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).
This 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.
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.
A few SLPs from Israel approached us seeking advice about resources and access to our symbols as 20% of the population is Arabic speaking. A team from Germany and a team from Sweden were very interested in using our symbols with refugees and the German team were interested in collaborating with us on a project that focused on a German/Arabic symbol dictionary.
Many attendees also found our second presentation very insightful as Dana and I discussed the criteria we used to adapt the symbols to be culturally appropriate. Several commented that they found the Arabic cultural and social norms as well as environmental considerations very different when compared to their personal experiences and were grateful for opening their eyes to things that would have never occurred to them as being offensive or unsuitable.
One of the highlights of this trip was the screening of our film at the ISAAC Film Festival which can now be seen on the Arabic and English home pages of the Tawasol Symbol website. Our film shared the story of Mohammed, an eye gaze user for whom we developed prayer symbols so that he could actively participate in prayer with his family. It was screened alongside approximately 10 other films from around the world and provided such a unique insight into the mix of films presented. Many people approached me after the screening and congratulated the Tawasol team on our “amazing work”, a “wonderful film” and a few took our details as they could see how the prayer symbols could benefit some of their clients.
For the rest of the week, Dana and I went to sessions with a focus on core vocabularies and where possible in bi-lingual situations. It seemed that the issue of core vocabularies in other languages being quite different to English was a global linguistic challenge; whether it was Spanish, Maltese, Hebrew or German.
We visited the exhibition and saw some great new products and services. At the Boardmaker/TobiiDynavox stand we were shown some of their new apps including SnapScene and Pathways for Snap Scene. In these apps you are able to take pictures, add voice recordings, circle and highlight objects in images as well as label them. Pathways then gives you tips and tools on how to make these pictures an opportunity for communication, social interaction and learning. We also visited VocalID who customise your speech generated device to sound just like you. We topped off our ISAAC 2016 experience by attending the BUILD meeting whose members hope to bring together people working in AAC in developing countries. It was lovely to see/hear the work being done in South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore, Africa and Eastern European countries. It really made us think about creating an ISAAC Arabia or at least get the conversation going as to how we are collectively advancing the status of AAC users in the Arab region.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
I’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.
Communication Matters held a very interesting day on ‘AAC, Literacy and Complex Needs’ with Jane Farrall and Sally Clendon leading the day. There were detailed handouts to keep us on track and similar slides have been put on slideshare when the two speech therapists presented on the subject at the ICCHP conference in 2014
Here are some notes that I made that are relevant to a bilingual Arabic / English situation as many of the specifics during the day were related just to the English language.
Looking at Literacy in the round
Giving AAC users a reason to learn to read and write by always:
Reading to and with children constantly providing examples of text structures
Sharing reading experiences that are relevant to their daily life and can be part of an ongoing dialogue
Making sure the reading exercise has a function, needs thinking about beyond the pictures/symbols
introducing ways of using text as part of daily life, such as sharing ‘to do’ lists, shopping lists etc so AAC users experience the concept of text in action not just as a passive exercise.
Introducing small flip charts or core boards that have symbols that can be used to indicate understanding of a page of text when it has been read so that there is engagement. Their use can be reduced as text is understood and letters then words are used on the small flip charts.
Repetition and time is key. The charts can help with the increase of vocabulary and become part of daily communication charts.
Technology including the use of iPads, Clicker, Boardmaker and eventually CoWriter were discussed. Interactive ebooks and large picture books. Big Macks and Step by Step can provide repeated lines with speech and recorded comments for the AAC user. Jane Farrell has collected many English resources. The Tawasol team will be making some examples in Arabic.
Several terms used throughout the day will be recognised by speech and language therapists such as
Modelling where those communicating with an AAC user constantly use a symbol / text system such as PODD and ADL plus choice charts to interact in the conversation.
Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Displays (PODD) are communication books/devices that have organised sets of symbols/words to encourage modelling and communication in every situation. The charts/boards are made up of symbols representing both core and fringe vocabularies to suit individual users and tend to have a full range of vocabulary to encourage exploration in new communication situations. To gain increased repetition of vocabulary
Aided Language Displays (ADL) are used with frequently needed symbols/words and choice or topic charts are used with specific tasks such as reading a book with some core vocabulary but also words specific to the story. Jane Farrall stresses that these small vocabulary boards should only be used in conjunction with the wider vocabulary – core /PODD symbol sets to encourage increased communication
“Instead of making a morning circle page, we should teach the students to go to chat or social vocabulary to say hello and then onto people to use someone’s name. We should teach them to go to the weather section of their system to tell us about the weather and then onto descriptions to make a comment about it. And we should demonstrate using these skills whenever we greet people or comment about the weather throughout the day – and not just in morning circle and definitely not just at school. This is how we get overall communication development, including language and vocabulary development.” (Jane Farrall, Oct 2015)
Crowd in the Car poster by Corinne Watson available for download
Integrating the AAC user’s communication system within the reading situation so that, for instance a topic can be related to the reading or particular activities are relevant to the words being learnt. For example take a chart showing fruit – when fruit is mentioned discuss their favourite type – modelling and chatting about it with the expectation of an interactive experience.
