Tag Archives: symbol manager

Discussions around the latest voting for newly adapted symbols.

Having finished the initial development of the new voting system it was time to trial it with the Mada team on 18th January. The view voters received looked similar to past views, but with only one set of symbols and a finally agreed version of the voting criteria, namely four choices on a scale of five in terms of acceptance plus a comments box.

Voting for an adapted symbol

Voting for an adapted symbol

voting criteria

Voting criteria



















The main comments from the voters regarding the system was that the images were not large enough, they wanted to have less clutter around the voting area and perhaps to be asked to guess the meaning of the symbol rather than to be given the text.  The latter would mean there would need to be a two fold process where the participants first see the image without the word (Guessabilty – Cairney and Sless (1982), Hanson and Hartzema (1995), Yovetich and Young (1998)  (Translucency – Haupt and Alant 2003, Evans et al 2006)) and then see the symbol with the word but help the graphic designer by saying where any issues lie with the imagery.  This could take rather too long in the time available, but will need to be considered.

On Sunday 18th and Monday 19th January members of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary team in Doha held the second round of voting sessions at the Mada Assistive Technology Centre with members of the AAC Forum.

Tullah takes up the reporting…

“We were joined by 13 voters in session 1 and 7 voters in session 2. These therapists represented centres including Hamad Medical Corporation Special Needs Centre, Mada Assistive Technology Center, Qatar Academy – special needs section, researchers from Qatar University working in the field of special needs, Child Development Centre and Shafallah special needs school. We had a range of opinions from males and females, Qataris and non-Qataris, Arabic speakers and non-Arabic speakers. Despite the mirage of opinions and perspectives showcased throughout the sessions, there were some general opinions that came up again and again. It is these opinions of the majority that we will utilize to make the second round of adaptations to the symbols.

“The prayer symbols”

This series of symbols have definitely been the topic of much discussion in our team internally and also at the voting sessions. The image below depicts the transitions the symbol for “Maghrib prayer” or “evening prayer” (just after sunset), has taken (and will continue to take) in order to produce a symbol which the majority of people will be happy to use. The position of the sun, the colour and contrast of the sky and mat, the body structure and depiction, the clothing and religious sensitivities have made this symbol evolve into many different forms.

A collection of prayer symbols

A collection of prayer symbols

Here are some comments from our reviewers that helped us make the modifications…

“The symbol with the person praying is more representative of prayers. Mosque symbol seems more generalized, representing faith, Islam”

“Change the color of the sun in the sunset picture to reflect the sunset”

“Increase the color contrast and the background color”

Here is one suggestion from our forum members of how to depict all the 5 prayers at different times of the day.

Praying at different times of day

Praying at different times of day

“To stick figure or not to stick figure”

Other discussions were surrounding the team’s choice to use only stick figures for verbs and adjectives. This would solve complexities within the Arabic language of having to draw many versions of the symbol to fulfill the requirements of the Arabic language i.e having female and male versions for single, dual, plural, past and present tense forms. The general consensus amongst voters was that some symbol users will prefer stick figures and some full prefer the coloured/more detailed version. In any case, users of the Arabic symbol dictionary will have access to all ARASAAC symbols which have stick and coloured symbols for all words and can simply make adjustments to the symbol based on their preferences.

“The significance of colour choice”

Other voters believed that the colour scheme of the clothing used in our new symbols needed to be more consistent. Culturally, most Qatari women wear a black Abaya (dress) and shayla/hijab (head cover) and men wear the thawb (white dress) with a Ghutra (white head piece) on their head and Iqal to keep it in place.

Qatari dress

Qatari dress

In many of our symbols this has been depicted as seen in the symbol below.

Different dress codes.

Symbol dress codes.






