Author Archives: E.A. Draffan

Using Tawasol Symbols on apps for portable technologies

Over the last few months there have been several presentations around the world about Tawasol Symbols including the GREAT Conference in Doha where Nadine talked about “Making Educational Resources with TAWASOL Symbols to Support Students with Disabilities”.   By chance we will also be showcasing our work at another GREAT meeting – The World Health Organisation Global Research and Education in Assistive Technology (GREAT) Summit in August.

There we will be talking about how Tawasol symbols can be used to enhance AAC outcomes for those working in the Arabic language.  But  as can be seen in this Slideshare presentation there are now several ways of presenting symbols in apps with text to speech output when using portable or mobile technologies such as The Grid, CoughDrop and The Open Voice Factory (used to AzuleJoe).

 

Other apps that will support Tawasol Symbols with Arabic speech output include

  •  TouchChat AAC chat app for Apple iOS systems such as the iPad and iPhone
  • Proloquo offers apps such as Proloquo4Text 2.0 with Arabic voices.
  • Go Talk Now is a very flexible app that offers other symbol sets with the Acapela voices but also allows the import of personalised images.
  • Colourful Semantics in Arabic comes with lots of resources to build on sentence construction and story telling skills.
  • The Babnoor app  has been developed in Dubai to support those with Autism and provides an easy to use Arabic interface with its own symbols but others can be added along with local dialect voices.

We know there are more to come and hope to also see Tawasol symbols being used in other language such as Hindi on Jellow – also available in English.

Arabic Speech Corpus shared by Dr. Nawar Halabi

respond symbol with audioIf you have been using our Arabic symbols page you will have noticed that we have made every phoneme for our lexical entries available as a sound file, so that you can hear how it is pronounced. You can see the audio links at the bottom of the symbol for ‘respond’ in the picture beside this text.   This can help those who have literacy skills difficulties as well as those wish to learn Arabic.

Nawar, who has been part of our Tawasol Symbols project from the beginning at the same time as successfully completing  his PhD, has made this possible with the development of an Arabic Speech Corpus with support from the University of Southampton and MicrolinkPC.

The synthesised speech output that results from this corpse is a very natural sounding voice, recorded using Levantine Arabic, as heard in and around Damascus.  Levantine Arabic is considered one of the three main Arabic dialects and differs from Gulf Arabic in some aspects of grammar and pronunciation although when phonemes are read aloud, they are often nearer Modern Standard Arabic and when combined there is less dialectal impact.

The corpus has been made available for download as a zip file and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  As the Arabic Speech Corpus website says the packages includes:

  • 1813 .wav files containing spoken utterances.
  • 1813 .lab files containing text utterances.
  • 1813 .TextGrid files containing the phoneme labels with time stamps of the boundaries where these occur in the .wav files. These files can be opened using Praat software.
  • phonetic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Phoneme Sequence]” in every line.
  • orthographic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Orthographic Transcript]” in every line. Orthography is in Buckwalter Format which is friendlier where there is software that does not read Arabic script. It can be easily converted back to Arabic.
  • There is an extra 18 minutes of fully annotated corpus (separate from above, but with the same structure as above) which was used to evaluate the corpus (see PhD thesis). Feel free to use this in your applications.

Please contact Nawar Halabi by email for further information.

Question words – Why are they so hard to design?

question

question

We have been having another look at our question words and it is really hard to design ones that make sense in all contexts.  If you are working in a European language such as English you will be used to the concept of the ‘wh’ words and there is a particular order in which they tend to appear as mentioned by Mira Shah  “what,” “where,” “why,” “how,” “when,” then “which.” “Where” is earlier in English and “who” is earlier in Italian.”

ARASAAC offer a collection of symbols for them

what

what

where

where

why

why

how

how

when

when

 

which

which

But then one has to think about the context and it might be time or an action.  So should one add more clues or just have what + Time as a separate question mark with a clock face?

 

 

The general consensus amongst the symbol sets  seems to be that ‘what’ is just a question mark and the other question words come with a clue but that can be difficult when the word in Arabic is combined and there needs to be a difference in the gender…

what

what

what is your name (F)?

what is your name (F)?

what is your name?

what is your name (M)?

where

where

why

why (F)

What time is it?

What time is it?

