In recent weeks Nadine has begun to develop communication boards that are using the Arabic Symbol Dictionary customised symbols alongside ARASAAC symbols. This is all part of the ongoing development and evaluation process with participants in particular AAC users whose opinions we are seeking. Examples are provided below as a slide share presentation and soon therapists will be able to download the sample symbols developed under a creative commons license.
Mohammed and Prayers
Introducing Mohammed, a 24 year old symbol user from Qatar who communicates using a Tobii eye gaze system. Mohammed has worked with a speech and language therapist to develop a personalised vocabulary that includes the use of localised and culturally sensitive symbols in particular those related to his religion.
Mohammed was finding it hard to take part in the daily prayers as a Muslim and felt isolated when other members of the family worked through the various actions and he had to sit quietly watching.
With the support of the Tawasol symbols Mohammed and his therapist worked through his exact requirements and were able to provide a way for him to take part in the prayers with his family that was both respectful and at one with that special part of the day.
When Mohammed was asked about his feelings concerning the new symbols he said:
“Now that I have my system and the graphics I can take a much fuller part in prayer, as each step of the prayer takes place I point my eyes at the symbol that represents that step. I sequence the images through my eyes as others sequence their movements. Its hard to explain how important this is to me, I know there are others who want to take part in prayer alongside their family and community. By working with people who understand, it can be a lot easier to do than you might expect.”
A further quote from the speech therapist indicates the way in which culturally and linguistically sensitive symbol systems can have a huge impact on AAC users.
“Building a system for communication is not just about the people communicating. Here in Qatar we share many daily experiences around our faith and culture, as therapists we are very good at helping people express their physical and emotional needs, but perhaps not so good at helping those that want to express their spiritual need, their belief and faith. it is so easy to ask the wrong questions, and hence never get those crucial answers if there is no common cultural experience.”
Maryam enjoying a weekend out
Finally Maryam has been able to tell her story using symbols that are much more relevant as would be explained at AAATE 2015 later in the year.
At the outset of this Arabic Symbol Dictionary research there was a determination to ensure that the approach would be participatory in nature as mentioned in our blog dated December 13th, 2013 ‘A Participatory Approach to Research’. In that blog we outlined the type of participatory approach being taken where those supporting the project would be involved with all the planning and take part in the decision making.
To this end a voting system was set up to allow AAC experts, users and those supporting users to provide feedback about the two freely available symbol sets compared to the PCS or Widgit ones already in use.
Members of the Advisory Group had separately mentioned that they did not want to see the development of yet another set of symbols and this seemed to be an eminently sensible plan if we were to also keep to the request in the early days of the AAC Forum meetings that the dictionary should be available in English and Arabic as many of those working with AAC users and caring for them spoke better English than Arabic.
The voting system allowed users to login in with an email address to not only vote positively or negatively for a symbol but to also select a series of check boxes to say why they liked or did not like it when shown a lexicon entry on one side of the screen and a selection of symbols on the right. The symbols they voted on where only from ARASAAC and Sclera symbols in order to compare to the ones they already knew – PCS or Widgit.
The statements that were provided were positive or negative based on the initial vote so a positive up vote would result in the following phrases being presented:
The negative vote would result with the same check boxes but each phrase had the addition of the word ‘not’.
There were 562 symbols that could take a vote each with the check boxes and free text comment. 33 individuals took part from the various centres in Doha. The outcome was interesting as both sets of freely available symbol sets presented issues for those voting with a wide variation in additional comments besides those offered with the check boxes.
Both symbol sets had their compliments for clarity, meaningfulness and cultural sensitivity but when combined with the free textual comments it was the negative sentiments that were quite stark in their numbers. 777 check box comments were related to a lack of clarity in representing the word or multiword in English – the word lists used were based on those collected from English speaking therapists in Doha – the Arabic core vocabularies are to follow. 499 were related to the way the symbol was drawn, colour and contrast levels, 197 comments were checked as being culturally insensitive and 172 were not similar to PCS or Widgit. The ranking of this list follows the way voters wrote in the free text field. There were 130 additional comments about the meaning of the symbol and its representation of a word or phrase. There were comments about the way arrows and question marks represented actions or words, poor representations of important words such as ‘want’ with individuals varying in their views about text appearing in a speech bubble or near a symbol. Plurals also caused comments but it was the way the abstract items may be drawn that also caused concern. Overall there were 97 additional comments about the look of some symbols and some questioned how children would learn a shape or object. Distractable and busy drawings were described in 9 comments with facial expressions also being considered important.
Additional cultural issues were raised in 41 free text comments with ‘thumbs up and down’ being noted as an issue along with dress, female/male requirements, language and using the pointed finger plus the use of a ‘halo’ for being good. Colour is an item that will really need discussion especially for those with visual impairments. The 28 additional mentions were usually around contrast levels. There were only 8 additional points that seemed to be related to the image not suiting the environment such as “In Qatar a rainy day is a good day”! The use of text with symbols is also a debatable subject and some pictograms were just deemed to be totally unsuitable whether in English or Arabic.
Overall the ARASAAC symbols appeared to be the ones that were most similar to those already in use and the most acceptable as a collection for the symbol dictionary. A small video has been made to show how we can check the suitability of every image against future and previous votes to begin the process of making sure adaptations can be made to enhance the chances of the pictogram/symbol becoming more acceptable whilst adding the Arabic core vocabularies to the symbol manager.
Micrsoft Excel 2013 PowerView allows us to analyse entries that were made via the voting system. The latter was built using MongoDB and offers a flexible way of uploading images and lexicons with parts of speech, definitions and in the future phonemic segmentation for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary.
Thanks go to Russell Newman and Nawar Halabi from ECS University of Southampton, for their work on this part of the research project and also to Amatullah Kadous who has arranged all the voting parties to conclude this part of the research.
An initial meeting between Aejaz Zahid (Head of Research & Development at Mada – Qatar Assistive Technology Center) and E.A. Draffan (from the University of Southampton) took place over lunch in London to explore the tasks that needed to be undertaken prior to an official meeting to take place at the AAATE Conference in Portugal between 19th-22nd September, 2013.
There was no Agenda as this was an introductory meeting. Items discussed included:
- Magnus and E.A. to set up WordPress blog as a record of meetings, minutes, progress during the lifetime of the project with a project calendar and possible wiki links etc.- Completed in draft format
- Aejaz to explore how PCS Boardmaker symbol sets are being used in Qatar and link up with Dalal Kataari Head of Speech and Language Pathology department at Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs.
- Aejaz will work on questions related to the symbols used by children and carers in Shafallah Centre
- E.A. to make initial Investigations into the type of core vocabulary needed for particular groups in English initially in order see how the vocabulary may link up with the Arabic dictionary.
- E.A. to make contact with the ARASAAC developers in case they are attending AAATE in the hope of meeting up.
- Nawar to send specification for work on a free open source Arabic TTS and dictionary.
- Investigate the need for both text with and without diacritics.