However, in some symbols coloured clothing was used for several reasons;

  • Younger symbol users are generally attracted to colours and have a tendency to want to use them more , this may also apply to those who have cognitive impairments (Stephenson, 2007)
  • Children in Qatar wear Western looking coloured clothing and coloured uniforms to school
  •  It allows for more detail to be seen
  • Arabic speaking countries aside from the gulf (which represent the vast majority of Arabs e.g Egypt, Syria, Iraq etc) wear coloured clothing and wearing all black is seen as depressing and for older women.

Our voters suggested that if we would like to make the symbols coloured then the symbols should reflect symbols of children with and without the shayla because children do not wear the shayla. However, if the symbol system is to be based on adults then the thawb + ghutra in white for male and abaya + shayla in black for female are necessary.

“Gestures- comprehendo or no comprehendo?”

Different gestures used to depict a concept was also a topic which facilitated a lot of discussion. The “yes” and “no” gestures were agreed not to have a universal indicator to depict these concepts. While an Arab may indicate a headshake as “no”, and an Indian might interpret this as “yes”.  What ARASAAC indicates as “thank you” (hand over chest) was said by our voters to have many different meanings in the Arab culture but did not in any case mean thank you.  The ARASAAC ‘thank you’ symbol (hand over chest) to them meant “count on me”/I’ll take care of it or “sorry” or “a woman’s gesture when she does not wish to shake hands with a male”.
“…and that’s a wrap”

Many of these very intriguing discussions took place and gave the Arabic Symbol Dictionary team lots to think about and our graphic designer, Dana a lot of work to do. It is amazing to see how one symbol can mean so many different things to so many people and such small details can be offensive to one ethnicity and small changes can be made to please another.

I am glad that our team has chosen a participatory approach as without our voters’ feedback this symbol dictionary would not fulfill their needs or the needs of symbol users in Qatar and the wider Arab world. It was reiterated time and time again by voters how much this symbol dictionary really is needed and how keen therapists are to get their hands on the final product.”  Amatullah Kadous


Cairney, S., Sless, D.: Communication effectiveness of symbolic safety signs with different user groups. Applied Ergonomics, Vol. 13 (1982), 91-97

Evans D, Bowick L, Johnson M, Blenkhorn P (2006) Using iconicity to evaluate symbol use. In: Proceedings of the 10th international conference on computers helping people. Linz, Austria, pp 874–881

Hanson, E. C., Hartzema, A.: Evaluating pictograms as an aid for counselling elderly and low-literate patients. Journal of Pharmaceutical Marketing and Management, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1995), 51-55

Haupt, L., Alant, E.: The iconicity of picture communication symbols for rural Zulu children. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, Vol. 49 (2003), 40-49

Stephenson, J. (2007). The effect of color on the recognition and use of line drawings by children with severe intellectual disabilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23(1), 44–55. doi:10.1080/07434610600924457

Yovetich, W. S., Young, T. A: The Effects of Representativeness and Concreteness on the “Guessability” of Blissymbols. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 4, (1988) 35-39.

Updates to Symbol Manager, core and fringe vocabularies in Arabic and symbol voting.

Symbol ManagerHaving discussed changes to the Symbol Manager over the last month the work has been completed with categories being divided into small lists and alphabetic versions of the sub-categories used by ARASAAC.  Those not needed for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary have been hidden and others have been added – mainly related to food complement some of the categories the therapists have been using with Boardmaker.


There is now a Localisation section of the Symbol Manager that allows all the elements of the site to be translated from English to Arabic with changes that can be made at any time should the need arise.

Localisation Arabic

There have been discussions about adding definitions for each lexical entry as it was clear that the WordNet entries in English needed some changes to suit the audience of AAC symbol users and that an Arabic dictionary was also needed. A request was made to the Almaany Dictionary  and they have kindly offered collaboration which will be incredibly helpful.

Recent visits to Awsaj Academy have resulted in more vocabulary lists being provided by the Arabic department, for which we are incredibly grateful as this has allowed us to compare the use of various parts of speech in the lists provided by English teachers and those teaching in Arabic when using symbol communication.  But we need to be wary of the results as they come from a wide range of ages and this last list comes from a group of more able children compared to those in the earlier samples.   However, all the centres and schools need core and fringe Arabic vocabularies to provide a base for the most commonly used symbols. So frequency of use will be of paramount importance when making the choices of which symbols to adapt to suit the culture, environment, language and personal requirements.