 

It seems that we need to have many more question words that are linked to relevant settings but they can cause confusion, such as ‘when?’ and ‘what is the time?’ or ‘what time is it?’

 

when

when

There do not seem to be any articles on this subject and as different languages have very different ways of asking questions we will go on developing more symbols so there is lots of choice!

Any ideas for ‘which’?

 

how are you

how are you?

Tawasol Symbols celebrating International AAC month October 2016

clothingThis month we are celebrating International AAC month like many others around the world as can be seen from the ISAAC website

The Tawasol symbols team from Qatar ran a workshop for parents, therapists and people with Autism at the the Second National Autism Forum.  The team stressed the importance of using culturally and linguistically appropriate symbols. Demonstrations were given on how to use Tawasol symbols to support communication and build vocabulary in a fun and exciting way through Tawasol game cards. The team provided the audience with free Arabic symbol resources in Arabic and English. The attendees were very excited to see and receive something that they believed represented their culture and religion and appeared very keen to start using the Tawasol resources.

In the photographs below you can see the Tawasol symbols on the attendees tables.

people attending autism forum at tables

Nadine presenting about the symbols

In the picture above Nadine is presenting whilst Dr Amal and Tullah were taking photos at this stage in the day.  Everyone was given a pack of cards with Tawasol Symbols in Arabic and English, that can be downloaded from the resources page.

tawasol symbol cards

worksheets

laminated worksheets with symbols

 

Symbols for different settings across the world.

map of countries for Tawasol Symbols downloads

World map where Tawasol Symbols have been downloaded

There have been many debates about localisation and globalisation or internationalisation and the different requirements to support these ideas – W3C have provided definitions that fit the web and in many ways localisation can support concepts used on web pages namely customisation related to:

  1. “Numeric, date and time formats
  2. Use of currency
  3. Keyboard usage
  4. Collation and sorting
  5. Symbols, icons and colors
  6. Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas which, in a given culture, may be subject to misinterpretation or viewed as insensitive.
  7. Varying legal requirements
  8. and many more things.”

We have acted on many of the W3C ideas over the last two and half years and noticed that while we have been developing our symbols for an audience based mainly in the MIddle East many of those who have requested use of the symbols and downloads have come from as far afield as Sweden, Australia and India.   We know some of these symbols have been for refugee groups and camps and others have been for religious symbols.  Both these requests have led to an increase in the number of symbols we have produced in these areas and many have been seen on our Facebook pages.

facebook sample symbols

But we are not the only ones making symbols for a wider audience and it is interesting to know that there have been requests that Apple should introduce emojis with women wearing the hijab with a petition gaining over 2,295 signatures seven months ago and headline news from the BBC and many others.

Many refugee organisations have booklets and charts with images to help those who do not speak the language of the country to which they are going. An example is the ICOON project which has many charts for download as PDF files.  These images tend to be in monochrome but cover a wide range of topics.

icoon symbols

Example of ICOON refugee charts freely available to download in PDF

Tawasol symbols are also available for download with charts in both Arabic and English and we have included religious settings and have an interactive version as a demonstration to illustrate the symbols in action thanks to The Open Voice Factory. 

sample prayer symbols

Sample prayer symbols from the interactive online communication chart

Tawasol Symbols’ Graphic Designer’s experience of attending ISAAC 2016

Dana at the podium speaking

Dana Lawand at ISSAC 2016

We received positive feedback from conference attendees on the creation of culturally orientated symbols and the appeal of illustrating differences between male and female figures based on social settings and religious sensitivities.

 

Therapists showed interest in our approach as to how we were developing our symbols and it was exciting to learn more about AAC users who benefit from animated symbols.

thank you Many Arabic speaking individuals use expressive hand gestures and at present the Tawasol symbols show this in a static image such as ‘thank you’ with the palm of the right hand on the chest. However, the action of the palm of the right hand going to the chest with a bowing of the head can be a sign of respect or thanks. But as with all cultures these gestures require careful localisation and more participatory research. Nevertheless, adding animation to some of the present Tawasol symbols could make the use of the symbols more inclusive.

It was immensely encouraging to find a general sense that there is a need for Arabic culturally specific symbols globally, as well as for those countries in the Gulf where the project has been funded by the Qatar National Research Fund. This was highlighted by people from those countries who have been welcoming Syrian refugees and attendees from other Arabic nations around the world.

