Category Archives: Meetings

An important visit to Cologne by team member Amatullah Kadous

autumn trees along a canal

On the 26th October Dr. Amal Ahmad, David Banes and I headed to Cologne to meet Professor Jens Boenisch and his team from the University of Cologne. I met Jens and his colleague Lena Schmidt at ISAAC 2016 in Toronto where they were presenting on “Teaching Core and Language in Bilingual Settings “. Jens attended one of our sessions and was so impressed by the work of Tawasol. He realized the potential for future collaboration as Germany welcomed many Arab refugees. He gave me his card and we stayed in touch. Some weeks later Jens emailed me to inform me that his team had received a huge grant to help Arabic refugees and invited me to Cologne along with some of my other colleagues to discuss the possibility of a collaboration.

We arrived to Cologne with a warm welcome from Lena who picked us up from the airport and took us to our hotel. The next day was the Cologne team’s presenting day where they presented to us all the amazing research work they had done, were doing and were planning on doing with the refugee project they had recently started. They presented to us about their major core vocabulary study they had been working on for over 5 years. They collected language samples from American and German school aged children as well as typically developing and cognitively impaired students (IQ<75). They sought to see if core vocabulary was the same across language and cognitive abilities. Their research showed that there were minor differences but more than 90% of core words were the same amongst all research groups. They also asked parents/teachers to identify the most commonly used POS that the cognitively impaired group use. They said nouns and verbs. Surprisingly, the percentages of POS used by the cognitively impaired group was very similar to the typically developing children (the highest being pronouns). This conveys that sometimes what we think our cognitively impaired children know can be very different to what they actually know and do. They showed us their cologne communication binders which are a wonderful resource based on 10 years of research into core vocabularies and so important in language learning.

Cologne Communication Boards and Binder

communication binder

The second day of our Cologne stay was Tawasol’s turn to present. We were keen on setting the scene with the first part – Arabic history, language and culture. I felt it was important to convey  this information as in order to be able to work with a group of people that are different to you, it is important to know who they are, the things that have shaped them and the things that are important to them. Only then can understanding be fostered and a bond of trust and rapport building be facilitated. I started with our proud moments in Arab history where the Arab world was the centre of the world in terms of education, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, military strategy and much more. I talked about the complexities of the Arabic language; the syntax – noun and verb root words and how pronouns attach to indicate tense, plural, gender, pronouns etc. and the differences between Arabic and English and how this affects symbol to text translation. I discussed the Arabic letter system and the complexities of having a diacritic system and its implications on young Arabic readers. I discussed the rich culture of the Arabs including the importance of family, food, marriage/pro-creation, the home land, religion and neighbours. I also spoke about Arabic social norms and how that may affect interactions within German society.

It was very insightful for the Cologne team and we agreed that there were many beautiful things that we could learn from each other. I then spoke about the work of Tawasol with a specific focus on the symbol designs and criteria we used in creating our symbols as well as our frequency lists.

We discussed the implications and how we could combine our work to help refugees learn the German language in a quick and effective way to help them integrate. In addition to helping Arabic AAC users learn German, but also explore a means of communication with their Arabic speaking parents. We are very thankful to the Cologne team for their exceptional hospitality and inviting us to help them help Arab refugees settle into their new homeland.

Stay posted for more updates on this collaboration…

What do symbol users think of our symbols?

voting AWSAJAs part of our project, it is essential that AAC users and persons with communication difficulties evaluate our symbols. This will ensure that the very people that will be using them can provide us with feedback and we can tailor the symbols to their needs. The team contacted the Speech Therapy team at AWSAJ Academy for students with special needs to see if we could do a voting session with some of their students. Dr. Biji Philips arranged for 11 students to vote individually, with 15 minute time slots to complete the task. 2 students; a Tobii user with Cerebral Palsy and another with severe Autism required 30-45 minutes.