Number of words

Parts of Speech

12% 54 adjectives
2% 7 adverbs
3% 15 interjections
48% 209 nouns
1% 5 prepositions
1% 6 pronouns
1% 5 question words
32% 138 verbs
Total 439

A VOIP meeting with the ARASAAC team discussed the collaboration on the adaptation of symbols. They have kindly agreed to give us some guidance as to how they develop their symbols and we will send them our list of symbol files that need to be added to the database to suit the needs of users in Doha and the Arabic culture, language and environment.  Sharing .svg files will help with the development and ARASAAC are changing their website and database in the coming months.

google plus symbolsOne of the ways we have been working on symbols that has greatly speeded up interaction between team members has been the use of Google+ with images being uploaded and our votes and comments being monitored by Dana before she finally uploads the images to the Symbol Manager for voting by the AAC Forum.


On going research into issues around voting as to the iconicity of symbols will  confirm our decisions around how the AAC Forum can vote on the final draft versions of the symbols.  At present we have several options as illustrated in the slides below that are available on SlideShare.


Bloomberg, K., Karlan, G. R., Llloyd, L. L.: The comparative translucency of initial lexical items represented in five graphic symbol systems and sets. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 33 (1990), 717-725

Evans D, Bowick L, Johnson M, Blenkhorn P (2006) Using iconicity to evaluate symbol use. In: Proceedings of the 10th international conference on computers helping people. Linz, Austria, pp 874–881
Fuller, D. R.: Initial study into the effects of translucency and complexity on the learning of Blissymbols by children and adults with normal cognitive abilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 7, (1997), 30-39

Haupt, L., Alant, E.: The iconicity of picture communication symbols for rural Zulu children. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, Vol. 49 (2003), 40-49

Huer, M. B.: Examining perceptions of graphic symbols across cultures: preliminary study of the impact of culture/ethnicity. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 16 (2000), 180-185

Mizuko, M.: Transparency and ease of learning of symbols represented by Blissymbols, PCS and Picsysms. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 3 (1987), 129-136

Musselwhite, C. R., Ruscello, D. M.: Transparency of three communication symbol systems. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 27, (1984), 436-443

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

English and Arabic Phonic Representations to aid Literacy Skills in AAC users

Over the past few weeks we have been trying to understand the importance of the various ways phonemes are represented to support literacy skills in Arabic and English and how best to show them alongside words or multiwords that are added to the dictionary via the Symbol Management system.   We have also discussed the need for recorded speech where synthesised speech or text to speech fails for both MSA and Qatari Arabic.   Research has shown how important phonemic awareness skills are for AAC users who go on to develop literacy skills and it appears that listening to the sounds and seeing the text highlighted helps reading skills as well as finger pointing (Vandervelden & Siegel 1999).

symbols with phonemic representationOne of the hardest problems in English is how to represent the sounds when the spelling of the words bears little resemblance to the spoken version.  Decisions have to be made as to whether one uses a system similar to that offered by the BBC where sounds are written as a combination of vowels or consonants that represent what is said such as /th a ng k / y oo/ or stay with the original spelling and just divide the word up into segments or syllables with the various blended or individual sounds e.g. th a n k | y ou

BBC phonics kit

BBC Phonics kit available at from the BBC website

Whilst discussing this matter with Professor Annalu Waller, Rolf Black, Andrea Kirton and Simon Judge at the Communication Matters Conference 2014 it was clear that the presentation should follow the way the phonics are being taught in schools by primary school teachers where the AAC users developing literacy skills could work alongside their classmates.  In UK such schemes as Jolly Phonics are being used and Andrea Kirton and Simon Judge are working on a phonic screen that might well be developed further to present the sounds with speech output in a similar way to the Macmillan app developed by Vivid Interactive to provide speech therapists with the phonetic alphabet.     It is possible that with the English section of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary we will need to take this further with clusters and blends being part of the segmentation to aid search and categorisation of words for example the listings provided in ‘Spotlight On Spelling: A Structured Guide To The Assessment And Teaching Of Spelling’ and the work of Cootes and Jamieson 

