Tag Archives: voting

Global versus Universal?

“Global” reflects the nuance of culture and language, “Universal” assumes that one size fits all.

voting hands around the worldWorking with UNICEF and the AAC Cohort is one of the most exciting things we have been doing recently.  We have had telemeetings with lots of discussions about opening the world of AAC symbols to the widest possible audience.  Topics have ranged from different open licences such as Creative Commons and open source software to what it takes to develop Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) symbols that can be used across the world and on to more complex ideas including Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and AAC!

You might ask why are we thinking about the meaning of words such as  ‘Global’  and ‘Universal’ whilst building a symbol repository.  We feel that global recognises different languages, cultures, religions and social settings and environments.   In part this is because we have promised ourselves that we will not be introducing yet another symbol set that includes symbols that are universally recognised.   We accept that there are many symbols that can be said to be universal because they are recognised worldwide, but we are looking at the nuances that occur in different countries and where localisation is important.

what time is it?

What time is it?



We discussed the idea of “Symbols for different settings across the world” when we were working on the Tawasol Symbols in 2016 and looked at some of the issues that W3C highlighted for web developers thinking about  localisation and globalisation or internationalisation. such as:

  1. “Numeric, date and time formats
  2. Use of currency
  3. Keyboard usage
  4. Collation and sorting
  5. Symbols, icons and colors
  6. Text and graphics containing references to objects, actions or ideas which, in a given culture, may be subject to misinterpretation or viewed as insensitive.
  7. Varying legal requirements
  8. and many more things.”

We discovered that No.8  ‘many more things’ included  the criteria below when working on the Tawasol Symbols and that these features came about as a result of our voting sessions with AAC users, their families, carers and the professionals working with them.  criteria for symbol design

Global Symbols aims to ensure that all the open symbols we add will have been reviewed by those using AAC and those involved in supporting AAC users in the locality where they have been developed, whilst also allowing for personalisation.

Watch this spot for all the changes we plan for the Global Symbols web site in the coming months! The first group of symbols will be coming from the UNICEF AAC cohort members – Jellow designed by those developing the app in India and cBoard, developed in Argentina and Israel, at present using the Mulberry Symbols from Straight Street that were voted on by users and AAC supporters in the UK over a period of several years.


We will be updating this blog as we add symbols and please join us on Facebook to discuss the changes!  We will also be tweeting about updates

Thank you UNICEF for this very thought provoking, challenging and interesting partnership. 


The outcome of a summer of voting on further batches of symbols

In June 2016 Tawasol concluded its second to last voting session for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary Project. 24 therapists voted on 60 symbols from 3 organisations; AWSAJ Academy, Hamad Medical Corporation Speech Therapy department and The Hamad Child Development Centre. Although traditionally 40-60 voters participate from a wide range of organisations and
AAC contexts, it was difficult to facilitate similar numbers to previous occasions because the school year end was coming to a close for 3 months of summer vacation.

Unfortunately, with a technical hitch,  all voting took place on paper rather than our usual online voting. This, we believe skewed our data as on the online symbol manager you are not able to submit a comment unless you enter numeric ratings for the criteria. Although the significance of completing numeric ratings on paper was explained to voters, 101 symbols had comments but no numeric data. The team discussed this and decided that the best way to proceed would be to review the comments and if there was an element of negativity in the comment, it would be given a score of 2 out of 5 and if it was a positive comment it would be given a 4 out of 5. The results for the 4 sets of criteria over 4 batches of symbols are as below:

Voting criteria averages batches 1-4

We believe it is because of this change in voting settings that the ratings related to ‘feelings about the symbol’ and ‘represents word/phrase’ were not as favourable as in previous voting sessions.    We also believe that the recent concepts (for which we are developing symbols), are becoming more and more abstract and more difficult to depict. A commonly repeated statement throughout the voting sessions was “I don’t think of this word when I see this symbol but it’s a hard concept to convey and I can’t come up with a better way to visually depict it.” It was pleasing to see the colour/contrast and cultural sensitivity ratings and comments improve.

However, there were advantages of not using the technology in that we received more in depth comments and participants appeared to be willing to be more critical which was immensely helpful.

Summary of the comments provided from the voting sessions.

Zoom In!

For a number of symbols the voters requested that we zoom in on the essential parts of the symbol to emphasise the facial expressions, essential details and focus the user on the intended meaning. They communicated that a whole body depiction wasn’t needed in symbols like thirsty and quiet and preferred that just the head and neck were showing or in the case of “tummy” that only the chest down be shown.


Oops! Didn’t think of that!

