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}

The outcome of a summer of voting on further batches of symbols

In June 2016 Tawasol concluded its second to last voting session for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary Project. 24 therapists voted on 60 symbols from 3 organisations; AWSAJ Academy, Hamad Medical Corporation Speech Therapy department and The Hamad Child Development Centre. Although traditionally 40-60 voters participate from a wide range of organisations and
AAC contexts, it was difficult to facilitate similar numbers to previous occasions because the school year end was coming to a close for 3 months of summer vacation.

Unfortunately, with a technical hitch,  all voting took place on paper rather than our usual online voting. This, we believe skewed our data as on the online symbol manager you are not able to submit a comment unless you enter numeric ratings for the criteria. Although the significance of completing numeric ratings on paper was explained to voters, 101 symbols had comments but no numeric data. The team discussed this and decided that the best way to proceed would be to review the comments and if there was an element of negativity in the comment, it would be given a score of 2 out of 5 and if it was a positive comment it would be given a 4 out of 5. The results for the 4 sets of criteria over 4 batches of symbols are as below:

Voting criteria averages batches 1-4

We believe it is because of this change in voting settings that the ratings related to ‘feelings about the symbol’ and ‘represents word/phrase’ were not as favourable as in previous voting sessions.    We also believe that the recent concepts (for which we are developing symbols), are becoming more and more abstract and more difficult to depict. A commonly repeated statement throughout the voting sessions was “I don’t think of this word when I see this symbol but it’s a hard concept to convey and I can’t come up with a better way to visually depict it.” It was pleasing to see the colour/contrast and cultural sensitivity ratings and comments improve.

However, there were advantages of not using the technology in that we received more in depth comments and participants appeared to be willing to be more critical which was immensely helpful.

Summary of the comments provided from the voting sessions.

Zoom In!

For a number of symbols the voters requested that we zoom in on the essential parts of the symbol to emphasise the facial expressions, essential details and focus the user on the intended meaning. They communicated that a whole body depiction wasn’t needed in symbols like thirsty and quiet and preferred that just the head and neck were showing or in the case of “tummy” that only the chest down be shown.

quietthirsty

Oops! Didn’t think of that!

Voters in batch 4 really helped us to focus on the details in symbols, as this can make a big a difference to first impressions and comprehension. For example for the concept “easy” the thinking bubble actually had an equation that wasn’t necessarily “easy”. They all said stick to 1+1=2. Also, in the symbol for nanny, the character is wearing an apron which they said can be confused with a maid. In Qatar, a nanny looks after the children while the maid carries out house duties.

easynanny

Swap it!

It was interesting to hear voters say “this symbol would be perfect for your other word just change x”. For example they suggested we use the symbol for “contribute” for “teacher” but just add an arrow to the teacher. This was also the case for “something” where voters suggested this could be the symbol for “choose” just with the finger making direct contact with one of the objects.

contribute, something, teacher and choose symbols

contribute symbol above teacher and something above the choose symbol going from top left.

That’s not the word…

Voters picked out a few words in Arabic which they believed were not accurate. For example “canteen” transliterated in Arabic to “cafeteria” was not acceptable and suggested the word “مقصف”. This was also the case for “dictionary” in Arabic where it was suggested that the term we had used “قاموس” was specifically a dictionary for translated terms where as a dictionary with words and their meanings should be referred to as a “معجم”.

Compare the pair.

For some difficult concepts voters suggested that it would be easier to grasp the concept if there was a comparison within the same symbol. For example; fast and slow were a bit difficult to understand as standalone symbols but when put together into one symbol and fading the unintended concept, it became clearer. They also requested this for “organised” i.e. to have a “messy” office side by side with an “organised office otherwise the symbol could be interpreted as “office”.

slow

organised

 

 

 

 

 

How rude!

Despite the rise in positive cultural suitability ratings,  a few cultural issues are still being raised. The symbol for “come” using the index finger is seen as rude, belittling and disrespectful in the Arab culture. Although they all agreed it was very clear that it was “come” they didn’t think it was appropriate. Some voters also were unhappy with the boy uncovering his stomach for the “tummy” symbol and preferred that his stomach be covered and to indicate stomach with an arrow.

come

 

 

 

 

 

Put it into context.

Voters reminded us of the importance of including context in symbols. For example the symbol for “active”, they suggested that they need to be in a park and for “teacher” although she did look like a teacher they thought it was essential to put her in a classroom.

active

teacher

 

 

 

 

 

Is this symbol really needed?

