Category Archives: Uncategorized

Classifying AAC symbols for ease of use

Low tech to high tech

With thanks to Techcess and the SCORE layout

There has been a long history and much debate about the way we classify AAC symbols for ease of use.  Do we make it easy for people to choose the symbols they want on a communication board from a label?  Should we try to provide categories and if so which ones?  Do we need to think about semantics and the meaning of words, phrases, or text in context as concepts and syntax (sequencing words into grammatically correct sentences) when we are searching?  What happens when people want to make visual displays based on different topics?

These questions become even more important when considering a range of languages which may have very few similarities in particular if they are not part of the European group of languages.  Issues around orthography as well as left to right and right to left placement if one is thinking about text to speech output on electronic devices and moving through a sentence or phrases with a minimal number of selections and distance to cover.

Once again we would like to use share our questions with others in the field in order to make decisions that suit as many AAC users, carers, families and professionals as possible.  Here are some key points in a set of slides available on SlideWiki

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.

 

Arabic Speech Corpus shared by Dr. Nawar Halabi

respond symbol with audioIf you have been using our Arabic symbols page you will have noticed that we have made every phoneme for our lexical entries available as a sound file, so that you can hear how it is pronounced. You can see the audio links at the bottom of the symbol for ‘respond’ in the picture beside this text.   This can help those who have literacy skills difficulties as well as those wish to learn Arabic.

Nawar, who has been part of our Tawasol Symbols project from the beginning at the same time as successfully completing  his PhD, has made this possible with the development of an Arabic Speech Corpus with support from the University of Southampton and MicrolinkPC.

The synthesised speech output that results from this corpse is a very natural sounding voice, recorded using Levantine Arabic, as heard in and around Damascus.  Levantine Arabic is considered one of the three main Arabic dialects and differs from Gulf Arabic in some aspects of grammar and pronunciation although when phonemes are read aloud, they are often nearer Modern Standard Arabic and when combined there is less dialectal impact.

The corpus has been made available for download as a zip file and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  As the Arabic Speech Corpus website says the packages includes:

  • 1813 .wav files containing spoken utterances.
  • 1813 .lab files containing text utterances.
  • 1813 .TextGrid files containing the phoneme labels with time stamps of the boundaries where these occur in the .wav files. These files can be opened using Praat software.
  • phonetic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Phoneme Sequence]” in every line.
  • orthographic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Orthographic Transcript]” in every line. Orthography is in Buckwalter Format which is friendlier where there is software that does not read Arabic script. It can be easily converted back to Arabic.
  • There is an extra 18 minutes of fully annotated corpus (separate from above, but with the same structure as above) which was used to evaluate the corpus (see PhD thesis). Feel free to use this in your applications.

Please contact Nawar Halabi by email for further information.

Question words – Why are they so hard to design?

question

question

We have been having another look at our question words and it is really hard to design ones that make sense in all contexts.  If you are working in a European language such as English you will be used to the concept of the ‘wh’ words and there is a particular order in which they tend to appear as mentioned by Mira Shah  “what,” “where,” “why,” “how,” “when,” then “which.” “Where” is earlier in English and “who” is earlier in Italian.”

ARASAAC offer a collection of symbols for them

what

what

where

where

why

why

how

how

when

when

 

which

which

But then one has to think about the context and it might be time or an action.  So should one add more clues or just have what + Time as a separate question mark with a clock face?

 

 

The general consensus amongst the symbol sets  seems to be that ‘what’ is just a question mark and the other question words come with a clue but that can be difficult when the word in Arabic is combined and there needs to be a difference in the gender…

what

what

what is your name (F)?

what is your name (F)?

what is your name?

what is your name (M)?

where

where

why

why (F)

What time is it?

What time is it?

 

It seems that we need to have many more question words that are linked to relevant settings but they can cause confusion, such as ‘when?’ and ‘what is the time?’ or ‘what time is it?’

 

when

when

There do not seem to be any articles on this subject and as different languages have very different ways of asking questions we will go on developing more symbols so there is lots of choice!

Any ideas for ‘which’?

 

how are you

how are you?

Voting on symbols at Awsaj Academy

tablet with symbolIt has always been felt that it was essential that AAC users and those with communication difficulties should evaluate our symbols as part our research into symbol acceptance with real participation at all stages. We felt that this would ensure that the very people who would be using the symbols would provide us with feedback so we could 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.

student votingThe students were given 20 of our symbols to vote on and a thumbs 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:

 

 

 

Student comments

 

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

Boys on a stand as winners

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 below). Teachers also reported that students felt empowered by giving their feedback, as they had always been accustomed to receiving help, but on this occasion they felt they were able to help others.

