The initial research be carried out for the symbol dictionary when visiting several centres around Doha gave us insight as to how symbols were used in schools and special needs centres. In particular at the Shafallah Center were Dalal highlighted the issue of changing the size of symbols allowing them to be used on walls and doors as signs and for guidance. Sample sizes go from 6×4 inches (150 by 101cms) down to 500 pixels square which is 4.23cms or 1.67inches square.
A more recent visit to Awsaj Academy and the Step by Step Centre for Special Needs gave us the chance to collect a selection of photographs to show how they used symbols to enhance the teaching and learning environment. They have kindly allowed us to share a sample selection.
This has led to a debate about the format of symbols. At present most centres are using Boardmaker to develop their symbol sets – the software allows images or PCS symbols to be flexibly resized and copied to other programs as well as being saved as symbol boards with varying cell sizes.
At one of our AAC forum meetings therapists working at the Al Noor Institute for the Blind also highlighted the need for high contrast and black and white images. As with the ARASAAC symbols, which all come as coloured and black and white images, it is our intention to include these options.
During the recent TechshareME conference we also learned, as a result of a survey carried out during a workshop, that at least six centres were using multimodal techniques alongside their symbol use. Techniques included word segmentation with audio feedback (text to speech) to encourage phonemic awareness skills and auditory discrimination. Symbols were also being used to illustrate letter combinations, the meaning of words, parts of words and sentences. The use of Jolly Phonics was mentioned, Clicker 5 and Go Talk as well as the integration of PECS techniques, Boardmaker for development of symbol sets and Makaton for gestures.
It was clear that as discussed in our poster and paper presentations at The HMC Annual Research Day Techshare Middle East, the Qatar Foundation ARC’14 and RAatE 2014 the team need to not only include all these elements in the dictionary, but to also be aware that the way images are formatted allows for flexible adaptations to suit all needs. ARASAAC provide their symbols as .png files and Boardmaker allows users to import images in .jpg, .jpeg, .gif,.png, .bmp, wmf and .emf formats. ARASAAC offer symbols that are 500×500 pixels and this is the size the dictionary will carry on the website.
GoldBart, J. and Caton, S. (2010) Communication and people with the most complex
needs: What works and why this is essential Research Institute for Health and Social Change
Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) http://www.netbuddy.org.uk/static/cms_page_media/52/Communication.pdf This report is a useful resource for academic references as well as practical advice.
Millar, S. (2009) Communication Friendly Schools CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh – http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/SallyMillarFriendlySchools_tcm4-629155.ppt PowerPoint presentation with example of symbols in use around schools in Scotland.