Some voters questioned how essential some of the symbols were and whether they were really needed e.g. manufacture and emotional faces.

manufacture

emotional faces

 

 

 

 

 

It was very insightful once again to hear the perspectives of those working with AAC users. All their comments have been passed onto the graphic designer and changes will be made to the symbols discussed.

During our voting session at AWSAJ Academy, we provided participants with resource packs that included a variety of communication scenarios made with our symbols. This included bathroom routines, prayer position sequences, fire drill execution charts, fill in the gaps worksheets, what I did on the weekend worksheets, The life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) symbol book with corresponding worksheets, basic requirements communication boards, refugee communication boards, I want charts and many more. You can download all the resources from the Tawasol symbols website.

We also gave every teacher and therapist evaluation forms to see whether the symbols were meeting their needs.  In the coming weeks we will update you on the results of the symbol evaluations.

Report by Amatullah Kadous

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.

Moving on from core and fringe vocabularies to “AAC, Literacy and Complex Needs”

Communication Matters held a very interesting day on ‘AAC, Literacy and Complex Needs’ with Jane Farrall and Sally Clendon leading the day. There were detailed handouts to keep us on track and similar slides have been put on slideshare when the two speech therapists presented on the subject at the ICCHP conference in 2014

 

Here are some notes that I made that are relevant to a bilingual Arabic / English situation as many of the specifics during the day were related just to the English language.

Looking at Literacy in the round

Giving AAC users a reason to learn to read and write by always:

  • Reading to and with children constantly providing examples of text structures
  • Sharing reading experiences that are relevant to their daily life and can be part of an ongoing dialogue
  • Making sure the reading exercise has a function, needs thinking about beyond the pictures/symbols
  • introducing ways of using text as part of daily life, such as sharing ‘to do’ lists,  shopping lists  etc so AAC users experience the concept of text in action not just as a passive exercise.

Techniques

Introducing small flip charts or core boards that have symbols that can be used to indicate understanding of a page of text when it has been read so that there is engagement. Their use can be reduced as text is understood and letters then words are used on the small flip charts.

Repetition and time is key. The charts can help with the increase of vocabulary and become part of daily communication charts.

Technology including the use of iPads, Clicker, Boardmaker and eventually CoWriter were discussed. Interactive ebooks and large picture books. Big Macks and Step by Step can provide repeated lines with speech and recorded comments for the AAC user. Jane Farrell has collected many English resources. The Tawasol team will be making some examples in Arabic.

Several terms used throughout the day will be recognised by speech and language therapists such as

  • Modelling where those communicating with an AAC user constantly use a symbol / text system such as PODD and ADL plus choice charts to interact in the conversation.
  •  Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Displays (PODD)  are communication books/devices that have organised sets of symbols/words to encourage modelling and communication in every situation.  The charts/boards are made up of symbols representing both core and fringe vocabularies to suit individual users and tend to have a full range of vocabulary to encourage exploration in new communication situations.  To gain increased repetition of vocabulary
  • Aided Language Displays (ADL) are used with frequently needed symbols/words and choice or topic charts are used with specific tasks such as reading a book with some core vocabulary but also words specific to the story.  Jane Farrall stresses that these small vocabulary boards should only be used in conjunction with the wider vocabulary – core /PODD symbol sets to encourage increased communication

“Instead of making a morning circle page, we should teach the students to go to chat or social vocabulary to say hello and then onto people to use someone’s name.  We should teach them to go to the weather section of their system to tell us about the weather and then onto descriptions to make a comment about it.  And we should demonstrate using these skills whenever we greet people or comment about the weather throughout the day – and not just in morning circle and definitely not just at school.  This is how we get overall communication development, including language and vocabulary development.” (Jane Farrall, Oct 2015)

Structured Reading

General points made:

people in a small car

Crowd in the Car poster by Corinne Watson available for download

  • Integrating the AAC user’s communication system within the reading situation so that, for instance a topic can be related to the reading or particular activities are relevant to the words being learnt. For example take a chart showing fruit – when fruit is mentioned discuss their favourite type – modelling and chatting about it with the expectation of an interactive experience.

The day continued with the introduction of letters, phonological awareness to phoneme-focused interventions, words and so on and finally into writing. There were examples of comparing letter sounds and blending, onset and rime etc.