At the ISAAC Build meeting we realised that we need much more support from other Arab organisations and other countries with large Arabic speaking populations to bridge the gaps in our dialogue those supporting Arabic AAC users.

It would be good to collaborate with individual Arabic country representatives and speakers in the hope that we could make more of an impression at ISAAC 2018 which will be held on the Gold Coast in Australia!

Personally as a graphic designer I feel we need more research to:

• back up the development of type of design I have developed for Tawasol symbols to further prove that they are an efficient and speedy way for symbol communication, whilst also encouraging literacy skills.
• build on our findings about what is key to good symbol design for all ages of Arabic AAC users for example the use of particular colours, shapes and more about the look and feel as we consider animation.

As someone who had not worked with AAC users prior to my work on the Tawasol Symbols, an example of these ideas came from an experience I had with my bright lipstick as an eye catcher! I learnt about the impact of personalising symbols after meeting a four-year-old child who had been diagnosed with autism. He introduced me to the concept of being attracted by bright colours and how with our Symbol Creator (http://tawasolsymbols.org/en/create-symbols/) and the addition of different versions of symbols could perhaps enhance his chances of enjoying communication.

In conclusion I want to emphasise that we are not only creating freely available uniquely styled symbols (that we hope will be seen as an addition to other symbol sets), but that they are backed up by research from our AAC forum participants. I feel passionate about wanting to continue researching the subject to provide symbols that are supported by users’ real requirements as they strive to communicate their needs and wants.

think So in addition to our attention to cultural, religious, social and linguistic sensitivities we must keep thinking of new ideas and innovate to create the most efficient symbols that reach out to all our users.

Dana Lawand – Tawasol Symbols Granphic Designer

News from the ISAAC conference and recent work

ISAAC film festival posterThe ISAAC 2016 conference in Toronto has seen the launch of our film about Mohammed and his use of the Tawasol symbols for praying. The importance of personalisation and localisation of communication charts to suit user needs is illustrated.  The setting of the film takes you to Qatar and straight into a Doha home where one can see the difference listening to participants in this sort of a project can make.

Share and Believe, A Symbolic Journey

Mohammed using his Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) aid to express his feelings about the Tawasol symbols and what he has achieved. We would like to say thank you for his support and his family whilst we have been working to develop freely available symbols that can be used alongside any other symbol sets but take into account Gulf and other Arabic cultural, religious and social settings. The team have been working in collaboration with AAC users, families, teachers and professionals in Doha, Qatar and hope to offer many more symbols in the future that will also help those with literacy and language skill difficulties as well as for use in signage etc.

 

The team feel this has been one of the most important outcomes of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary – a freely available set of symbols that can work with any other symbol set to support Arabic AAC users, those with literacy skill difficulties and for use in the local environment.  We have worked hard with local participants to achieve a mix of Qatari and Arabic dress, religious culture and take into account social etiquette and sensitivities.  Much more has to be done and we are working hard to increase the vocabulary in the coming months.

At the conference we were lucky enough to have two papers accepted and here are the PowerPoints that went with the presentations. The ISAAC Conference program provides links to the abstracts
Core Vocabularies: Same or different for Bilingual Language Learning and Literacy Skill building with Symbols?

Developing an Arabic Symbol Dictionary for AAC users: Bridging the Cultural, Social and Linguistic Gap.

Finally in the last few weeks we have been working with CommuniKate and Joe Reddington to add all our symbols to two general communication charts in English and Arabic which can be personalised as the charts are built using PowerPoint slides.  The system has been developed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and we are very grateful for the support Joe and Kate have given us with the project.

The English test sample chart is available and is best seen using the Firefox browser, but here is a screen grab of the Arabic version that is still being worked on as we want it to work with text to speech in the same way as the English version.  When you select a symbol the word appears in the window and the text to speech reads it out. At present the English version is using eSpeak but we need to find a good Arabic voice and the correct sentence construction with the appropriate character word changes as the symbols are selected.

Arabic Communication chart

Making Choices – Celebrating Eid – going to conferences

chooseI’m writing this whilst many of our Muslim colleagues and friends are celebrating Eid and have gone on holiday or have chosen to celebrate at home. Meanwhile hear in the UK we have had some interesting times with a referendum and making choices about staying or leaving the European market. The idea of choosing how to celebrate, how to vote and how to communicate feelings is not always easy for those who use AAC with symbols and is something we have been trying to help by offering a wide range of options with our symbols. We keep saying these symbols are to be used in conjunction with other symbol systems so that learnt small words such as prepositions, conjunctions remain as they always have.