The students were given 20 of our symbols to vote on and a voting AWSAJ2thumbs up and thumbs down symbol to communicate their like/dislike for the symbol. Some students preferred to use okay as an option as well. Based on the student’s capacity judged online, Nadine and I asked why they liked/disliked the symbols. Some of the older students were superb and gave us detailed feedback relating to the need for more detailed facial expressions, or adding context to the symbol rather than just characters. Others did not want to let us down and said they liked the majority of the symbols. Here are the results of the voting sessions:

 

  Good Ok Bad Comments
Hello (Assalumu alaikum) 11 1 –   Not clear, waving or speaking

–   Saying hi and smiling

–   He tells how are you

–   Goodbye

–   Nice because he’s wearing Thobe

–   Nice clothes

–   Clear

–   Goodbye

Rice & Chicken 12 –   Only chicken

–   Doesn’t look like our food

–   Chicken

Children 10 2 –   Not nice hair

–   Put them in uniform

–   Boys

Dance 12 –   Very nice

–   Sing

–   Nice because he’s dancing properly

–   Nice design

Eat 9 2 1 –   Looks angry

–   I don’t see plate or water; I like that he’s opening his mouth and has spoon

–   Eat with hands

–   Don’t wear Thobe when you eat

–   Holding pen

First 11 1 –   Won

–   Appropriate for Qatar

Friends 10 2 –   Uniform

–   Like because it has 2nd and 3rd

–   Clear

–   Thobe are same

–   It’s nice how they hold each other

–   All the shoes black color

–   Shoes different

–   They shouldn’t hold their hands, it’s a shame

House 12 –   White + door white/gray; It’s big

–   White + smaller

–   Two thumbs up

–   Like our house

–   Qatari houses are different

Hug 12 –   Change clothes color

–   The girl is hugging her mother

–   Mom cuz wearing Abaya

I 10 1 1 –   Needs arrow on top of  head

–   Picture matches meaning

–   Full body

–   Not clear

Mother 10 2 –   Add rainbow color + lighten colors to look more happy

–   Child holding hand + smiling

–   Put Abaya

–   Should be in Abaya. I know non-Muslims don’t wear it. Should wear Abaya wherever you go

–   Black Abaya

Pray 11 1 –   I like he’s praying

–   Like him praying

–   Put him in the house. You don’t pray in the middle of the road

–   Clear

Nursery 12 –   Kids are playing and smiling

–   Good

–   School

–   The colors are nice

–   Nice colors

Please 5 2 5 –   Add text

–   She’s saying please and child should be angry

–   Open hands

–   Tilt head

–   Telling secrets

–   Not clear, I can’t see the two hands

–   Talk

–   Greeting

Souq Waqif 10 2 –   Add a lot of people

–   It has Thobe and Abaya

–   Looks like the old days

–   Didn’t know

–   Change the buildings

Pray 7 5 –   Needs more colors + full mosque

–   Not clear

–   Put someone praying + purple sky

–   There’s a bird

–   Didn’t know

–   It’s a mosque, not clear, maybe add colors.

–   I prefer the other praying symbol

–   Add colors

Thank you 8 1 3 –   Hand  gesture is more I love you ; handshake

–   Hold and shake hands

–   I do this for thank you

–   No hand on chest

–   He’s saying the national anthem

–   I don’t use this gesture for thank you

–   Hands greeting

Travel 10 2 –   More sky + men with yellow clothes

–   Need stairs or bus

–   Terminal

–   Dad looks like brother

–   Add airport

You 10 2 –   They should look at each other

–   Context. Add playground

–   Clothes are so different and shoes are different

–   Didn’t know

–   Not clear

–   Come

Bye 9 1 2 –   Show side profile + say bye to someone else

–   Sad face for saying bye

voting AWSAJ 3

Overall it was a great voting session with some valuable feedback obtained. Speech therapists reinforced the need for such a project, giving the example of one student who “could not look at” a picture card used for inferencing emotions due to the image of the boys not covering their arms (picture to the left). Teachers also report that students felt empowered by giving their feedback as they have always been accustomed to receiving help but on this occasion they felt they were able to help others.

Dissemination across four continents!

In the last two months the project team have been out and about disseminating the latest information about the Arabic Symbol Dictionary across four continents!

But the beginning of September two members visited the AAATE 2015 conference In Budapest Hungary where they presented a paper on “A Participatory Research Approach to develop an Arabic Symbol Dictionary” (PDF booklet download)  and the impact this has had on the development of the symbols and lexical concepts. There was time for networking and meeting up with some very interesting contacts in particular companies who are already working on ideas that might support refugees from Syria and the Middle East In particular Tobii Dynavox who were producing a communication boards and wanted to see our symbols.

