Norman Alm

School of Science and Engineering,
University of Dundee, Scotland, UK


I have been a lecturer and researcher in the School of Computing at Dundee University; after retiring from this completed a Scottish Enterprise / Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship, and am now an Honorary Research Fellow in the School.

Axis Mundi film

After three years of work (mainly in the wee hours) Gary Gowans, the head designer for the CIRCA and Living in the Moment projects, and I have completed a 35 minute
sci-philosophy’ film called Axis Mundi. You can see a trailer for it, that cleverly gives nothing away about the plot,
here. It has been seen at a gala launch at Dundee Contemporary Arts Cinema, and may well pop up at a film festival near you.

Enterprise Fellowship

During the year October 2009 - September 2010 I was a Scottish Enterprise / Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellow, with the task of beginning to commercialise the results of the work I and colleagues have been doing on developing computer-based systems to support older people with dementia and their carers.  A team of seven, guided by Dr Arlene Astell of St Andrews University School of Psychology, Gary Gowans from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design School of Design and me, produced a communication support system for people with dementia, and a series of interactive games for people with dementia.  This system is in use in a number of care homes and day care centres across the UK. To hear a recent interview with me about the system broadcast on the BBC World Service CLICK programme, click here. (The interview starts 11 mins and 45 secs into the programme). My colleague Arlene Astell also did an interview for the BBC website about CIRCA viewable here.  The system is no longer on the market, but lives on in a free online version called RemArc that we helped the BBC to produce, based on their wonderful archive.

My research interests

My most recent research interest has been to investigate ways in which communication and information technology could be of help to older people, with problems such as dementia.  In 2000 I was granted a Support Fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland to spend a year exploring possibilities in this area.  The result was a number of research project ideas.  One area of work which developed was to investigate ways older learners are coping with mastering information technology.  I have been working closely with groups such as the award winning Airlie Cybercafe, who started in one person’s kitchen and now meet weekly in the village hall for sessions of  IT learning and socializing.  Their latest venture is regular two-way contacts around the world using their webcam.  I am a member of a multidisciplinary research group in Dundee, the Alzheimer's Disease Research Centre, which is working on understanding, curing, and alleviating Alzheimer's disease from a number of different perspectives. 

The CIRCA project, with a team drawn from psychology, design, and software engineering, developed and evaluated a multimedia reminiscence aid to be used by people with dementia to support their communication with family and carers.  We have assisted the BBC to make a similar system to CIRCA available for free, using their extensive archive for content.  This is available here .

Following this project the same team worked on an interactive entertainment system for people with dementia which they will be able to use on their own, without the assistance of a carer.  This project is called Living in the Moment.  An advisory group for the project consisted of representatives from Alzheimer Scotland, Dundee City Social Work Department, and the Rokpa Dundee Buddhist centre. So far six games have been found to be particularly effective.  For more information on both systems see here.

I have also for 25 years been part of a team here working on ideas for improving computer-based communication systems for people who are non-speaking through a physical impairment.

My particular interest has been in the application of conversational modelling to this problem, which led to an interest in computational linguistics and discourse/conversation analysis.

The ALADIN / REACT project built a new type of communication system for non-speaking people based on using scripts to negotiate everyday encounters. This was done with a consortium from the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. It was funded through the EU Telematics Applications Programme. The project resulted in a product, ScripTalker, which was brought to the market by Kompagne BV in The Netherlands, and IGEL GmbH in Germany.

The UNICORN project, which was carried out jointly with colleagues from Kagawa and Hiroshima Universities in Japan, developed a rapid multi-lingual communicator which employs techniques of conversation modelling and an interface which includes both icons and text.

I was involved in a project to develop a communication system that can be used by patients who find themselves in an Intensive Care unit being artificially assisted with breathing, and are thus unable to communicate at a time when it is very important for them, their families, and the medical team. The ICU-Talk project was a highly-multidisciplinary one, closely involving intensive care medical staff, speech and language therapists, and software developers.

In a collaboration with colleagues in Japan, Ken Nakamura, and Mamoru Iwabuchi, we have been developing ideas for augmenting interpersonal communication by means of mobile multimedia systems.  This could provide some valuable help for people with severe disabilities, but also could have more general implications and applications.

The work we have been doing here in the School of Computing has led to the development of a number of commercial products, including

One of our research collaborators is Alan McGregor, a non-speaking person who in tandem with a talented Dundee film-maker, he has just produced a multimedia presentation about the necessity for disabled people to be seen in public and in the media more.  He has given this presentation, which includes some of his own music compositions, to audiences in the UK and Europe.  He is keen to give the presentation to as many people as possible, particularly young people.  Details on how to book him for this can be obtained by contacting me in the first instance.