Much of the discussions we’ve been having as a team in recent months has been about the decisions we need to make when prioritising the types of symbols we develop in the last few months of our project. We do not want it to stop in November and need to find a way of maintaining what we have already developed whilst creating a framework for new symbols to continuously appear.

For the ICCHP conference next week we have developed a poster that shows how we have been building a vocabulary list as well as all the symbols. We hope the criteria we have been using can be taken on by anybody who wishes to help us in the future. You’ll see that the most important things we have been thinking about when it comes to the localisation of symbols includes:

  • Being aware that individuals portrayed in symbols should be suitably dressed, having options for male and female.
  • Colour matters just as facial hair and hairstyles impact on the look and feel of symbols
  • Care with social nuances between people and the amount of bare skin on display.
  • Symbols need to have the appropriate orientation to match culture, religion and how they are seen in text – think reading/writing right to left or left to right.
  • An awareness of use of different parts of speech in multilingual situations such as dual plurals, gender and use of nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs and adjectives etc. plus accents or diacritics for text to speech output.
  • Thinking about the environment – local currency, places and not too much greenery if it’s inappropriate.
  • Considerations relating to culture and religion especially the provision of special holidays, prayers, customs, local landmarks and food.

All these ideas have been condensed into the poster you see below.

At ISAAC you’ll also see a video that has been made with Mohammed talking about the way he appreciated using the Tawasol symbols and members of the team will be presenting. We will make sure the slides are available and the video goes on to YouTube after August 13th, when the conference is over.

Have a very happy holiday and hopefully we will have a chance to meet some of you at the conferences.

happy face (female)happy face (male}

The outcome of a summer of voting on further batches of symbols

In June 2016 Tawasol concluded its second to last voting session for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary Project. 24 therapists voted on 60 symbols from 3 organisations; AWSAJ Academy, Hamad Medical Corporation Speech Therapy department and The Hamad Child Development Centre. Although traditionally 40-60 voters participate from a wide range of organisations and
AAC contexts, it was difficult to facilitate similar numbers to previous occasions because the school year end was coming to a close for 3 months of summer vacation.

Unfortunately, with a technical hitch,  all voting took place on paper rather than our usual online voting. This, we believe skewed our data as on the online symbol manager you are not able to submit a comment unless you enter numeric ratings for the criteria. Although the significance of completing numeric ratings on paper was explained to voters, 101 symbols had comments but no numeric data. The team discussed this and decided that the best way to proceed would be to review the comments and if there was an element of negativity in the comment, it would be given a score of 2 out of 5 and if it was a positive comment it would be given a 4 out of 5. The results for the 4 sets of criteria over 4 batches of symbols are as below:

Voting criteria averages batches 1-4

We believe it is because of this change in voting settings that the ratings related to ‘feelings about the symbol’ and ‘represents word/phrase’ were not as favourable as in previous voting sessions.    We also believe that the recent concepts (for which we are developing symbols), are becoming more and more abstract and more difficult to depict. A commonly repeated statement throughout the voting sessions was “I don’t think of this word when I see this symbol but it’s a hard concept to convey and I can’t come up with a better way to visually depict it.” It was pleasing to see the colour/contrast and cultural sensitivity ratings and comments improve.

However, there were advantages of not using the technology in that we received more in depth comments and participants appeared to be willing to be more critical which was immensely helpful.

Summary of the comments provided from the voting sessions.

Zoom In!

For a number of symbols the voters requested that we zoom in on the essential parts of the symbol to emphasise the facial expressions, essential details and focus the user on the intended meaning. They communicated that a whole body depiction wasn’t needed in symbols like thirsty and quiet and preferred that just the head and neck were showing or in the case of “tummy” that only the chest down be shown.

quietthirsty

Oops! Didn’t think of that!

Voters in batch 4 really helped us to focus on the details in symbols, as this can make a big a difference to first impressions and comprehension. For example for the concept “easy” the thinking bubble actually had an equation that wasn’t necessarily “easy”. They all said stick to 1+1=2. Also, in the symbol for nanny, the character is wearing an apron which they said can be confused with a maid. In Qatar, a nanny looks after the children while the maid carries out house duties.

easynanny

Swap it!

