From the 15th to 18th March Mike Wald and E.A. Draffan (from University of Southampton) visited the Mada Center for a series of meetings and discussions with the AAC forum.
This was an extremely interesting time where we learnt about some of the concerns around the use of the present symbol systems from members of the forum. There were presentations and a small requirements survey was undertaken. This is being followed up with further interviews by Amatullah Kadous. Symbol Users Survey
We were able to visit that Shafallah Center and the Rumailah Hospital where we met many speech and language therapists and found that the multilingual approach to AAC symbol use was going to be one of the most crucial elements of the proposed dictionary.
It became clear that there are distinct Qartari words for some objects as well as localized sayings, greetings etc that require symbol adaptations, but that much of the Arabic used in schools is based on the Modern Standard Arabic.
We found that many of the symbols are having to be adapted for use, especially in the centers for disabled children. An example of the amount of adaptation carried out is illustrated by the use of a dedicated team of three people in the Shafallah Center and the many boxes of specially adapted symbols for use by the children. Examples of the types of adaptations being undertaken ranged from complete changes to the images to simple size changes for use as environmental signage, for PECS or individual communication books. The majority of the symbols were used as images on small sized cards that were handled by the children, carers or the speech therapists.
Bespoke symbol sets will always be needed but it was clear that if a system could be developed that would allow for choices to be made between Arabic and English localized and culturally sensitive symbols this would be a tremendous help.
Overall the requirements for the symbol dictionary could initially be described as:
- Arabic and English symbol dictionary as many of the speech therapists, specialist teachers and assistants have English as their first language although users may be Arabic speakers.
- Localised Qatari vocabulary as well as Modern Standard Arabic
- A need to develop core and fringe vocabularies to complement user specific images, real objects, PCS and Widgit Symbols
- The ability to adapt the symbols to suit individual preferences
- Flexible symbol sizes suit PECS usage, communication books and signage
- Allow for high contrast mode and colour to suit visually impaired users.
- Individual words and multi-word phrases – to encourage language building and literacy skills
Meetings of team members allowed us to plan the year ahead, discuss with the development of the dictionary starting with a base coal vocabulary of around 400 words and making decisions about whether it was possible to use the ARASAAC symbol dictionary possibly alongside Sclera when compared to the widget and PCS symbols used at present. It was decided that a comparison of these vocabularies needs to be undertaken as it is clear that they tackled the issues around symbol to word relationships differently and the preferences of the users and experts needs to be understood. Constraints, pros and cons also need to be discussed and use of multi-word symbols.