The day continued with the introduction of letters, phonological awareness to phoneme-focused interventions, words and so on and finally into writing. There were examples of comparing letter sounds and blending, onset and rime etc.
The use of Word Walls with high frequency words and key word patterns. Those words often used in the environment and finally words that are often mispelt when moving into writing. Design portable word walls over three sheets of A4 and laminated. You can use Velcro with individual letters, words or sounds or symbols. Simple A4 Portable word wall template download
Binger, C. & Light, J. (2007) The effect of aided AAC modeling on the expression of multi-symbol messages by preschoolers who use AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23, (1) 30 – 43.
Bruno, J. & Trembath, D. (2006) Use of aided language stimulation to improve syntactic performance during a weeklong intervention program. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22(4).
Cafiero, J. (2001) The Effect of an Augmentative Communication Intervention on the Communication, Behavior, and Academic Program of an Adolescent with Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Vol. 16, No. 3, 179-189.
Drager, K, Postal, V, Carrolus, L, Gagliano, C & Glynn, J. (2006) The Effect of Aided Language Modeling on Symbol Comprehension and Production in 2 Preschoolers With Autism. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15; 112-125.
Harris, M. & Reichle, J. (2004) The Impact of Aided Language Stimulation on Symbol Comprehension and Production in Children With Moderate Cognitive Disabilities. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology Vol.13 155-167.
Porter, G. (2007) Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) communication books: Direct access templates. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.
Porter, G. (2008) Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display (PODD) communication books: Direct access templates. US Letter paper version. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.
Porter, G. (2009) Advanced PODD Workshop. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.
Roman-Lantzy, C. (2007) Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. New York: AFB Press. American Foundation for the Blind.
But one of the most searching questions posed by Katerina Mavrou from Cyprus was how we would be maintaining the project once the funding had expired and we felt that this would be tough at the level it was being maintained at present and admitted as much when asked about new symbols and how these would be achieved – Would crowdsourcing work? They are all available under a creative commons licence and are free for all to use.
The following week on the 13th -15th September, a poster was presented a Communication Matters which will be followed up by an article in their journal. During the two days there was a chance to meet those working with companies and therapists with an interest in symbols relating to the use of the Arabic language and its culture.
David Banes was then involved in a DRT4ALL forum discussion in Madrid about the global trends in technology and accessibility where he discussed the use of the symbols being developed.
E.A also escaped to Spain to meet up with the ARASAAC team in Zaragoza where they were kind enough to spend time discussing aspects of their symbol creation and in particular very interesting booklets for museums, libraries and other materials. It was wonderful being able to finally really discuss the collaboration and the way we are licensing our symbols.
Closing the Gap will beheld late in October And a member of the Mada team has been provided with leaflets about Tawasol symbols for those interested in AAC so that a month into the launch of the website USA is the next continent on the list to receive news about the project
Later in October the ASSETS 2015 conference will be held in Lisbon and a poster about the voting and online symbol management system was presented. Meanwhile David is once again attending a forum Meeting, This time with UN DESA/DSPD (Disability and development – Disability Inclusion and Accessible Urban Development) linking up with Nairobi Kenya. We could say this is the fourth continent In two months!
The AAATE and ASSETS papers are available from the publishes and will be added to eprints once they are available.
November brings the WISE Summit in Doha with the workshop and then there is preparation for 2016 and Arab Health in Dubai, Possibly a ATIA in USA, The Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference 2016 (ARC’16), Innovation Arabia 9 and ICCHP 2016 in Austria and ICCHP 2016 in Canada before Communication Matters once again if all goes well.
TechShare Middle East taking place in Doha as this blog is being written has given the Arabic Symbol Dictionary team the chance to not only disseminate a year of initial research outcomes but to also collaborate with attendees and those who have become participants in the AAC forum. The keynote speech given by Kevin Carey was in the Gulf Times the following day.
Kevin Carey – keynote – Gulf Times 5th November 2014
The slides for the initial presentation given by Nadine Zeinoun from the Mada Center and Amatullah Kadous from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) are available on SlideShare as a download .