It was interesting to hear voters say “this symbol would be perfect for your other word just change x”. For example they suggested we use the symbol for “contribute” for “teacher” but just add an arrow to the teacher. This was also the case for “something” where voters suggested this could be the symbol for “choose” just with the finger making direct contact with one of the objects.

contribute, something, teacher and choose symbols

contribute symbol above teacher and something above the choose symbol going from top left.

That’s not the word…

Voters picked out a few words in Arabic which they believed were not accurate. For example “canteen” transliterated in Arabic to “cafeteria” was not acceptable and suggested the word “مقصف”. This was also the case for “dictionary” in Arabic where it was suggested that the term we had used “قاموس” was specifically a dictionary for translated terms where as a dictionary with words and their meanings should be referred to as a “معجم”.

Compare the pair.

For some difficult concepts voters suggested that it would be easier to grasp the concept if there was a comparison within the same symbol. For example; fast and slow were a bit difficult to understand as standalone symbols but when put together into one symbol and fading the unintended concept, it became clearer. They also requested this for “organised” i.e. to have a “messy” office side by side with an “organised office otherwise the symbol could be interpreted as “office”.

slow

organised

 

 

 

 

 

How rude!

Despite the rise in positive cultural suitability ratings,  a few cultural issues are still being raised. The symbol for “come” using the index finger is seen as rude, belittling and disrespectful in the Arab culture. Although they all agreed it was very clear that it was “come” they didn’t think it was appropriate. Some voters also were unhappy with the boy uncovering his stomach for the “tummy” symbol and preferred that his stomach be covered and to indicate stomach with an arrow.

come

 

 

 

 

 

Put it into context.

Voters reminded us of the importance of including context in symbols. For example the symbol for “active”, they suggested that they need to be in a park and for “teacher” although she did look like a teacher they thought it was essential to put her in a classroom.

active

teacher

 

 

 

 

 

Is this symbol really needed?

Some voters questioned how essential some of the symbols were and whether they were really needed e.g. manufacture and emotional faces.

manufacture

emotional faces

 

 

 

 

 

It was very insightful once again to hear the perspectives of those working with AAC users. All their comments have been passed onto the graphic designer and changes will be made to the symbols discussed.

During our voting session at AWSAJ Academy, we provided participants with resource packs that included a variety of communication scenarios made with our symbols. This included bathroom routines, prayer position sequences, fire drill execution charts, fill in the gaps worksheets, what I did on the weekend worksheets, The life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) symbol book with corresponding worksheets, basic requirements communication boards, refugee communication boards, I want charts and many more. You can download all the resources from the Tawasol symbols website.

We also gave every teacher and therapist evaluation forms to see whether the symbols were meeting their needs.  In the coming weeks we will update you on the results of the symbol evaluations.

Report by Amatullah Kadous

Tawasol celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day with some new resources.

GAAD

Thanks to Global Accessibility Awareness Day

As a way of celebrating the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) we are putting up some early examples of the sort of resources we want to share with you in the coming months. Global Accessibility Awareness Day is one to celebrate as many people around the world raise awareness about the difficulties some people have being able to use digital technologies if we do not take care to make them easy to use.   Companies and organisations as well as individuals have been tweeting about the day as well as providing links to workshops, webinars and other resources all for free.

 

The Tawasol symbol resources are also free to share under a Creative Commons licence and you can download them from the Tawasol symbol website.   You will need to log in if you have not visited our website in the past but that is just so that we can see whether the resources we are developing are being downloaded – no personal data is collected unless you want to get in touch with us.

You may see some ARASAAC symbols included in our resources, as we do not intend to make a completely new set of symbols, but to complement others already in existence.

Please do suggest some AAC symbol resources you would like to see and hopefully we can help you by making them both in English and in Arabic.

symbol dictionaryWe have added our initial vocabulary list so that you can see both languages and the parts of speech that we have used as the lexical concepts.

If you are not happy with any of the words used as labels when you go to download our symbols, any label can be changed or additional labels added to suit Your needs by using the Symbol Creator app. Other changes can also be made to the symbols and the new symbol with its label can be downloaded in several different formats.