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.

Katerina Mavrou European University Cyprus

Nadine and E.A with wry smiles

 

 

 

 

 

interspeech2015Whilst this was going on Nawar Halabi was at The Sixth Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies. This was a satellite workshop of the Interspeech 2015 conference of the presentation was on the system developed to find an Arabic core vocabulary for the dictionary.  Generating acceptable Arabic Core Vocabularies and Symbols for AAC users (download .pdf)

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.

drt4allDavid 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.

ARASAAC meetingE.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

Arabic Symbol Dictionary posterLater 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.

Reflections on collecting an Arabic core vocabulary in Qatar

Over the past 2 months I have visited approximately 10 sites across Doha including special needs schools and centres, outpatient speech pathology services and clinics, and child development centres. I have met many wonderful teachers, therapists, support staff, parents, and AAC/symbol users. Throughout my visits, there have been some challenges, but mostly optimism and willingness from support staff to help our team develop the Arabic symbol dictionary.

Through my experiences I have had unprecedented insights into the challenges support staff, symbol users and parents face here in Qatar. The following are some of the things I have gathered from my interviews with support staff of symbol users.

The need for an Arabic and English symbol dictionary

Although this project aims to develop an Arabic symbol dictionary, through discussions with support staff of symbol users it has become apparent that the integration of English into the symbol dictionary is vital. This is due to a few reasons;

  • With the exception of 2-3 centres in Doha, the majority of therapy and education in Qatar occurs in English. As the majority of support staff come from abroad to work in Qatar, English is very widely used across Qatar.
  • People in Qatar are not exclusively Qatari with expatriates comprising 86% of Qatar’s population (Qatar Supreme Council of Health, 2012). Qatar showcases a myriad of cultures most of which, speak English. Therefore, an Arabic only symbol dictionary would only serve the needs of a fraction of symbol users in Qatar.
  • It is common in the Qatari lifestyle to have a maid and a driver. These workers usually come from the Philippines, Nepal or India and usually speak to the family they are working for in English.  The nanny usually spends a large amount of time with the child/children and communicates to them most commonly in English. Therefore even for Qatari children it is important that English symbol options are available.

Cultural appropriateness of the symbols

All the therapists I met with agreed that there is a need to make the current symbols used in Qatar culturally appropriate. This is also reinforced by the findings of Hock & Lafi in 2011 who state that ‘Icons or symbols used for AAC systems such as Blissymbols2 and Picture Communication Symbols3 (PCS) are designed to suit western culture and to be written from left-to-write and are therefore not suitable for Arab users’. Here are some examples I found on my visits which show how symbols used in Qatar lack cultural appropriateness.

At one centre, a class of approximately 20 students with a range of conditions including Autism, Down’s syndrome and cognitive impairments all love one specific activity organised by their teacher, a shopping trip. The support staff use the symbol of a coin as a reinforcer throughout the week for good behaviour (image below). At the end of the week the students go shopping at the store close to the centre and depending on how many coins they have accumulated determines how much they can buy from the store. There is only one problem. The symbol for money is ‘one pound’ where as here in Qatar we use Qatari Riyals. For children who already have cognitive challenges and communication difficulties, this can be a very confusing concept to grasp. As we know, children with Autism for example are known to be literal or ‘‘concrete’’ in their thinking (Mesibov, Adams, & Klinger, 1997 in Trembath, Balandin & Rossi, 2005). Due to the difference in perception, they require consistent teaching and consistent feedback from adults and other children to learn effectively.

pound2

Upon interviewing a clinical psychologist at a special needs school, she recounted her experiences working with a young Qatari boy. In an activity working on a social story of a boy who went to the park with his family she realised that her student was very confused. She reported that the story and symbols didn’t have a nanny in it and the nanny is the one who usually took him to the park. She also mentioned that through her experience, the family portrait type symbol for family could not reach out to all Qatari children because the family dynamics of the family here are quite different to that of a western family.

