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:
“Numeric, date and time formats
Use of currency
Collation and sorting
Symbols, icons and colors
Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas which, in a given culture, may be subject to misinterpretation or viewed as insensitive.
Varying legal requirements
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.
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.
Example of ICOON refugee charts freely available to download in PDF
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.
The Tawasol symbol website has been available for the last two months for beta testing. There are still many updates and fixes to be done but now the site has been submitted to Google and can be found by searching for Tawasol Symbols!
We have been keeping statistics and since October with us all working on the site there are some figures to share. 684 views with 38% coming from new visitors and 62% returning visitors. The visitors come from the following countries:
There have been 21 downloads of symbol files from the home page, with more downloads occurring in Arabic compared to English. Many of these will have been test situations so 12 downloads came from UK, 7 from Qatar and 2 from USA:
% Total Events
We are still building the dictionary and the only entries seen on the Tawasol symbol website are those entries that have both Arabic and English lexical concepts. The Symbol Dictionary Management system has many more entries that still require work.
The individual words or phrases can be searched or browsed via category selections and depending on the language chosen once the symbols appear they can be selected to see more information and their links to other symbols of similar meaning or in the opposing language. So a search for ‘camel’ will bring up the English choice that then offers the choices in Arabic.
Search for ‘camel in English to see the selection offered
Select the camel that you want to see with further information relating to that lexical entry
You are now viewing the Arabic lexical entry with the available information if you are using the English side of the website
The Arabic side of the website provides the user with a similar view.
In the coming months there will be over 500 Arabic / English lexical entries (with their appropriate symbols) being the most commonly used words in both languages for AAC use and spoken and written language learning. These words and phrases will be a combination of lists collected from AAC users in both languages and those words collected by external researchers and published as the most frequently used words in both languages gathered from speakers and written works.
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.
The website development has begun as more symbols are being added to the database and over 120 have been accepted by participants voting via the symbol management system. These will be made available on the tawasolsymbols.org website when it is launched.
Sadly many of the web addresses linked to the use of the word ‘tawasol’ had been taken. The team voted on a collection of addresses that could be used and it was decided that we should also have a re-direct from arabicsymbols.org.
Then we collected the options for website designs provided by Dana, our graphic designer and added them to a Google form in order to have a voting session on which was considered the best option. See below…
The team decided that where possible in-house designed symbols should appear as guides to content. Pages should be simple and short and work well on portable devices.
The responsive design and accessibility criteria have led to some restrictions in particular to the width of presentation and the number of symbols that can be viewed at once. Two sites separate have been prepared with English and Arabic on offer via a WordPress content management system which means anyone with a login can update basic content.
Issues with downloading symbol files were detected early on in the trials with emails being received from beta testers pointing out the corruption of the Arabic labels. This was resolved when it was discovered that in Windows the process of zipping data caused the corruption to occur – this did not appear to happen on iOS or Mac systems. A .rar compression format is now offered as well and this has solved the problem.
In-house beta testing revealed other issues which were dealt with such as news not appearing and missed links etc at a very basic level. The second phase of development could now start with the introduction of an API (application program interface) to host the dictionary database and filtering system.
In recent weeks Nadine has begun to develop communication boards that are using the Arabic Symbol Dictionary customised symbols alongside ARASAAC symbols. This is all part of the ongoing development and evaluation process with participants in particular AAC users whose opinions we are seeking. Examples are provided below as a slide share presentation and soon therapists will be able to download the sample symbols developed under a creative commons license.
Introducing Mohammed, a 24 year old symbol user from Qatar who communicates using a Tobii eye gaze system. Mohammed has worked with a speech and language therapist to develop a personalised vocabulary that includes the use of localised and culturally sensitive symbols in particular those related to his religion.
Mohammed was finding it hard to take part in the daily prayers as a Muslim and felt isolated when other members of the family worked through the various actions and he had to sit quietly watching.
With the support of the Tawasol symbols Mohammed and his therapist worked through his exact requirements and were able to provide a way for him to take part in the prayers with his family that was both respectful and at one with that special part of the day.
When Mohammed was asked about his feelings concerning the new symbols he said:
“Now that I have my system and the graphics I can take a much fuller part in prayer, as each step of the prayer takes place I point my eyes at the symbol that represents that step. I sequence the images through my eyes as others sequence their movements. Its hard to explain how important this is to me, I know there are others who want to take part in prayer alongside their family and community. By working with people who understand, it can be a lot easier to do than you might expect.”
