Tag Archives: conferences

Using Tawasol Symbols on apps for portable technologies

Over the last few months there have been several presentations around the world about Tawasol Symbols including the GREAT Conference in Doha where Nadine talked about “Making Educational Resources with TAWASOL Symbols to Support Students with Disabilities”.   By chance we will also be showcasing our work at another GREAT meeting – The World Health Organisation Global Research and Education in Assistive Technology (GREAT) Summit in August.

There we will be talking about how Tawasol symbols can be used to enhance AAC outcomes for those working in the Arabic language.  But  as can be seen in this Slideshare presentation there are now several ways of presenting symbols in apps with text to speech output when using portable or mobile technologies such as The Grid, CoughDrop and The Open Voice Factory (used to AzuleJoe).


Other apps that will support Tawasol Symbols with Arabic speech output include

  •  TouchChat AAC chat app for Apple iOS systems such as the iPad and iPhone
  • Proloquo offers apps such as Proloquo4Text 2.0 with Arabic voices.
  • Go Talk Now is a very flexible app that offers other symbol sets with the Acapela voices but also allows the import of personalised images.
  • Colourful Semantics in Arabic comes with lots of resources to build on sentence construction and story telling skills.
  • The Babnoor app  has been developed in Dubai to support those with Autism and provides an easy to use Arabic interface with its own symbols but others can be added along with local dialect voices.

We know there are more to come and hope to also see Tawasol symbols being used in other language such as Hindi on Jellow – also available in English.

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.


Dissemination, revision of the Symbol Manager System and the beginning of Dictionary building.

virginia creeper

Virginia Creeper in October

Summer has faded in the UK with autumn bringing in rain showers, wind and turning leaves. We have begun the task of telling people about the Arabic Symbol Dictionary at conferences with paper and poster presentations. At ICCHP 2014 the Project Possibility University of Southampton students presented Symbol Dragoman using the symbol and word lists already gathered for the symbol dictionary along with the Tatoeba lists.  This was followed up by Communication Matters 2014 where we had a poster and will be writing a paper. We have also just heard that we have been accepted for poster and paper presentations at TechShare Middle East, the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference (ARC’14) and RAATE 2014.


ict qatar

ICT Qatar

In Qatar, Nadine joined the research team with Mada as a speech and language therapist whilst also supporting AAC users at the Shafallah Center and Dana has come on board as a graphic designer just when we need to be thinking about logos, leaflets, updated posters and beginning the task of adapting or adding to the symbol set we wish to use. The ARASAAC team have kindly agreed to collaborate with us on the task of using their creative commons licensed symbols where appropriate for the dictionary. This was discussed as a result of the voting that took place in June and July.

During August and September Nadine and Tullah have been researching the issues around gathering core vocabularies in Arabic that are suitable for AAC users as well as considering the concerns around the enhancement of literacy skills which are challenged by the diglossic nature of Arabic.  Levin et al (2008) mention the fact that “research has shown that the linguistic distance between Standard Arabic, the language of print, and spoken Arabic vernacular, the oral language of children challenges the acquisition of reading in Arabic (Abu-Rabia, 2000; Saiegh-Haddad, 2003a, 2004, 2005, 2007a).”   It appears to affect all aspects including “lexicon, syntax, morphology and phonology”.  It is felt that by offering sound patterns of lexical entries (with the use of recorded and synthesised text to speech) this could support carers and teachers of speech impaired individuals when working on literacy skill acquisition.

modules of language

Reproduced under fair use Copyright © 1999 Stephen Pinker (Mark McConville and Henry S. Thompson, 2 February 2012)

So discussions have continued around phonemic segmentation and how this will be represented in the dictionary for both Arabic and English with the result of changes being made to the symbol manager system. It appears that in Arabic the phonemic segmentation can be generated almost automatically with the help of some clever computer coding as long as the diacritics are in place – that is according to Nawar!

Levin et al  have cited several researchers in their comment that the sub-syllabic level (Consonant Vowel level (CV)) in Arabic phonemic segmentation is more easily learnt compared to any other way of encouraging phonemic awareness.   A study with bilingual children by i Saiegh-Haddad & Geva  (2008) showed that being able to sound out parts of words when learning to read was equally important in Arabic as in English.  However, when it comes to deciding which section in a word forms a phonemic segment there is a rather more torturous route for English words which will require manual entry for consonant blends and digraphs etc.  Spaces between the segments will be used when adding words to the Symbol Manager.

symbol manager phonemic segmentationAs a result of the changes made to the system the team at Southampton university have been beta testing the latest version. Early trials have been completed and the system is ready for the addition of new lexical entries with definitions, sentences for context, categorise for browsing and searching, parts of speech and the extra field for phonemic segmentation. New symbols can be added with categories such as monochrome, colour and gender. All items will be distinguished by their language English, Modern Standard Arabic and Qatari. The latest version is faster and accesssible using mouse, keyboard only or touch screen. Nawar has worked hard to make it as flexible as possible and it is now ready for further testing using a simple check list – download MS Word doc Beta Testing Symbol Manager v1 .  We have also used  the SUS evaluation scale (Brooke, 1996).  Taking an iterative approach with the participation of as many interested parties as possible we have setup up logins for the Symbol Manager System and will be reacting to any feedback we receive from those involved with the project.


Brooke, J. (1996). SUS: A “quick and dirty” usability scale. In P. W. Jordan, B. Thomas, B. A.
Weerdmeester, & A. L. McClelland (Eds.), Usability Evaluation in Industry. London: Taylor
and Francis.

Levin, I., Saiegh-Haddad, E., Hende, N., & Ziv, M. (2008). Early literacy in Arabic: An intervention study among Israeli Palestinian kindergartners. Applied Psycholinguistics. Accessed 12th October 2014, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1899796

Saiegh-Haddad, E., & Geva, E. (2008). Morphological awareness, phonological awareness, and reading in English-Arabic bilingual children. Reading and Writing, 21(5), 481–504.  Accessed 12th October 2014  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11145-007-9074-x