Most importantly, the family members in the symbol didn’t look like the normal Qatari family. Take for example the symbol for the mother who is portrayed as having blonde hair and wearing a t-shirt. Conversely, the Qatari mother would most likely be wearing an Abaya (black long dress-covering the whole body) with a hijab (head-scarf). As the research suggests; differences in the perception of symbols can result in “teaching unintended or incorrect meanings for symbols, responding differently to the use of these symbols…and this may have consequences for the child learning AAC, as competent use of AAC systems must be taught” (Trembath, Balandin & Rossi, 2005). This poses many challenges for symbol users in Qatar and support staff in trying to teach them symbols which lack cultural suitability.

Furthermore, numerous teachers communicated that for this dictionary to be effective and to be used widely, the symbols must accommodate for the diversity of the Qatari population. Alongside a symbol of a man wearing traditional Qatari clothes should be an American looking man as well as a Phillipino looking man. This should be the same as the symbol for rice, as there should be a symbol for Machboos rice for Qataris, Fried Rice for Philipinos and Biryani rice for Sub-continental people. In their experience it has caused many communication breakdowns as a Qatari child cannot relate to a fried rice symbol nor can a Philipino child relate to a Machboos symbol nor can any of them relate to a generic symbol for rice. This echoes the findings of Huer 2000 who states that those with different language and life experiences do not perceive graphic symbols in the same manner.

At another centre I visited they used both English and Arabic symbols depending on the needs of the child. They kindly showed me some of the Arabic symbol strips used (attached). The speech therapist had obtained the symbol strips using BoardMaker’s latest Arabic version of the PCS symbols. It was alarming to see how many inaccuracies were portrayed in the symbol strip without the support staff knowing. This is because they are not from Arabic speaking backgrounds and had no choice but to rely on the Arabic version of PCS. Some of the errors included;

  • Symbol strip ordered from left to right (English order) for an Arabic sentence
  • The words used were inaccurate and did not make sense. If the content of the strip was translated word by word it would be correct but in the context of the task, it made no sense e.g. ‘reach your arms to’ was translated in Arabic as ‘make your 2 hands arrive to’
  • Interchangeable use of tense within the same strip
  • Incorrect grammar – the verb ‘dry’ translated into Arabic as adjective for ‘dry’

toilet routine Arabic

It is for these reasons that our project has chosen to use a participatory research methodology as symbols should be selected and modified in consultation with consumers, families, and practitioners especially in situations where practitioners provide support to individuals with cultural/ethnic backgrounds different than their own (Huer, 2000).

Parent awareness

One teacher highlighted the need for our team to educate parents on how to use symbols at home. She recounted a few incidents with Arab and Qatari parents speaking to their child attending the centre in broken English. They believed it was the best for their child given their teachers, therapists, and nannies speak in English. The teacher was concerned that this further isolates the child from the rest of the family as the rest of the family mostly speaks Arabic. The child can’t interact with cousins and family friends and is seen as different because he/she is the only child that the family speaks to in English. This may make the child feel that he/she doesn’t ‘belong’ in the home environment.

Overall, my interviews were very insightful and many issues arose regarding issues with current symbols used for children in Qatar. It gave our team many interesting things to ponder about and many challenges to overcome. It is through these interviews that it was reinforced to me and our team the great need for the Arabic symbol dictionary here in Qatar and across the Arab world. Our team are very hopeful that through this project, symbol users in Qatar can have the opportunity and the liberty to communicate the way they need to in their given environment.

References

Hock, B. S. & Lafi , S., M. (2011). Assistive Communication Technologies for Augmentative Communication in Arab Countries: Research Issues. UNITAR e-Journal, 7(1), 57-66.

Huer, M. B. (2000). Examining perceptions of graphic symbols across cultures: Preliminary study of the impact of Culture/Ethnicity. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 16(3), 180-185.

Trembath, D., Balandin, S., & Rossi, C. (2005) Cross-cultural practice and autism. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 30(4), 240-242.

Supreme Council of Health, Qatar(2012). SCH Annual report 2012. Doha, Qatar. Retrieved from http://www.nhsq.info/app/media/540.

Voting to make symbol choices – update on progress

Over the last few months we have been deciding whether we could use a symbol set that best suited users and their carers as well as complementing what is already in place.  It was decided that it would be useful to have a series of sessions with experts looking at the issues.  The video below explains the stages we have reached and is going to be used at a series of meetings in Doha.

