Author Archives: E.A. Draffan

Techcess introduce SCORE (UK) working with Core vocabularies.

basic vocab charts An event held at The Barnsley Hospital Education Centre was an interesting morning concerning the translation of a core vocabulary system developed by Professor Jens Boenisch and his team from the University of Cologne.  The use of core vocabularies on a series of personalised communication charts have been translated into English from the German originals and can be provided in a folder that offers a way of encouraging the growth of language and literacy skills. Some members of the Tawasol symbols team were lucky enough to meet Professor Boenisch in 2016 when they discussed the possible translation of the system into Arabic. The visit was reported in our blog with an image of the original communication folder

Low tech to high techTechcess with Bart Noe (Jabbla) have developed a way of working with these charts on speech generating devices that speed access to symbols and therefore the creation of phrases and sentences that are read aloud with speech synthesis.  The SCORE system has been built to work with Mind Express on Windows tablet AAC systems and with the present configuration users can choose to use Symbol Stix, PCS or Widgit Symbols. MindExpress is available as a demo for 60 days and SCORE will be available for 30 days.  The system is being sold for £228 as a folder and £220 as a vocabulary that works with MindExpress.

You may have noticed that colour coding has been used with the symbols.  In this case the a modified version of the Fitzgerald key colour system has been used to encourage correct sentence structure.

“Modified Fitzgerald Key

Blue: Adjectives
Green: Verbs
Yellow: Pronouns
Orange: Nouns
White: Conjunctions
Pink: Prepositions, social words
Purple: Questions
Brown: Adverbs
Red: Important function words, negation, emergency words
Grey: Determiners ” Praactical AAC . Another example of the code is shown below.

Fitzgerald colour key

The SCORE symbol layout system illustrates how important it is to aim for the smallest number of keystrokes that can be achieved to select a required word.  So high frequency words can be reached with one stroke, most are two strokes away and fringe words should not be more than four key strokes away.  When working in different languages (for bilingual situations) it is important to not only have the core words within easy reach, but to also be aware of word placement within phrases and sentences with correct use of grammar.  This means that charts may have parts of speech appearing in different places depending on the language being used.

The SCORE vocabulary allows for the use of natural language, with a full range of correct grammar,  to create sentences with both symbols and alphabetical options so suits both children and adults.  Users can adapt charts with additional symbols and layouts, but it is important to maintain consistent word/symbol positioning for individual languages, so that predictable motor patterns can be developed to aid automaticity and speed communication.

 

 

New York and the UNICEF AAC Cohort

David Banes and I were lucky enough to meet up with an exciting group of start-up companies in the world of open source AAC. The UNICEF AAC Cohort is made up of CIREHA (Argentina), Daokudai (China) and Ninaad Digital Technology (India) led by the UNICEF Innovation team based in New York.  We met up at 101 Park Avenue for three days of intense workshops and one on one meetings.  It was an exciting agenda with topics ranging from open source application development by Atul Varma to localisation, developing personas, business plans and budgets.  Gabriella Levine provided a thought provoking risk analysis guide with some very helpful advice relevant to both open source hardware and software development.

The slides below about Open Source Development have been copied into Slidewiki from Atul’s github pages. 

Associate Professor Ayesha Butt from University of Riphah in Islamabad has also let us show her slides.  She highlighted the importance of localisation, making systems that work for the individual in their own settings with symbols that support cultural needs and suitable social settings.

Mercy Kirui, Matthew Utterback and Will Clurman from Ekitabu, Kenya were also in attendance as they were sharing what they had learnt in the set up period of their UNICEF supported open source, cross-platform e-reading system for those with print disabilities, such as visual impairment.  Their company provides access to ebooks that offer an accessibility provision in schools and described how they dealt with data collection, marketing and their business model.  They also mentioned their successful digital essay competitions and events such as book fairs and have now set up a Digital Literacy Trust

Each AAC company gave us a final summary of their plans for the future based on all the ideas that had been shared over the three days.

communication boardCIREHA showed us the early version of cBoard that uses  Mulberry Symbols and offers support for those with complex communication needs.  It is an open source online and offline dynamic symbol board system with text to speech, that aims to offer a flexible approach to the creation of communication boards so that it can be personalised to suit both children and adults.  An early online version of cBoard can be be used as a demonstration of what is to come. Many ideas were discussed about the use of OpenBoard format that we have also used to produce communication charts along with the adoption of other Creative Commons symbol sets!

Yuudee sample symbol chartDaokudai (China) are developing Yuudee2, an application designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or with language disorders.  They have an interesting use of animated symbols working with speech recognition to improve speech and language in social situations. Earlier versions of the app are available as Yuudee on Google Play

Jellow symbols Ninaad Digital Technology (India) have been developing Jellow that aims to support children with speech and language difficulties.  The symbols have been designed with the particular needs of the local community in mind and but are provided under a Creative Commons licence for sharing with a wider audience.  They are also used in communication charts, booklets and as an app available in Hindi and UK/USA English from Google Play There were interesting discussions about data collection and Ninaad showed the power of analysing the data they have received as a result of sessions using their app.   It was possible to not only see how long the app had been used but also which areas attracted most attention.

We really are looking forward to supporting the development of cBoard, Yuudee2 and Jellow as open source projects in the future.  It will be exciting to see if we can can integrate their languages with translations and symbol sets with others that are available with Creative Commons licences.  This would allow many more AAC users to benefit from the UNICEF Innovation funded AAC Cohort’s work.  You can tell it was an inspiring week away from the day to day job!

Happy New Year and welcome to our new logo and name

Global Symbols logoAs we start the new year and wish you all the best for 2018, the team behind the research and development of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary have updated their website and renamed it globalsymbols.com.

We want to continue to support communities to develop and host new symbol sets for a range of languages supporting communication and literacy for those with special needs and we hope you will join us on this journey.

Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology Center will be maintaining Tawasol symbols (keeping the original name on their servers).  However, the original Arabic symbol dictionary remains on our secure server with your data and passwords allowing you to have access to all the freely available resources and those we develop in the future alongside links to other similarly licensed materials namely Creative Commons Share Alike Licence (cc-by-40).

This blog will continue to be our way of sharing the research aspect of the international symbol dictionary development, as we explore new ideas.

friendsWatch this space as we start to work with colleagues in Pakistan thanks to a travel grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund

Payment for the flights and accommodation will allow a member of the team to visit Lahore and Islamabad.  It is hoped that we can find ways of applying for funding to adapt and add to the symbol dictionary to reflect local linguistic concepts and culture with AAC users, families, carers and experts in the region using the online voting systems to develop resources that suit local requirements.  It will also be great to have  feedback through Facebook as we have  done in the past.

 

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 (https://globalsymbols.com/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