Along with two colleagues, Peter Gregor and Ramanee Peiris, I investigated the use of computer-based interviews as a way of augmenting person-person contact in eliciting information. Surprisingly, the more sensitive the topic, the better this seems to work. We have developed and evaluated computer-based interviews in a wide variety of settings.  These include discovering any worries primary school children might have about the move up to secondary school, eliciting levels of alcohol abuse and alcohol related problems, anger management in a secure psychiatric hospital, and requirements gathering for a toilet of the future for disabled or frail elderly users.

For more information on my research or anything else on this webpage, contact me.


Selected publications


Arnott, J. and Alm, N. (2016) How can we develop AAC for dementia.  In Klaus Miesenberger, Christian Bühler, Petr Penaz (Editors) Computers Helping People with Special Needs: 15th International Conference, ICCHP 2016, Linz, Austria, July 13-15, 2016, Part I, LNCS 9758,


Alm, N. (2015) Distributed cognition, dementia, and technology. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. Vol 217, pp. 319-24.

Alm, N.  (2015) Cognitive support for language and social interaction.  In Brian O’Neill and Alex Gillespie (Eds) (2015) Assistive Technology for Cognition.  London and New York: Taylor and Francis.  pp.  97-111


Alm, N., Astell, A., Gowans, G., Ellis, M.. Dye, R., Vaughan, P., Riley, P. (2011)   Cognitive prostheses : findings from attempts to model some aspects of cognition.  In Constantine Stephanidis (Ed.) (2011) Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction.  Design for All and eInclusion - 6th International Conference, UAHCI 2011, Held as Part of HCI International 2011, Orlando, FL, USA, July 9-14, 2011.  Berlin: Springer.
Download a copy of this paper


Astell, A.,  Ellis, M.,  Bernardi, L.,  Alm, N.,  Dye, R., Gowans, G.,  Campbell J. (2010) Using a touch screen computer to support relationships between people with dementia and caregivers. Interacting with Computers. Vol 22 Issue 4, pp 267-275. Download a copy of this paper


Astell, A., Alm, N., Gowans, G., Ellis, M., Dye, R., Vaughan, P. (2009) Involving older people with dementia and their carers in designing computer based support systems – some methodological considerations.  Universal Access in the Information Society, Vol 8, pp49-58. Download a copy of this paper


Reiter, E., Turner, R., Alm, N., Black, R., Dempster, M., Waller, A. (2009)  Using NLG to help language-impaired users tell stories and participate in social dialogues. Proceedings of the 12th European Workshop on Natural Language Generation, Association for Computer Linguistics, pp1-8.  30-31 March, Athens, Greece.


Riley, P.J., Alm, N. & Newell, A.F. (2009) An interactive tool to support musical creativity in people with dementia. Journal of Computers in Human Behaviour. Vol 25, pp 599-608.


Alm, N., Astell, A., Gowans, G., Dye, R., Ellis, M., Vaughan, P., Riley, P. (2009) Engaging multimedia leisure for people with dementia. Gerontechnology. Vol 8 No 4, pp 236-246.

Newell, A.F,  Carmichael, A.,  Gregor, P., Alm, N., Waller, A. (2008)  Information technology for cognitive support.  In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook, Second Edition  (2008).  New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp 811-828.  

Rice M., Alm, N. (2008) Designing new interfaces for digital interactive television usable by older adults). ACM Computers in Entertainment 6(1).

Astell, A., Alm, N., Gowans, G., Ellis, M., Dye, R., and  Campbell, J. (2008). CIRCA: A communication prosthesis for dementia. In Mihailidis, J. Boger, H. Kautz & L. Normie (eds), Technology and Aging. Amsterdam: IOS Press.


Alm, N., Dye, R., Gowans, G., Campbell, J., Astell, A., Ellis, M. (2007) A communication support system for older people with dementia. IEEE Computer. Vol 40 No 5. pp 35-41. Download a copy of this paper


Gowans, G., Dye, R., Alm. N., Vaughan, P., Astell, A., Ellis, M. (2007) Designing the interface between dementia patients, caregivers and computer-based intervention. The Design Journal. Vol 10 Issue 1. pp 12-23. Download a copy of this paper

Newell, A., Gregor, P.,  Alm, N. (2006) HCI for older and disabled people in the Queen Mother Research Centre at Dundee University, Scotland. CHI 2006, pp.299-303.  Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 22-27 April 2006. 

Pullin, G., Alm, N. (2006) The speaking mobile phone: provoking new approaches to AAC design.  Proceedings of the International Conference on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Dusseldorf, 29 July - 3 August 2006. p72 (Extended version on CD-ROM).

Alm, N. (2006) Augmentative and alternative communication.  Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd Ed. Edited by Keith Brown.  Elsevier: Oxford. Vol 1, pp 569-574.

Alm, N., Dye, R.,  Astell A., Ellis, M., Gowans, G., Campbell, J. (2005) Making software accessible to people with severe memory deficits.  Proceedings of Accessible Design in the Digital World, Dundee Scotland, 15-19 August 2005.