 

Symbols for different settings across the world.

map of countries for Tawasol Symbols downloads

World map where Tawasol Symbols have been downloaded

There have been many debates about localisation and globalisation or internationalisation and the different requirements to support these ideas – W3C have provided definitions that fit the web and in many ways localisation can support concepts used on web pages namely customisation related to:

  1. “Numeric, date and time formats
  2. Use of currency
  3. Keyboard usage
  4. Collation and sorting
  5. Symbols, icons and colors
  6. Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas which, in a given culture, may be subject to misinterpretation or viewed as insensitive.
  7. Varying legal requirements
  8. and many more things.”

We have acted on many of the W3C ideas over the last two and half years and noticed that while we have been developing our symbols for an audience based mainly in the MIddle East many of those who have requested use of the symbols and downloads have come from as far afield as Sweden, Australia and India.   We know some of these symbols have been for refugee groups and camps and others have been for religious symbols.  Both these requests have led to an increase in the number of symbols we have produced in these areas and many have been seen on our Facebook pages.

facebook sample symbols

But we are not the only ones making symbols for a wider audience and it is interesting to know that there have been requests that Apple should introduce emojis with women wearing the hijab with a petition gaining over 2,295 signatures seven months ago and headline news from the BBC and many others.

Many refugee organisations have booklets and charts with images to help those who do not speak the language of the country to which they are going. An example is the ICOON project which has many charts for download as PDF files.  These images tend to be in monochrome but cover a wide range of topics.

icoon symbols

Example of ICOON refugee charts freely available to download in PDF

Tawasol symbols are also available for download with charts in both Arabic and English and we have included religious settings and have an interactive version as a demonstration to illustrate the symbols in action thanks to The Open Voice Factory. 

sample prayer symbols

Sample prayer symbols from the interactive online communication chart

Tawasol at ISAAC

Dana and TullahI presented “Core Vocabularies: Same or different for Bilingual Language Learning and Literacy Skill building with Symbols?” and together with Dana; “Developing an Arabic Symbol Dictionary for AAC users: Bridging the Cultural, Social and Linguistic Gap”. We received a lot of great feedback about both presentations and many people showed interest in our project. One Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) from Malta approached us having very similar issues with the analysis of core vocabulary. She mentioned that the issues I discussed in my presentation were almost identical to the issues in Maltese and was seeking advice on how to categorise pronouns given their attachment to nouns in the Maltese language.

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.

film festivalFilm Mohammed

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.

Quote ISAAC

What We Learnt at ISAAC

ISAAC bag

ISAAC was an incredible experience. There was so much new research and knowledge that was shared and for me brought to light the significance of continuing education. It made me realise that it is through workshops and seminars at conferences that we become better clinicians and researchers and rid our practices of outdated and ineffective means of intervention.

I kicked off the week by attending the pre-conference workshops. As I waited for the first workshop to begin, I met a lovely lady by the name of Mathilde Suc-Mella from France. She is a teacher by profession but things changed for her when she had her first son who was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome. This was the beginning of their AAC journey. She felt that she had to educate herself on AAC if she was ever going to be able to communicate with her son effectively. She says that AAC resources in France were scarce and until now she has found that the knowledge and resources around AAC are not as advanced as in English speaking countries. She has travelled far and wide and done many courses and trained with some of the best in the field of AAC including Gayle Porter – Creator of the PODD approach.  This is when she decided that she wanted to create a PODDs version in French. We shared our challenges of not having core vocabularies in the languages we work in and how different the languages are to English from a linguistic point of view. Her determination to advance the status of AAC in France and to train others in this field was inspiring. She has her own website called CAApables.

As for the workshops themselves, here are some notes I took:

Kathryn Garrett and Joanne Lasker
The AAC-Aphasia Framework: Where do we go now?

  • AAC is not instantly successful, it takes time because it’s an external means of communication and is practically a new language.
  • All the evidence suggests that people with Aphasia like supported conversation i.e. a combination of things to convey a message e.g. drawing, simple text, provision of options and circling/crossing correct/incorrect answers etc. However communication partners don’t always offer this to their loved one with Aphasia because “they’re too busy” or they “know what their partner wants” or “find it difficult to pose options” of what the person with aphasia may want.
  • AAC for those with aphasia tends to be a last resort when therapy isn’t working or they’re discharged. This needs to change.