In Arabic some thought is needed as to how phonemes are represented with the various diacritical marks.  However, it is felt that by offering all the movements (diacritical marks) the text to speech (TTS) voices on offer will be able to provide acceptable pronunciation for most words even if they fail on individual phonemes were there will be the need for human recordings.

Below you will find 16 rows with 28 representations of the Arabic alphabet with possible phonemic variations which can be read using the Arabic version of ATbar. As the phonemes are used in written Arabic their letter shapes will change.  The shape of each letter altering depending on the position in the word and phrase.  Arabic keyboards achieve this automatically!  You are seeing all the letter combinations as if they are in their initial position.  I should point out that corrections to this table may still need to be made by our Arabic speaking experts, but this is just to show the type of discussions taking place at this stage in the research.

ي و ه ن م ل ك ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د خ ح ج ث ت ب ا
يَ وَ هَ نَ مَ لَ كَ قَ فَ غَ عَ ظَ طَ ضَ صَ شَ سَ زَ رَ ذَ دَ خَ حَ جَ ثَ تَ بَ اَ
يُ وُ هُ نُ مُ لُ كُ قُ فُ غُ عُ ظُ طُ ضُ صُ شُ سُ زُ رُ ذُ دُ خُ حُ جُ ثُ تُ بُ اُ
يِ وِ هِ نِ مِ لِ كِ قِ فِ غِ عِ ظِ طِ ضِ صِ شِ سِ ذِ رِ ذِ دِ خِ حِ جِ ثِ تِ بِ اِ
يّْ وّْ هّْ نّْ مّْ لّْ كّْ قّْ فّْ غّْ عّْ ظّْ طّْ ضّْ صّْ شّْ سّْ زّْ رّْ ذّْ دّْ خّْ حّْ جّْ ثّْ تّْ بّْ اّْ
يَّ وَّ هَّ نَّ مَّ لَّ كَّ قَّ فَّ غَّ عَّ ظَّ طَّ ضَّ صَّ شَّ سَّ زَّ رَّ ذَّ دَّ خَّ حَّ جَّ ثَّ تَّ بَّ اَّ
يُّ وُّ هُّ نُّ مُّ لُّ كُّ قُّ فُّ غُّ عُّ ظُّ طُّ ضُّ صُّ شُّ سُّ زُّ رُّ ذُّ دُّ خُّ حُّ جُّ ثُّ تُّ بُّ اُّ
يِّ وِّ هِّ نِّ مِّ لِّ كِّ قِّ فِّ غِّ عِّ ظِّ طِّ ضِّ صِّ شِّ سِّ زِّ رِّ ذِّ دِّ خِّ حِّ جِّ ثِّ تِّ بِّ اِّ
يَا وَا هَا نَا مَا لَا كَا قَا فَا غَا عَا ظَا طَا ضَا صَا شَا سَا زَا رَا ذَا دَا خَا حَا جَا ثَا تَ بَا آ
يُو وُو هُو نُو مُو لُو كُو قُو فُو غُو عُو ظُو طُو ضُو صُو شُو سُو زُو رُو ذُو دُو خُو حُو جُو ثُو تُو بُو اُو
يِي وِي هِي نِي مِي لِي كِي قِي فِي ضِي عِي ظِي طِي ضِي صِي شِي سِي زِي رِي ذِي دِي خِي حِي جِي ثِي تِي بِي إِي
يَّا وَّا هَّا نَّا مَّا لَّا كَّا قَّا فَّا غَّا عَّا ظَّا طَّا ضَّا صَّا شَّا سَّا زَّا رَّا ذَّا دَّا خَّا حَّا جَّا ثَّا تَّا بَّا آ
يُّو وُّو هُّو نُّو مُّو لُّو كُّو قُّو فُّو غُّو عًّو ظُّو طُّو ضُّو صُّو شُّو سُّو زُّو رُّو ذُّو دُّو خُّو حُّو جُّو ثُّو تُّو بُّو اُّو
يِّي وِّي هِّي نِّي مِّي لِّي كِّي قِّي فِّي غِّي عِّي ظِّي طِّي ضِّي صِّي شِّي سِّي زِّي رِّي ذِّي دِّي خِّي حِّي جِّي ثِّي تِّي بِّي اِّي
يَة وَة هَة نَة مَة لَة كَة قَة فَة غَة عَة ظَة طَة ضَة صَة شَة سَة زَة رَة ذَة دَة خَة حَة جَة ثَة تَة بَة اَة
يَّة وَّة هَّة نَّة مَّة لَّة كَّة قَّة فَّة غَّة عَّة ظَّة طَّة ضَّة صَّة شَّة سَّة زًّة رَّة ذَّة دَّة خَّة حَّة جَّة ثَّة تَّة بَّة اَّة

