Category Archives: news

Global versus Universal?

voting hands around the worldWorking with UNICEF and the AAC Cohort is one of the most exciting things we have been doing recently.  We have had telemeetings with lots of discussions about opening the world of AAC symbols to the widest possible audience.  Topics have ranged from different open licences such as Creative Commons and open source software to what it takes to develop Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) symbols that can be used across the world and on to more complex ideas including Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and AAC!

You might ask why are we thinking about the meaning of words such as  ‘Global’  and ‘Universal’ whilst building a symbol repository.  We feel that global recognises different languages, cultures, religions and social settings and environments.   In part this is because we have promised ourselves that we will not be introducing yet another symbol set that includes symbols that are universally recognised.   We accept that there are many symbols that can be said to be universal because they are recognised worldwide, but we are looking at the nuances that occur in different countries and where localisation is important.

what time is it?

What time is it?

drink

drink

We discussed the idea of “Symbols for different settings across the world” when we were working on the Tawasol Symbols in 2016 and looked at some of the issues that W3C highlighted for web developers thinking about  localisation and globalisation or internationalisation. such as:

  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 discovered that No.8  ‘many more things’ included  the criteria below when working on the Tawasol Symbols and that these features came about as a result of our voting sessions with AAC users, their families, carers and the professionals working with them.  criteria for symbol design

Global Symbols aims to ensure that all the open symbols we add will have been reviewed by those using AAC and those involved in supporting AAC users in the locality where they have been developed, whilst also allowing for personalisation.

Watch this spot for all the changes we plan for the Global Symbols web site in the coming months! The first group of symbols will be coming from the UNICEF AAC cohort members – Jellow designed by those developing the app in India and cBoard, developed in Argentina and Israel, at present using the Mulberry Symbols from Straight Street that were voted on by users and AAC supporters in the UK over a period of several years.

Hihello

We will be updating this blog as we add symbols and please join us on Facebook to discuss the changes!  We will also be tweeting about updates

Thank you UNICEF for this very thought provoking, challenging and interesting partnership. 

 

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018

GAAD

We are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day  with many others around the world! Companies and organisations are offering accessibility advice and support alongside exciting new ideas that have been filling our twitter feeds and @gbla11yday

The Australian Network on Disability has started the day by providing a useful collection of videos, articles and resources all linked to making things easier to use by those with disabilities.

In the UK the BBC have a theme of Access All Areas 2018 with talks about Accessible Gaming, Deaf awareness in the workplace, Voice assistants and spoken interfaces to name just a few of the subjects from well known experts.  The Accessible Gaming is linked to the work of Microsoft and they have launched an AI for Accessibility theme saying:

accessibility“We have started to see the impact AI can have in accelerating accessible technology. Microsoft Translator is today empowering people who are deaf or hard of hearing with real-time captioning of conversations. Helpicto, an application that turns voice commands into images, is enabling children in France with autism to better understand situations and communicate with others. And, Seeing AI and auto alt-text features are helping narrate the world for people who are blind or low vision.” (Microsoft, May 7th, 2018)

Abilitynet have blogged about their GAAD news and all the events they are involved with over the day including a fast talking video on Web site accessibility that highlights the fact cost of ignoring the ‘purple pound’.  “Disabled people represent a massive untapped market for business with a collective spending power estimated at £249 billion.” (Independent Living)

Each week Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken, and Antonio Santos host a Twitterchat providing practical advice given by experts in the field of inclusion and digital accessibility. You can find them on https://twitter.com/AXSChat. Neil will be hosting a day of talks at ATOS with live streaming of the speakers

The Paciello Group has a series of YouTube videos that cover topics from the use of screen readers to ‘The Future of Work: How Emerging Workplace Trends are Affecting People with Disabilities’. These will be streamed online in USA Eastern time from 0800.

communicationThinking about Global Symbols there is something else to look forward to The “2018 AAC In the Cloud Conference Schedule” June 26, 2018. All sessions are broadcasted live, and will be available on YouTube afterwards. You can see a link to uploaded resources/slides/handouts on the conference home page. http://aacconference.com/schedule-3/

Watch out for Coughdrop and their range of free communication boards, symbols and online support.

 

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.

 

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

News from the ISAAC conference and recent work

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

Share and Believe, A Symbolic Journey

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Arabic Communication chart

Making Choices – Celebrating Eid – going to conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

happy face (female)happy face (male}

Tawasol symbol website goes live

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:

Country Sessions % Sessions
1.
United Kingdom
62

52.54%

2.
Qatar
31

26.27%

3.
United States
16

13.56%

4.
Saudi Arabia
4

3.39%

5.
Brazil
2

1.69%

6.
France
1

0.85%

7.
Ireland
1

0.85%

8.
Japan
1

0.85%

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:

Event Label Total Events % Total Events
1.
Arabic zip
12

57.14%

2.
Arabic rar
6

28.57%

3.
English zip
3

14.29%

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

Search for ‘camel in English to see the selection offered

camel with information

Select the camel that you want to see with further information relating to that lexical entry

camel with Arabic label

You are now viewing the Arabic lexical entry with the available information if you are using the English side of the website

Arabic version of 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.

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.

Tawasol Symbol Website Development

The website development has begun as more symbols are being added to the database and over 1vote on url20 have been accepted by participants voting via the symbol management system.  These will be made available on the globalsymbols.com 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…

webiste sampleIt turned out that Dana’s last version No 4 came out top with 21 to 19 votes being the sum of the different criteria.   This has provided the basis for the wire frames that have now been submitted to the team for further comments.

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.

wireframes for website

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.