Monthly Archives: January 2014

AAC Dictionary for Functional Communication skills as well as Literacy Skills

I have begun to look at the impact that wishing to extend the symbol dictionary to one that will also enhance literacy skills may have on the project design. The first presentation I came across has provided some guidelines for those supporting English AAC users and is backed by research funded in USA – AAC-RERC is a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center that functions as a collaborative research group dedicated to the development of effective AAC technology.   I wanted to see where text to speech (speech synthesis) could help and see how the need to include not just the alphabet with sound support, but also letter combinations, blending and segmentation that help with reading and spelling might also need to be in place, bearing in mind this is not necessarily the case in Arabic. That will be the next stage of the research.

There is a presentation provided by Professor Janice Light (Penn State University) describing the components of effective literacy interventions for individuals who require AAC called “Maximizing the Literacy Skills of Individuals who Require AAC”

I have taken the main elements and added the image of a set of books to each section that would have an impact on the symbol dictionary.  The text version of the mindmap  can also be downloaded.

There is the importance of being able to link the words learnt in the reading exercise  to  symbols available in the dictionary to enable AAC users to show they have understood or remembered the word. This means that there will need to be a way of adding symbols and words at anytime with guidance for image creation and categorisation.

As mentioned offering phoneme segmentation and ways of showing an understanding of sound blending is important.  Speech output whether this is human or a good quality synthetic computer generated voice should be available to encourage, reinforce and enhance literacy skills.
AAC Dictionary for Functional Communication skills as well as Literacy Skills

The information for this blog came from a “literacy program developed and evaluated by Dr. Janice Light and Dr. David McNaughton through a research grant (#H133E030018) funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) as part of the AAC-RERC.”  I will be adding the academic papers related to this subject to our Useful Articles page but here are some that were included at the end of the AAC-RERC slides.


Light, J. Kelford Smith, A. (1993). The home literacy experiences of preschoolers who use augmentative communication systems and of their nondisabled peers.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 910-25.

Light, J. McNaughton, D. (1993). Literacy and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC): The expectations and priorities of parents and teachers. Topics in Language Disorders, 13(2), 33-46.

Millar, D., Light, J., McNaughton, D. (2004). The effect of direct instruction and Writer’s Workshop on the early writing skills of children who use Augmentative and
Alternative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 164-178.

Fallon, K., Light, J., McNaughton, D., Drager, K. Hammer, C. (2004). The effects of direct instruction on the single-word reading skills of children who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 47,

Kelford-Smith, A., Thurston, S., Light, J., Parnes, P. O’Keefe, B. (1989). The form and use of written communication produced by nonspeaking physically disabled individuals using microcomputers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5, 115- 124.

Light, J., Binger, C., Kelford Smith, A. (1994). The story reading interactions of preschoolers who use augmentative and alternative communication and their mothers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10,255-268. 15

There is also a Bibliography: Literacy and AAC, Literacy and Disability provided by Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)


Thinking about informed consent?

papersOne of the early tasks for the Arabic symbol dictionary team will be gathering focus groups to make choices around the types of symbols and pictograms that would be most suitable for the dictionary.  This will involve working with vulnerable individuals such as those who have disabilities, young children and the elderly.

There has already been a series of processes required in order to gain access to research participants that have entailed working with an ethics committee.  Samples of questionnaires, consent forms and letters of intent have been provided.  As usual these have been paper based and require a level of literacy skills.  In some cases it will be the carers or assistants of the vulnerable individual who will be answering the questions and even providing the consent.

There are many questions that could be asked about this procedure such as:

  • Who benefits from the ethics process and what are the outcomes?
  • Should they be related to the organisation’s concerns pertaining to a duty of care?
  • Are there fears that mistakes will be made, which could lead to possible litigation?”

Or, as was raised in a recent focus group, are there issues of transparency, the wellbeing of the individual and the need for an understanding around the concept of informed consent not just at the time of agreeing to participation but throughout the project’s lifetime?

The focus group held at the University of Southampton this week brought together a group of researchers who had experience working with vulnerable individuals and were interested in the dilemmas surrounding ‘informed consent’.   The meeting was part of a wider research project being undertaken by researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Oxford and Kings College London.

Some important key points came out of the discussions that should be considered.  It was felt that the informed consent process should:

  • be more flexible in the way it is presented to any future participants
  • be sensitive to context, gender and age as well as to the cultural and social background of the participant.
  • make sure there are checks in place to confirm understanding of what is involved when participating and the outcomes of participation
  • include the use of multimedia and multimodal methods to explain what is entailed such as animation, pictures and audio – not just to gain positive or negative responses at the outset of the project but throughout the project lifetime.
  • allow for ways of capturing feedback from the participants, such as video to check facial features and other gestures not just audio recordings
  • involve participants in the process as much as possible
  • allow for increased vigilance regarding the views of individual participants or the group’s views even if carers or assistants have provided the informed consent.
  • offer personalisation of technologies to increase access to different ways of providing informed consent.
  • respect a participant’s wish to withdraw, temporarily stop or change the way they are working with the researcher, even if this affects the data collection process
  • take into account any feelings of concern due to the dynamics of power in terms of human interactions – the use of technology could possibly overcome this sort of issue
  • re-visit areas of informed consent if the project changes in any way


Parsons, S. and Abbott, C. (2013) Digital technologies for supporting the informed consent of children and young people in research: the potential for transforming current research ethics practice. EPSRC Observatory for Responsible Innovation in ICT. Web Page accessed 16/01/2014

Parsons, S. and Cobb, S. (2013) Who chooses what I need? Child voice and user-involvement in the development of learning technologies for children with autism. EPSRC Observatory for Responsible Innovation in ICT Web page accessed 16/01/2014

Mukhola, S., Brown, R., Godsell, G., Henning, E., Lotz, N. & van Rooyen, H. (2005). Storytelling as a means of obtaining informed consent in an adult educational enquiry. In ISIMD 3rd International Symposium of Interactive Media Design Web Page accessed 16/01/2014