Aphasia presAphasia experts and Tullah

Pat Mirenda
Taking the Initiative: Supporting Spontaneous Communication in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Spontaneous communication is important in providing AAC users with control over their environment and the ability to learn more. It builds self-determination and the ability to communicate when they want and what they want.
  • Not all AAC users are able to achieve spontaneity because of poor instruction not because they can’t do it. Research shows that people with Autism can provide spontaneous communication most commonly in the form of body language and less so with symbols. This is because people with Autism are very good at doing EXACTLY what you teach them. So if you are only teaching them to communicate in structured conversations that’s exactly what they’ll do.
  • PECS was designed to promote spontaneous communication but a lot of the time spontaneity is not achieved. Here are some common mistakes clinicians make:
  • The manual is not read or followed properly
  • Use of the wrong motivators or the SAME motivators. Motivation is key to the success of PECS
  • The clinician should NOT be talking at all except when the clinician is given the card by the Person with Autism
  • The first phase cannot be completed without a physical prompter
  • Clinician reacting before the symbol card is in their hand
  • Choosing the wrong time e.g. offering a snack reinforcer straight after lunch
  • Using more than one symbol in phase 2
  • Not increasing the distance or not gradually increasing the distance
  • Failing to take PECS book everywhere
  • Failing to give what is requested
  • PECS should be done right through to the end- phase 6. A lot of people stop at phase 3 – requesting
  • Unfortunately our main goal is to get kids with Autism to ask for things then stop. What about engaging and commenting? Requesting only provides them with limited opportunities.
  • We sometimes see kids with Autism as less like normal people than more like normal people when the latter is the case.

Carole Zangari and Gloria Soto
Supporting Vocabulary Development in Students Who Use AAC: Practical Approaches for Educators and SLPs

  • AAC devices should be sufficient enough for use post-school environment. More often than not it has limited vocabulary and is activity based.
  • There needs to be a focus on core vocabularies and a wider set of vocabulary otherwise you are placing a ceiling on language development.
  • Sometimes we think that more vocabulary is beyond the capacity of the AAC user but we actually do more harm to the AAC user by limiting vocabulary.
  • More vocabulary = more opportunities for communication, commenting, and engaging.
  • Shouldn’t use too many words too soon = confusing and icons become too small
  • Play-dough should not be the goal, the goal should be the learning of new core word/s through an activity like play dough e.g. “make”
  • Vocabulary development in typically developing kids/mainstream schools is flawed (vocab books -> pre-test for the week > copy > match to definition > quiz on words i.e. teach / test / Words not taught to be used in context so no generalisation to the real world) So it is expected that when taught to those with learning disabilities it’ll be flawed too.
  • We should also stay away from teaching for meaning only and not worry about grammar. E.g we let it pass if a student says “I goed there”. Rather we should try to teach the student to fix their sentence e.g. “you said a word wrong in that sentence, can you try to fix it? “You said I goed there, the verb sounds wrong.”  “Should it be goed or went?”,   “can you say the sentence again using the right verb?”  “Does that sound better?” (self-evaluation)
  • Start off with a smaller set of core words and add words each month- have word of the week/month. Set goals with more and more advanced boards “start with the end in sight”.
  • Give them the meaning of the word e.g. “upset” – upset means angry, you seem a little upset, you seem a little angry.
  • Show them how to use words in context of different activities. They don’t have to achieve the word to 80% accuracy all the time, it’s ok to float between 50-80% otherwise it’ll hold them back from learning more.
  • Incorporate into activities they enjoy/have personal interest in. Use them throughout the day e.g. singing, writing, playing, in surveys. E.g. the word is “go”. Ask them to survey the class – “where do you like to go?”, “How do you go home?”.
  • Use every opportunity to say the word throughout the day- word bombardment
  • Can combine core word teaching with curriculum based vocab. E.g.

WEEK1: I, go, me (core) + continue, monotheism, memorise

WEEK2: week 1+ week 2 words

Carole Zangari

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 celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day with some new resources.

GAAD

Thanks to Global Accessibility Awareness Day

As a way of celebrating the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) we are putting up some early examples of the sort of resources we want to share with you in the coming months. Global Accessibility Awareness Day is one to celebrate as many people around the world raise awareness about the difficulties some people have being able to use digital technologies if we do not take care to make them easy to use.   Companies and organisations as well as individuals have been tweeting about the day as well as providing links to workshops, webinars and other resources all for free.

 

The Tawasol symbol resources are also free to share under a Creative Commons licence and you can download them from the Tawasol symbol website.   You will need to log in if you have not visited our website in the past but that is just so that we can see whether the resources we are developing are being downloaded – no personal data is collected unless you want to get in touch with us.

You may see some ARASAAC symbols included in our resources, as we do not intend to make a completely new set of symbols, but to complement others already in existence.

Please do suggest some AAC symbol resources you would like to see and hopefully we can help you by making them both in English and in Arabic.

symbol dictionaryWe have added our initial vocabulary list so that you can see both languages and the parts of speech that we have used as the lexical concepts.

If you are not happy with any of the words used as labels when you go to download our symbols, any label can be changed or additional labels added to suit Your needs by using the Symbol Creator app. Other changes can also be made to the symbols and the new symbol with its label can be downloaded in several different formats.