The use of Word Walls with high frequency words and key word patterns. Those words often used in the environment and finally words that are often mispelt when moving into writing. Design portable word walls over three sheets of A4 and laminated. You can use Velcro with individual letters, words or sounds or symbols. Simple A4 Portable word wall template download 

 

 

References about modelling, PODD and ADL provided by Novita Children’s Services, Australia

Binger, C. & Light, J. (2007) The effect of aided AAC modeling on the expression of multi-symbol messages by preschoolers who use AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23, (1) 30 – 43.

Bruno, J. & Trembath, D. (2006) Use of aided language stimulation to improve syntactic performance during a weeklong intervention program. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22(4).

Cafiero, J. (2001) The Effect of an Augmentative Communication Intervention on the Communication, Behavior, and Academic Program of an Adolescent with Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Vol. 16, No. 3, 179-189.

Drager, K, Postal, V, Carrolus, L, Gagliano, C & Glynn, J. (2006) The Effect of Aided Language Modeling on Symbol Comprehension and Production in 2 Preschoolers With Autism. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15; 112-125.

Harris, M. & Reichle, J. (2004) The Impact of Aided Language Stimulation on Symbol Comprehension and Production in Children With Moderate Cognitive Disabilities. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology Vol.13 155-167.

Porter, G. (2007) Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) communication books: Direct access templates. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.

Porter, G. (2008) Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display (PODD) communication books: Direct access templates. US Letter paper version. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.

Porter, G. (2009) Advanced PODD Workshop. Melbourne: Cerebral Palsy Education Centre.

Roman-Lantzy, C. (2007) Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention. New York: AFB Press. American Foundation for the Blind.

Adding elements to symbols to enhance their use.

AAC symbols need to be bespoke, personalised and relevant to the time of communication as well as the setting and task being undertaken.  However, this is not always possible in the time available with on the spot conversations.  Where there is time to adapt symbols the process often has to be carried out in special programs.  To over come the need to search out these special programs or apps Tom Lam has developed a very simple online application that allows those looking for symbols on our web site or from any other site to add elements to the original symbol.   Changing the usage of a symbol to fit the needs of a particular language (Lundalv et al, 2006)  is also important and may require arrows going in different ways such as from left to right to denote past in Arabic but future in English.

They are sitting

Symbol Creator with a symbol for sitting used to make the phrase ‘They are sitting’

We provided examples of how this could be done in a previous blog and now you can experiment and develop your own symbols using the  ‘Symbol Creator’  on the Tawasol symbols website. It is possible to add borders, background colours, text labels, arrows , plus or minus symbols that can provide plurals or signs for more or less.  Other symbols can be added on top of the first symbol in miniature to offer gender differences etc but as this is on the web it is not possible to change the order that you add things so the first item will go to the back and so on.  But you can delete any of the symbols when you highlight them and re-upload to get the order right!  We are looking into how we can make this process easier.

Resizing is possible but the canvas has been set to 500×500 pixels to fit with the original size of all the Tawasol symbols.  However, you can save the results in several formats and carry out any other adaptations in other graphical packages.  Because the Symbol Creator is online it is important to save the final version as a download as soon as possible!   This process will wipe what has been done but you can always upload the image again.

Please do try the Symbol Creator and if you could fill in the quick survey to give us some guidance for making future improvements that would be wonderful. 

Although the tool will not offer all that can be achieved with a sophisticated commercial program, it will provide an instant method of adapting symbols.  There are other online options such as those offered by ARASAAC for symbol creation and phrase making. 

Of course, this is only the beginning of a process as Amy Speech and Language Inc demonstrate in their examples of  communication boards or stories for symbol users and Lessonpix has a sharing page that provides more resources.

text2picto screen grab

Text2Picto example of a text to symbol translator. CCL KU Leuven

The exciting bit is when one can generate text to symbol sentences that make sense or symbol to text sentences that allow both the symbol user and their friends and family communicate more easily across the airwaves!   Have fun with the Text2Picto beta online text to symbol processor. (Sevens et al 2015) to learn more about the issues of sentence generation.

 

References

Lundälv M, Mühlenbock K, Farre B, Brännström A. SYMBERED – a Symbol-Concept Editing Tool. LREC – Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, Genua, 2006, 1476- 81.

Leen Sevens, Vincent Vandeghinste, Ineke Schuurman and Frank Van Eynde (2015). Natural Language Generation from Pictographs. In: Proceedings of 15th European Workshop on Natural Language Generation (ENLG 2015). Brighton, UK. [Paper] – See more at: http://picto.ccl.kuleuven.be/publications.html#sthash.lGejRT6q.dpuf

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.

The Mix of Symbols and Words – Where, When and How?