A further quote from the speech therapist indicates the way in which culturally and linguistically sensitive symbol systems can have a huge impact on AAC users.
“Building a system for communication is not just about the people communicating. Here in Qatar we share many daily experiences around our faith and culture, as therapists we are very good at helping people express their physical and emotional needs, but perhaps not so good at helping those that want to express their spiritual need, their belief and faith. it is so easy to ask the wrong questions, and hence never get those crucial answers if there is no common cultural experience.”
Maryam enjoying a weekend out
Finally Maryam has been able to tell her story using symbols that are much more relevant as would be explained at AAATE 2015 later in the year.
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.
At the outset of this Arabic Symbol Dictionary research there was a determination to ensure that the approach would be participatory in nature as mentioned in our blog dated December 13th, 2013 ‘A Participatory Approach to Research’. In that blog we outlined the type of participatory approach being taken where those supporting the project would be involved with all the planning and take part in the decision making.
To this end a voting system was set up to allow AAC experts, users and those supporting users to provide feedback about the two freely available symbol sets compared to the PCS or Widgit ones already in use.
Members of the Advisory Group had separately mentioned that they did not want to see the development of yet another set of symbols and this seemed to be an eminently sensible plan if we were to also keep to the request in the early days of the AAC Forum meetings that the dictionary should be available in English and Arabic as many of those working with AAC users and caring for them spoke better English than Arabic.
The voting system allowed users to login in with an email address to not only vote positively or negatively for a symbol but to also select a series of check boxes to say why they liked or did not like it when shown a lexicon entry on one side of the screen and a selection of symbols on the right. The symbols they voted on where only from ARASAAC and Sclera symbols in order to compare to the ones they already knew – PCS or Widgit.
The statements that were provided were positive or negative based on the initial vote so a positive up vote would result in the following phrases being presented:
The negative vote would result with the same check boxes but each phrase had the addition of the word ‘not’.
There were 562 symbols that could take a vote each with the check boxes and free text comment. 33 individuals took part from the various centres in Doha. The outcome was interesting as both sets of freely available symbol sets presented issues for those voting with a wide variation in additional comments besides those offered with the check boxes.
Both symbol sets had their compliments for clarity, meaningfulness and cultural sensitivity but when combined with the free textual comments it was the negative sentiments that were quite stark in their numbers. 777 check box comments were related to a lack of clarity in representing the word or multiword in English – the word lists used were based on those collected from English speaking therapists in Doha – the Arabic core vocabularies are to follow. 499 were related to the way the symbol was drawn, colour and contrast levels, 197 comments were checked as being culturally insensitive and 172 were not similar to PCS or Widgit. The ranking of this list follows the way voters wrote in the free text field. There were 130 additional comments about the meaning of the symbol and its representation of a word or phrase. There were comments about the way arrows and question marks represented actions or words, poor representations of important words such as ‘want’ with individuals varying in their views about text appearing in a speech bubble or near a symbol. Plurals also caused comments but it was the way the abstract items may be drawn that also caused concern. Overall there were 97 additional comments about the look of some symbols and some questioned how children would learn a shape or object. Distractable and busy drawings were described in 9 comments with facial expressions also being considered important.
Additional cultural issues were raised in 41 free text comments with ‘thumbs up and down’ being noted as an issue along with dress, female/male requirements, language and using the pointed finger plus the use of a ‘halo’ for being good. Colour is an item that will really need discussion especially for those with visual impairments. The 28 additional mentions were usually around contrast levels. There were only 8 additional points that seemed to be related to the image not suiting the environment such as “In Qatar a rainy day is a good day”! The use of text with symbols is also a debatable subject and some pictograms were just deemed to be totally unsuitable whether in English or Arabic.
Overall the ARASAAC symbols appeared to be the ones that were most similar to those already in use and the most acceptable as a collection for the symbol dictionary. A small video has been made to show how we can check the suitability of every image against future and previous votes to begin the process of making sure adaptations can be made to enhance the chances of the pictogram/symbol becoming more acceptable whilst adding the Arabic core vocabularies to the symbol manager.
Micrsoft Excel 2013 PowerView allows us to analyse entries that were made via the voting system. The latter was built using MongoDB and offers a flexible way of uploading images and lexicons with parts of speech, definitions and in the future phonemic segmentation for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary.
Thanks go to Russell Newman and Nawar Halabi from ECS University of Southampton, for their work on this part of the research project and also to Amatullah Kadous who has arranged all the voting parties to conclude this part of the research.