Alm, N., Dye, R., Astell, A., Ellis, M., Gowans, G., Campbell, J. (2005) A computer-based hypermedia conversation support for people with dementia. Proceedings of the CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability.  Los Angeles 14-19 March 2005.  Proceedings entirely online at :

Panek, P., Edelmayer, G., Mayer, P., Zagler, W., Alm, N., Laiskos, J. (2005) User interface and control software of an intelligent assistive toilet system for all citizens.  Proceedings of INCLUDE 2005.  London: Royal College of Art.  p47.

Nakamura, K.,  Iwabuchi, M.,  Alm, N. (2005) What is information accessibility for all : Development of a new communication tool for people with severe disabilities using a mobile phone.  Proceedings of HCI International, Las Vegas 25-29 July 2005.


Alm, N., Dye, R.,  Astell, A., Ellis, M., Gowans, G., Campbell, J. (2005) Making software accessible to people with severe memory deficits.  Proceedings of Accessible Design in the Digital World, Dundee Scotland, 15-19 August 2005.

Alm, N., Astell, A., Ellis, M., Dye, R., Gowans, G., Campbell, J. (2004)  A cognitive prosthesis and communication support for people with dementia.  Journal of Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. Vol 14(1&2)  pp 117-134.

Iwabuchi, M., Nakamura, K,. Burgstahler, S., Dawden, P., Alm, N. (2004)  A multimedia cellular phone-based intermediary system for communication difficulties.  CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability, Los Angeles, 15-20 March 2004.


Alm, N., Gowans, G., Campbell, J.,  Dye, R.,  Astell, A., Ellis, M. (2003) Multimedia communication support for people with dementia.  Proceedings of INCLUDE2003.  London: Royal College of Art.


Alm, N., Dye, R., Gowans, G., Campbell, J., Astell, A. Ellis, M. (2003) Designing an interface usable by people with dementia.  Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Universal Usability, Vancouver, 10-11 November 2003.  p 156.


Joel, S., Alm, N., Egger de Campo, M., Gregor, P., Hands,  K., Hine, N.,  Panek, P. (2003) Eliciting sensitive information about toilet needs using a computer based interview. Presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe Conference. Dublin 30 Aug-3 Sep 2003.


Etchels, M.,  Macaulay, F.,  Judson, A.,   Ashraf, S.,  Ricketts, I., Waller, A.,  Alm, N., Warden, A., Gordon, B.Brodie, J.K.,  Shearer, A.J. (2003) ICU-Talk: The development of a computerized communication aid for patients in ICU.  Care of the Critically Ill, Vol 19 No 1. pp 4-9.

Iwabuchi, M., Nakamura, K., Fujiwara, Y., Alm, N., Burgstahler, C. (2003) An electronic name card system on a mobile device for people with disabilities and elderly people.  Proceedings of HCI International, 22-27 June 2003, Crete, Greece.  Heraklion: Crete University Press.  Adjunct Vol. pp 243-244.  Photo of authors Iwabuchi and Alm on site.


Todman, J.., Alm, N. (2003)  Modelling conversational pragmatics in communication aids. Journal of Pragmatics, Vol 35, pp523-538. 

Alm, N., Gregor, P., Newell, A.F. (2002) Older people and information technology  are ideal partners.  Proceedings of the International Conference for Universal Design (UD2002), Yokohama, Japan.  8 pages.  Proceedings on CD-ROM. Download a copy of this paper.

Gowans, G., Alm, N.,  Astell, A., Campbell, J., Dye, R., Ellis, M. (2002) CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid).  Proceedings of 18th International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International, Barcelona, Spain, October 23-26, 2002

Peiris, R., Gregor, P., Alm, N. (2000) The effects of simulating human conversational style in a computer-based interview. Interacting with Computers, Vol 12 No 6, pp 635-650.

Alm, N., Neumann, H., van Balkom, H. (2000)  Scripts in an AAC system. Proceedings of the CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability, Los Angeles, 20-25 March 2000. Proceedings are entirely online.  Paper’s URL is :

Iwabuchi, M., Alm, N., Andreasen, P., Nakamura, K. (2000) The development of UNICORN -- a multi-lingual communicator for people with cross-language communication difficulties. Proceedings of the CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability, Los Angeles, 20-25 March 2000. Proceedings are entirely online.  Paper’s URL is :

Alm, N., Ellis, K. (1999) Computer-assisted swearing. Communicating Together, Vol 16 No 2. pp 4-7.

How to contact me

Room 2.03 (second floor, first pod on the left ) in the Queen Mother Building

University telephone extension  85596

Telephone: +44 (0)1382  385596

Fax : +44 (0)1382  385509

Email: nalm at computing dot dundee dot ac dot uk

School of Science and Engineering, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland DD1 4HN, UK

Last updated 29 August 2018

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