A short Literacy skills survey + Arabic (MS Word download) given out during the workshop resulted in a discussions about the issues of teaching literacy skills in Arabic. We received a wide range of comments from personal descriptions of how a mother had taught her children to read using multi-sensory techniques to expert advice related to the use of symbols with students who have Autism and those who learn in a purely visual manner compared to the phonemic segmentation used by many teachers in the UK. The comments were noted at the time and, along with the questionnaire results will provide invaluable data for the way we offer the lexical entries in the dictionary.
We were able to gather people’s impressions of some of the new symbols Dana – our graphic designer had developed in the last week for prayer times and family members. We used the research carried out by Evans et al presented at ICCHP in 2006, as guidance for the way we presented the symbols. Comments ranged from the type of drawings being made to the colour contrast levels and significance of different Arabic cultures with nearly all participants wishing to have a system to go with the dictionary that would allow for the personalisation of symbols to suit each user. There is definitely going to be a problem about managing expectations!
Finally and rather quietly, the new logo for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary was rolled out on our poster presented at TechShareME and on the slides – here it is in case you did not notice it on the presentation above! Thank you Dana who has recently joined the team.
Tawasol – communication
Evans, D. G., Bowick, L., Johnson, M., & Blenkhorn, P. (2006). Using iconicity to evaluate symbol use. In Computers Helping People with Special Needs (pp. 874-881). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
In Qatar, Nadine joined the research team with Mada as a speech and language therapist whilst also supporting AAC users at the Shafallah Center and Dana has come on board as a graphic designer just when we need to be thinking about logos, leaflets, updated posters and beginning the task of adapting or adding to the symbol set we wish to use. The ARASAAC team have kindly agreed to collaborate with us on the task of using their creative commons licensed symbols where appropriate for the dictionary. This was discussed as a result of the voting that took place in June and July.
During August and September Nadine and Tullah have been researching the issues around gathering core vocabularies in Arabic that are suitable for AAC users as well as considering the concerns around the enhancement of literacy skills which are challenged by the diglossic nature of Arabic. Levin et al (2008) mention the fact that “research has shown that the linguistic distance between Standard Arabic, the language of print, and spoken Arabic vernacular, the oral language of children challenges the acquisition of reading in Arabic (Abu-Rabia, 2000; Saiegh-Haddad, 2003a, 2004, 2005, 2007a).” It appears to affect all aspects including “lexicon, syntax, morphology and phonology”. It is felt that by offering sound patterns of lexical entries (with the use of recorded and synthesised text to speech) this could support carers and teachers of speech impaired individuals when working on literacy skill acquisition.
So discussions have continued around phonemic segmentation and how this will be represented in the dictionary for both Arabic and English with the result of changes being made to the symbol manager system. It appears that in Arabic the phonemic segmentation can be generated almost automatically with the help of some clever computer coding as long as the diacritics are in place – that is according to Nawar!
Levin et al have cited several researchers in their comment that the sub-syllabic level (Consonant Vowel level (CV)) in Arabic phonemic segmentation is more easily learnt compared to any other way of encouraging phonemic awareness. A study with bilingual children by i Saiegh-Haddad & Geva (2008) showed that being able to sound out parts of words when learning to read was equally important in Arabic as in English. However, when it comes to deciding which section in a word forms a phonemic segment there is a rather more torturous route for English words which will require manual entry for consonant blends and digraphs etc. Spaces between the segments will be used when adding words to the Symbol Manager.
As a result of the changes made to the system the team at Southampton university have been beta testing the latest version. Early trials have been completed and the system is ready for the addition of new lexical entries with definitions, sentences for context, categorise for browsing and searching, parts of speech and the extra field for phonemic segmentation. New symbols can be added with categories such as monochrome, colour and gender. All items will be distinguished by their language English, Modern Standard Arabic and Qatari. The latest version is faster and accesssible using mouse, keyboard only or touch screen. Nawar has worked hard to make it as flexible as possible and it is now ready for further testing using a simple check list – download MS Word doc Beta Testing Symbol Manager v1 . We have also used the SUS evaluation scale (Brooke, 1996). Taking an iterative approach with the participation of as many interested parties as possible we have setup up logins for the Symbol Manager System and will be reacting to any feedback we receive from those involved with the project.
Brooke, J. (1996). SUS: A “quick and dirty” usability scale. In P. W. Jordan, B. Thomas, B. A.
Weerdmeester, & A. L. McClelland (Eds.), Usability Evaluation in Industry. London: Taylor