YouTube Video Published on Jul 24, 2015  (1hour 25mins lecture)

Janice Light ( Penn State University) describe strategies for maximizing the literacy skills of individuals who require AAC.  This webcast was produced as part of the work of the AAC-RERC under grant #H133E080011 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

In recent years there has been increased interest in teaching literacy skills to those who use AAC and one particular research project on Literacy Instruction led by Janice Light and David McNaughton at Penn State University in the USA has resulted in a very useful resource.  Not everyone agrees about how this task should be achieved and there remains the dilemma around the amount and type of symbols that should be used to support the learning of words with  letter combinations especially where phonics is involved and bilingualism.

Here Jane Farrall highlights other issues in her article “Symbol Supported Text: Does it really help?” and cites Erickson, Hatch & Clendon (2010) who also say:

For multiple reasons, pairing picture symbols with words may limit access to learning to read. Pictures actually may increase confusion, especially when they represent abstract concepts, have multiple meanings, or serve more than one grammatical function (Hatch, 2009). This is particularly true when words do not have obvious picture referents, as is the case with verbs such as do and is. Because they do not have picture referents, they must be represented by abstract, arbitrary symbols […]. While the orthographic (print) representation of these words is also abstract, printed words appear much more frequently and are understood more broadly than are abstract picture symbols. As a result, students learning to read the words rather than recognize the abstract picture symbols have more opportunities to encounter the words and interact with others who understand them.

We have already discussed the issues about learning the sounds that make up the various parts of words along in a previous blog and the Tawasol website offers text to speech to support the syllables and diacritics that aid the learning of phonemes.  But there is a problem when learning individual letters as they change their sound when said in isolation.  The text to speech does not always make a good job of the sounds required so it may be that we will need to use recordings for this element.

in the meantime there is also the issue of how much symbol support is provided when learning groups of words or small linking words such as conjunctions, prepositions etc. Some speakers such as Marion Stanton illustrate the problem very vividly in a talk about “Supporting students who use AAC to access the curriculum”. when working with an older student and others such as Professor Janice Murray have also shown in their slides about Language, Literacy and AAC the problems when words may not have any representative symbols or have very different meanings in certain situations and how a simple word symbol matching system will not work.

sample f text and symbols

Sample of text and symbols taken from the Dundee StandUp project consent form

The symbol dictionary team have been debating how to make supportive information and booklets available using the Tawasol symbols knowing that this is an important subject and one needs to start when on the journey to reading and writing as soon as possible as suggested by Carole Zangari in her ‘Lessons for Beginning AAC users‘ .

The issues that have been discussed have begun with such simple concerns as

  • Should text be above or below the symbols?  See Cricksoft’s practical point  and looking at all the handouts it seems to depend on personal choice?
  • Should the accurately written sentence appear below or above the symbols or each symbol match a word?
  • Should some words remain as words or always be translated into representative symbols even if the result is not always an easy one to interpret?
El Greco page using symbols

With grateful thanks to ARASAAC for all their support in this project

Some of the abstract linking words or conjunctions and prepositions simply do not work in a bilingual dictionary situation. This may be due to the position and direction of an arrow due to the right to left and left to right directions of the text or it may be the fact that a simple mathematical symbol may be easier to understand when compared to an unknown image. There is also the thought that it might be easier to learn a word such as ‘of’ instead of showing it as and ‘from’ and research has shown that there may be times when not working with the actual words slows literacy skill progress. 

On the other hand even though you may not speak Spanish this page illustrates how a booklet with supporting symbols can explain a piece of history where learning to read is not the main aim.  Here the goal is to communicate a story for knowledge building and enabling all those involved in the visit to the museum to have an inclusive experience.   This image has been taken from a booklet about El Greco developed by Dirección General de Organización, Calidad Educativa y Formación Profesional de la Consejería de Educación, Cultura y Deportes de Castilla-La Mancha.with pictograms from Sergio Palao. Procedencia ARASAAC (http://arasaac.org). Licencia Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

It is felt that when developing AAC materials they will nearly always need to bespoke, but when they are being offered for general use there needs to be a clear understanding as to their intended use.   As can be seen in this short article the needs of the AAC user may vary enormously depending on their abilities, skills and situation as well as the type of teaching task and resources available.  communication and knowledge building may well be aided by the combination of symbols and text.  However, literacy skill building may require other types of strategies and different learning materials.

References

Erickson, K.A., Hatch, P. & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(5), 1 – 16.  (Accessed 11 Dec 2015) https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-240102195.html

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.