Tullah has also been carrying out research in this area and has discovered an iPad app called ‘Sawti‘ developed by Gadah Alofisan from King Saud University who has won awards for his work in this area and has presented at ICCHP .  This is one of the first apps to offer Arabic AAC support with symbols and their corresponding words being said by male and female children’s voices.  It offers users the chance to practice symbol / word recognition with free text being read aloud with the synthesised voice.   There are some colloquial Arabic words as well as MSA and the user can choose when to use speech feedback.

sawti ipad app


The only problem we have found is that the voice changes depending on the symbol being read which can be a little distracting and sometimes the way the word is pronounced was questioned by some Arabic speakers.

Both Arabic and English have such a wide range of pronunciation that we are going to have to agree on some guidelines for the way we work with voices / TTS and the way phonemes are presented.


Bayan Alarifi, Arwa Alrubaian, Ghada Alofisan, Nora Alromi, Areej Al-Wabil (2013) Towards an Arabic Language Augmentative and Alternative Communication Application for Autism, In proceedings of HCI International 2013 A. Marcus (Ed.): DUXU/HCII 2013, Part II, LNCS 8013, pp. 333-341. Springer, Heidelberg (2013).

Black R, Waller A, Pullin G, Abel E. Introducing the PhonicStick: Preliminary evaluation
with seven children. Montreal, Canada: ISAAC; 2008.  http://phonicstick.computing.dundee.ac.uk/publications/ 

Andrea Kirton, Simon Judge, P. B. (2014). Using Phonemes to Construct Utterances for Aided Communication. ISAAC 2014. doi:10.13140/2.1.3524.4162  http://openconf.faiddsolutions.com/modules/request.php?module=oc_program&action=summary.php&id=142

Trinh, H. (2011). Using a Computer Intervention to Support Phonological Awareness Development of Adults with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments. The 13th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, Dundee, UK. Accessed 5th September 2014  http://src.acm.org/2012/HaTrinh.pdf

Trinh1, H. (2012). iSCAN: A Phoneme-based Predictive Communication Aid for Nonspeaking Individuals. Proceeding ASSETS ’12 Proceedings of the 14th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility. ccessed 5th September 2014  http://keithv.com/pub/iscan/iSCAN_Final.pdf

Vandervelden, M., & Siegel, L. (1999). Phonological Processing and Literacy in AAC Users and Students with Motor Speech Impairments. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 15(September), 191–211.  Accessed 5th September 2014  http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07434619912331278725 



A participatory approach to symbol choices – Voting outcomes.

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. Voting on symbols

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.

symbol manager voting

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:

Would you like to tell us the reason?

Select any number of checkboxes


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.

voting resultsBoth 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.