Tag Archives: adaptations

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.



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

Symbols go walkabout – preparing symbols for their different uses.

The initial research be carried out for the symbol dictionary when visiting several centres around Doha gave us insight as to how symbols were used in schools and special needs centres.  In particular at the Shafallah Center were Dalal highlighted the issue of changing the size of symbols allowing them to be used on walls and doors as signs and for guidance.  Sample sizes go from 6×4 inches (150 by 101cms) down to 500 pixels square which is 4.23cms or 1.67inches square.

A more recent visit to Awsaj Academy and the Step by Step Centre for Special Needs gave us the chance to collect a selection of photographs to show how they used symbols to enhance the teaching and learning environment.  They have kindly allowed us to share a sample selection.


Boardmaker resizing symbolsThis has led to a debate about the format of symbols.  At present most centres are using Boardmaker to develop their symbol sets – the software allows images or PCS symbols to be flexibly resized and copied to other programs as well as being saved as symbol boards with varying cell sizes.


At one of our AAC forum meetings therapists working at the Al Noor Institute for the Blind also highlighted the need for high contrast and black and white images.  As with the ARASAAC symbols, which all come as coloured and black and white images, it is our intention to include these options.

Arabic symbol samples

During the recent TechshareME conference we also learned, as a result of a survey carried out during a workshop, that at least six centres were using multimodal techniques alongside their symbol use.  Techniques included  word segmentation with audio feedback (text to speech) to encourage phonemic awareness skills and auditory discrimination.   Symbols were also being used to illustrate letter combinations, the meaning of words, parts of words and sentences.   The use of Jolly Phonics was mentioned, Clicker 5 and Go Talk as well as the integration of PECS techniques, Boardmaker for development of symbol sets and Makaton for gestures.

It was clear that as discussed in our poster and paper presentations at The HMC Annual Research Day  Techshare Middle East,  the Qatar Foundation ARC’14  and RAatE 2014 the team need to not only include all these elements in the dictionary,  but to also be aware that the way images are formatted allows for flexible adaptations to suit all needs.  ARASAAC provide their symbols as .png files and Boardmaker allows users to import images in .jpg, .jpeg, .gif,.png, .bmp, wmf and .emf formats.   ARASAAC offer symbols that are 500×500 pixels and this is the size the dictionary will carry on the website.

Arabic Symbol Dictionary finalNov2014


GoldBart, J. and Caton, S. (2010) Communication and people with the most complex
needs: What works and why this is essential  Research Institute for Health and Social Change
Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
This report is a useful resource for academic references as well as practical advice.

Millar, S. (2009) Communication Friendly Schools CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh – http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/SallyMillarFriendlySchools_tcm4-629155.ppt PowerPoint presentation with example of symbols in use around schools in Scotland.