The Arabic Symbol Dictionary Progress transcript can be downloaded and below can be seen the PowerPoint that is used in the video and available on Slideshare.

Meeting in Doha – Forum and Team visits

From the 15th to 18th March Mike Wald and E.A. Draffan (from University of Southampton) visited the Mada Center for a series of meetings and discussions with the AAC forum.

This was an extremely interesting time where we learnt about some of the concerns around the use of the present symbol systems from members of the forum.  There were presentations and a small requirements survey was undertaken.  This is being followed up with further interviews by Amatullah Kadous.  Symbol Users Survey

Shafallah Center

Shafallah Center

 

Rumailah Hospital

Rumailah Hospital

We were able to visit that Shafallah Center and the Rumailah Hospital where we  met many speech and language therapists and found that the multilingual approach to AAC symbol use was going to be one of the most crucial elements of the proposed dictionary.

It became clear that there are distinct Qartari words for some objects as well as localized sayings, greetings etc that require symbol adaptations,  but that much of the Arabic used in schools is based on the Modern Standard Arabic.

We found that many of the symbols are having to be adapted for use, especially in the centers for disabled children. An example of the amount of adaptation carried out is illustrated by the use of a dedicated team of three people in the Shafallah Center and the many boxes of specially adapted symbols for use by the children. Examples of the types of adaptations being undertaken ranged from complete changes to the images to simple size changes for use as environmental signage, for PECS or individual communication books.  The majority of the symbols were used as images on small sized cards that were handled by the children, carers or the speech therapists.

Bespoke symbol sets will always be needed but it was clear that if a system could be developed that would allow for choices to be made between Arabic and English localized and culturally sensitive symbols this would be a tremendous help.

palm tree with symbols

Overall the requirements for the symbol dictionary could initially be described as:

  • Arabic and English symbol dictionary as many of the speech therapists, specialist teachers and assistants have English as their first language although users may be Arabic speakers.
  • Localised Qatari vocabulary as well as Modern Standard Arabic
  • A need to develop core and fringe vocabularies to complement user specific images, real objects, PCS and Widgit Symbols
  • The ability to adapt the symbols to suit individual preferences
  • Flexible symbol sizes suit PECS usage, communication books and signage
  • Allow for high contrast mode and colour to suit visually impaired users.
  • Individual words and multi-word phrases – to encourage language building and literacy skills

Meetings of team members allowed us to plan the year ahead, discuss with the development of the dictionary starting with a base coal vocabulary of around 400 words and making decisions about whether it was possible to use the ARASAAC symbol dictionary possibly alongside Sclera when compared to the widget and PCS symbols used at present.  It was decided that a comparison of these vocabularies needs to be undertaken as it is clear that they tackled the issues around symbol to word relationships differently and the preferences of the users and experts needs to be understood.  Constraints, pros and cons also need to be discussed and use of multi-word symbols.

 

symbol manager

symbol manager

Pre-project meeting

Baba_ganoush_and_pitaAn initial meeting between Aejaz Zahid (Head of Research & Development at Mada – Qatar Assistive Technology Center) and E.A. Draffan (from the University of Southampton) took place over lunch in London to explore the tasks that needed to be undertaken prior to an official meeting to take place at the AAATE Conference in Portugal between 19th-22nd September, 2013.

There was no Agenda as this was an introductory meeting.  Items discussed included:

  • Magnus and E.A. to set up WordPress blog as a record of meetings, minutes, progress during the lifetime of the project with a project calendar and possible wiki links etc.- Completed in draft format
  • Aejaz to explore how PCS Boardmaker symbol sets are being used in Qatar and link up with Dalal Kataari Head of Speech and Language Pathology department at Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs.
  • Aejaz will work on questions related to the symbols used by children and carers in Shafallah Centre 
  • E.A. to make initial Investigations into the type of core vocabulary needed for particular groups in English initially in order see how the vocabulary may link up with the Arabic dictionary.
  • E.A. to make contact with the ARASAAC developers in case they are attending AAATE in the hope of meeting up.
  • Nawar to send specification for work on a free open source Arabic TTS and dictionary. 
  • Investigate the need for both text with and without diacritics.