group of disabled people who are clearly doing something positive, for a week at least, and who probably never heard of welfare reforms or ATOS, let alone hate them! This is certainly a real and deserved break for me.
I believe and demonstrate wherever and whenever I can disabled people can be positive. We can achieve great things, which others may or may not call work. We can make contributions to our communities as citizens, to our families as parents or siblings, and to society as whole people with diverse skills and abilities many already demonstrate every day as just normal events.
In this context, I have started a campaign called ‘Yes we can’ ( aims to show disabled people can work in one way or another, although may not always been ready to work, and deserve the chance to have a positive life. Being positive is not about pretending everything is perfect and smiling all day, it is about the right attitude to approach whatever barriers you face in a way so that you can overcome them, not just give up and play the victim!

Mapping my notes


Regular readers may know I am a big fan of Evernote and that it is a core application in how I manage my work and my life as I have after 30000 notes including 17000 organisations and 3000 places which I am continually sorted and adding to. Apart of this is adding locational data to my place notes including their position and linked to Google Maps. Within evernote, this has created a wonderful details atlas of all my places including any country and capital city in the world with wikipedia links!


But why you may ask? Because information is power and I wish to be one of the most informed people in the world!


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  


A paperless society


When the PC was first invented, everyone said it would be the end of paper but the reality was we ended up using far more paper. But now, with tablets, wi-fi and other technologies, I think we are finally seeing the end of paper in a big way and I like it. I never been a fan of paper because I find it difficult to hold about involuntarily scrunching it up. Now we have the everyday technology for easy to read portable electronic versions of books, magazines and newspapers. At meetings, we can have all our documents we need on our tablets, neat and tidy!
So the paperless society is upon us and this can only be good for the environment and the inclusion of disabled people. 
If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  

Living in the clouds


Technology is always improving at a tremendous rate and one recent feature I find extremely used is cloud computing with services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive. These services enables me to access all my files on all my devices whether they be on my PC, mac, iPad or android mobile phone with almost instant syncing so I can choose the device I wish to manage the file on. As someone who remembers having a back up my computer on a large number of floppy discs, this is amazing.


Living and indeed working in the clouds is truly a paperless wireless place that is more closer to the technology in fictional programmes like Star Trek: The next generation than we can may realise and its fabulous. It is exciting to wonder what the next big thing will be technology wise which is guaranteed to make my life easier!


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  


Discovering my past

One thing I like about the internet and how it has grown is about I can use it to discover my past. I am not interested about my family history, as I am not interested in my family. But I am interested in my personal past and finding out more about things from my childhood and early teens.

With apps like Wikipedia, it is possible to gain a deeply understanding of events, objects, places and so much more from my past, enhancing my memories with facts. These can enable me to understand better who I am and how I have become the person I am now.

Technology has brought the past back to life as well as reconnected me with people from my past and is another reason while I feel we are in a Golden age, even if maybe people fail to see it.

If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

The lure of tablets

By tablets I am not referring to the medical kind but rather the technological kind. Whether it is a iPad, Kindle, Android or new Microsoft Surface, tablets have quickly entered into the every day lives of so many people, already potentially replacing the home computer as the main way people access the internet and other apps.

I believe the lure of the tablet is its portability and ability to touch and hug in a way that been natural to mankind since Ancient Greece and stone tablets. Its book like qualities including the touch screen makes tablets far more natural to use and understand as apps are able to use a natural understanding of strolling and zooming with our figures.

After 30 or so years and long after it demise was predicted, the era of the QWERTY keyboard especially now voice control is becoming more popular. For everyone, but especially disabled people, the era of the tablet is very good news and I am excited about the future ahead.

If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Bloggers are arrogant

A found it very interesting when a fellow blogger called my arrogant and this is what the point of being a blogger, any blogger? When I mean is a blog is a public statement of how one individual sees a specific issue with the hope they may not be the only person in the world with their view. I believe arrogance comes from a reader finding offence in the writer’s viewpoint, especially when it is a confidence viewpoint, because it is does not take into account their viewpoint or those the reader feels the writer must respect.

I personally find what this fellow blogger writes arrogant as it is written from my perspective as the middle class perspective of someone looking at the problems of society from afar and making misinformed liberal political statement from what he reads rather than he experiences. I understand if he feels to understand my thinking and how I feel it is based on experience rather than academic ideology and the newspapers, he will believe I am arrogant and that is his problem not mine.

I am confident in what say in my blogs and if that makes me appear arrogant to some people, than so be it, that is all part of creating change!