Paul Nisbet

Senior Research Fellow


I am a Senior Research Fellow and Director of CALL Scotland, a Knowledge Exchange and Transfer Centre within Moray House. CALL (Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning) Scotland is the Scottish centre of excellence in the application of technology to support pupils with additional support needs.

CALL Scotland

CALL was founded in 1983 and since 1991 we have received core grant funding from Scottish Government to provide strategic leadership, information, services and professional learning in the field of Assistive and Communication Technology in Scotland. We also generate income through consultancies and contracts with government agencies, local authorities and research funders. CALL has a multidisciplinary staff team with backgrounds in teaching, speech and language therapy, technology and design. You can read about our work in our Annual Reports at 

My first degree was in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, followed by an MSc in Knowledge-Based Systems. In addition to research and development, I support a caseload of learners referred to CALL for Assistive Technology assessment and support; my particular areas of expertise within the CALL team are access systems for pupils with physical disabilities, and tools to enable students with dyslexia or literacy difficulties to access the curriculum.

I was one of the inventors of the award-winning Smart Wheelchair, a powered wheelchair control system for people with severe disabilities who cannot drive conventional chairs. It can be driven with a wide range of switches and controls and has a track following capability; collision sensors; and speech feedback. The Smart wheelchair and Smart Platform are now manufactured by Smile Smart Technology Ltd. in England.

In 2010 I was awarded the University of Edinburgh Principal's Medal.


BSc (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering

MSc Knowledge Based Systems

Responsibilities & affiliations

Chartered Engineer

Member of The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Research summary

My research interests are the application of Assistive and Communication Technology for children and young people with disabilities and/or additional support needs. Most of my work is action research and development, involving children and young people in both mainstream and specialist settings. A particular ongoing area of interest in the use of assistive technology in examinations, and I have been working with and advising the Scottish Qualifications Authority since 2004. More recently I have been advising Scottish Government over accessibility of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments.

Current research interests

The use of technology in assessments and high stakes examinations by learners with disabilities and additional support needs, and in particular: - Digital Question Papers for learners with sight loss using screen reader technology; - Chromebooks in examinations; - use of Assistive Technologies in Scottish National Standardised Assessments; - factors influencing choice of Assessment Arrangements in examinations, particularly with regard to technologies, compared to human readers and scribes. Models of service delivery for Assistive Technology and AAC (Augmentative and alternative communication). Development of Scottish child and teenage voices for use in electronic voice output communication aids.

Past research interests

Development, evaluation and introduction of SQA Digital Question Papers for candidates with disabilities and additional support needs (2004 - 2007). Scotland-wide provision of 'Heather' (2008) and 'Stuart' (2011): high quality Scottish computer voices from CereProc, a world-leading speech synthesis firm in Edinburgh. Young people with visual, reading or learning difficulties, or English as a second language, can read digital resources with support from text-to-speech, while people with communication impairment use the voices to speak using electronic communication aids. Heather and Stuart were joined by Ceitidh, the world's first Scottish Gaelic computer voice, in November 2015. Distribution of WordTalk, Rod Macaulay's free text-to-speech program for reading Microsoft Word documents. The "Books for All" research and report (2008) and establishment of the Books for All Database which provides learning resources in accessible, alternative formats. Co-inventor of the CALL Smart Wheelchair (1988), an innovative powered wheelchair designed for children with significant disabilities. The Smart Wheelchair can be accessed using a wide range of switches and controls and has sensors to avoid and handle collisions, and a track-following capability. In the early 1990's the then Scottish Home and Health Department funded CALL to design the electronics and software and formative evaluation of twelve systems was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Subsequent research and development projects were funded by EU Horizon and TIDE programmes.

Knowledge exchange

In 2017-18:

  • the number of visits made to the CALL Scotland web sites exceeded 1 million for the first time.
  • more than 42,000 books were downloaded from the Books for All Scotland Database.
  • CALL staff worked with the Scottish Book Trust to create accessible digital versions of the BookBug P1 readers, and support materials, so that children with disabilities can participate in the Scottish Children's Book Awards.
  • The free WordTalk text reader was downloaded 32,731 times, bringing the total downloads since 2005 to 205,424. CALL's new free literacy support toolbar, MyStudyBar 4.1, was downloaded 3,346 times int the first six months after launch.
  • SQA received 6,662 requests for Digital Question Papers, on behalf of 2,670 candidates. This represents an increase of 1196% since the papers were first offered by SQA in 2008. Research indicates that this technology offers learners a more independent method of support than use of human readers and scribes, which was the most popular type of arrangement in 2008. In 2014, most of the exam boards in England and Wales introduced Digital Question Papers.
  • 90 pupils with additional suport needs in 17 local authorities were supported directly in school through assessments and follow up visits.
  • 228 items of assistive technology, such as communication aids, tablets and access systems were loaned for evaluation by learners.

The first CALL Smart Wheelchair was designed in 1988 and in 1999 the technology was licenced to Smile Smart Technology Ltd. 30 years later, the latest incarnation - the DriveDeck - was featured in the media when it was installed at Lochore Meadows Country Park in Fife.

Project activity

  • Development, evaluation and implementation of accessible digital examination papers, in collaboration with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
  • Books and learning materials in alternative formats for people with print disabilities (Books for All).
  • Development and distribution of Scottish computer voices (with CereProc).

View all 35 publications on Research Explorer