Voters in batch 4 really helped us to focus on the details in symbols, as this can make a big a difference to first impressions and comprehension. For example for the concept “easy” the thinking bubble actually had an equation that wasn’t necessarily “easy”. They all said stick to 1+1=2. Also, in the symbol for nanny, the character is wearing an apron which they said can be confused with a maid. In Qatar, a nanny looks after the children while the maid carries out house duties.


Swap it!

It was interesting to hear voters say “this symbol would be perfect for your other word just change x”. For example they suggested we use the symbol for “contribute” for “teacher” but just add an arrow to the teacher. This was also the case for “something” where voters suggested this could be the symbol for “choose” just with the finger making direct contact with one of the objects.

contribute, something, teacher and choose symbols

contribute symbol above teacher and something above the choose symbol going from top left.

That’s not the word…

Voters picked out a few words in Arabic which they believed were not accurate. For example “canteen” transliterated in Arabic to “cafeteria” was not acceptable and suggested the word “مقصف”. This was also the case for “dictionary” in Arabic where it was suggested that the term we had used “قاموس” was specifically a dictionary for translated terms where as a dictionary with words and their meanings should be referred to as a “معجم”.

Compare the pair.

For some difficult concepts voters suggested that it would be easier to grasp the concept if there was a comparison within the same symbol. For example; fast and slow were a bit difficult to understand as standalone symbols but when put together into one symbol and fading the unintended concept, it became clearer. They also requested this for “organised” i.e. to have a “messy” office side by side with an “organised office otherwise the symbol could be interpreted as “office”.








How rude!

Despite the rise in positive cultural suitability ratings,  a few cultural issues are still being raised. The symbol for “come” using the index finger is seen as rude, belittling and disrespectful in the Arab culture. Although they all agreed it was very clear that it was “come” they didn’t think it was appropriate. Some voters also were unhappy with the boy uncovering his stomach for the “tummy” symbol and preferred that his stomach be covered and to indicate stomach with an arrow.







Put it into context.

Voters reminded us of the importance of including context in symbols. For example the symbol for “active”, they suggested that they need to be in a park and for “teacher” although she did look like a teacher they thought it was essential to put her in a classroom.








Is this symbol really needed?

Some voters questioned how essential some of the symbols were and whether they were really needed e.g. manufacture and emotional faces.


emotional faces






It was very insightful once again to hear the perspectives of those working with AAC users. All their comments have been passed onto the graphic designer and changes will be made to the symbols discussed.

During our voting session at AWSAJ Academy, we provided participants with resource packs that included a variety of communication scenarios made with our symbols. This included bathroom routines, prayer position sequences, fire drill execution charts, fill in the gaps worksheets, what I did on the weekend worksheets, The life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) symbol book with corresponding worksheets, basic requirements communication boards, refugee communication boards, I want charts and many more. You can download all the resources from the Tawasol symbols website.

We also gave every teacher and therapist evaluation forms to see whether the symbols were meeting their needs.  In the coming weeks we will update you on the results of the symbol evaluations.

Report by Amatullah Kadous

Voting on lexical concepts for the classroom and for communication.

This report comes thanks to Amatullah Kadous

symbol comparison

Comparing ARASAAC symbols on left to Arabic Symbol Dictionary versions.

On May 12th, 2015 the Mada Assistive technology Center hosted the first voting session for the second batch of symbols. The session was attended by 10 voters, including 3 Mada staff members, 3 speech therapists from the Child Development Centre in West Bay, 3 staff members from Shafallah special needs school and the Head of the Speech Therapy Department at Qatar Academy.



Via the online symbol management “quick vote system”, participants voted on 66 symbols that had been developed or adapted from the ARASAAC symbol such as  “drive” or “Allah” (God).

There was a debate as to the importance of words used in the classroom with older students and those words or phrases needed for daily communication.   Some felt that there should be a mix at this stage despite the fact that the words had been provided by schools.  Dr. Imad Deeb a speech therapist specializing in developing Arabic literacy programs for people with special needs made the comment that “there are 3 different levels of vocabulary: General academic vocabulary, Specific academic vocabulary and the common vocabulary; (some of) the words presented today are academic and from the MSA (from texts) and the MSA doesn’t represent any dialect, nobody uses these words to communicate, the vocabulary presented today is so different than the level of a child with disability. The words are abstract and complex, they don’t match the needs of our children”

collective response manners
An example of this were the words  “collective response” and “manners”  (translated from the Arabic list)  provided by a school covering a wide age range (K-12).  Many voters said that they had never used such a symbol with the AAC users they were supporting, one voter stating, “It’s a very abstract word, very difficult to explain it to a child, I’ve worked with children for more than 20 years, I’ve never used this word, why is it in your list?”  But if the Arabic had been adapted  to represent ‘everyone answer’ and ‘please be good’  would there have been a different reaction.

“Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.” Voltaire

It was time to re-evaluate the methods used to collect the core vocabularies. It was decided that different lists may have to be targeted at different voters in the AAC forum whilst prioritising the core communication vocabularies.  For example 3 lists from a specific special needs school in Qatar had come from the Arabic department who had come together and created the vocabulary based on words commonly used in text books and concepts from Islamic Studies – these were the lists that contained words such as collective response, manners, memorise and even monotheism.  All the other lists were based on symbols used in conversation or taken directly from classrooms including visual timetables, communication boards, grids, what speech therapists working with AAC users perceived as the most commonly used symbols and symbols used for signage around the special needs school.  By keeping the 3 curriculum based lists separate the final core vocabulary list reflected a communication based vocabulary and any more complex words or word phrases would be kept for a separate higher level literacy based  vocabulary.

The team also discussed the possibility of arranging for a group of users, parents and professionals supporting AAC users to vote on the final core vocabulary; to add and remove words they believed should or shouldn’t be in place.  In this way there would be a local consensus that the collected data was valid based on usage.   This was actually a suggestion that originally came from one of the voters “you have to set your proper list of vocabulary and invite us to vote on the list before starting to create new symbols” !  It highlights  the value of using a participatory approach and including users and their supporters in the decision making processes.

There was also another discussion about the clothing type to be used throughout the Arabic Symbol dictionary i.e. traditional Qatari clothing (black dress and hijab for women and white dress and headpiece for men) or clothing more suitable for the broader Arab region (coloured clothing with hijab for women). One speech therapist explained how her Egyptian student would not be able to identify with the character in our symbol that was wearing Qatari clothing. She also questioned what the scenario would be like for a Qatari AAC user who travelled abroad. Her suggestion was that we use stick figures. The team had already discussed this issue at the beginning of the symbol designing process, and decided that this problem needed to be put  to those who would be using the symbols most. A symbol survey was created which 50 therapists, parents and special needs teachers completed regarding their preference for clothing type (Qatari vs Arab clothing) and drawing type (stick figures vs full drawing of male and female characters). The results noted in the previous blog entry showed a preference for clothing that represented the broader Arab region and full drawing depictions as opposed to stick figures.

The team has realized how passionate everyone is for their opinions to be heard as all have valid rationales for their preferences. In order for the dictionary to be useful and for it to be used, it is essential to cater for the broadest range of users and supporters possible.  it has been decided to incorporate characters with Qatari clothing in the situation where there are more than one character but leaving the majority of characters in Arab clothing. Furthermore, it will be possible to make as many stick figure options available via the ARASAAC symbol lists as well as those developed for a research project by one of the team members as part of her Master’s degree from the University of St. Joseph in Lebanon.


Final voting on Batch One Symbols with AWSAJ Academy and two AAC users.

voting on symbol

Voting to decide on types of clothing and types of action symbols

In the past month there have been final voting sessions on the first batch of adapted symbols and the voting on whether symbols should portray individuals just in Qatari dress or a mix and if action words (verbs) where gender is an issue should be portrayed by stick figures or would the dictionary need to have both male and female representations.





More votes on this subject may yet come in from the AAC Forum,  but it is felt that the initial 50 votes, as a result of face to face meetings,  could be revealed at this stage.

clothing type

Voting shows 68% want a mix of clothing types

Drawing type

Voting shows 86% want gender specific verbs







Comments for the type of dress needed on the symbols included the following:

“less distracting”, “I like both, but prefer option 1 for Qatar” (voted for just Qatari dress) “one uncovered”, “make one of them dressed in Abaya”, “Make one of the girls wear abaya and one of the males wear a thowb”, “one in abaya and one with no headcover and for male one in thobe”, “add one person from action one”, “I prefer one to wear the abaya, one to wear a normal hijab and one without a hijab”, “with one uncovered hair”, “one girl/boy can be in Arabic traditional dress, one girl can be not covered”, 

Comments for the type of drawing needed for verbs included the following:

“To make it more culturally representative and to bring out contrast of figure – around differentiation”,  “the colours are clear”, “don’t like stick figures” “colour the stick”.

The decision has been made that we need to have a mix of clothing and verbs will be represented in both male and female where required.  

Further voting sessions for adapted symbols took place with AWSAJ Academy teachers working with Arabic AAC users.  The online Quick Voting system was used. To date 62 participants’ votes  have been logged on the Symbol Manager resulting in 2341 votes for the  initial batch of 65 symbols!  These now need to be analysed for the comments received and the level of marks given out of 5 for each of the voting criteria – the voters feelings about the symbol generally,  whether it was found to be a suitable representation of the word or phrase presented, whether it had sufficient colour contrast levels and cultural sensitivity.    For all these criteria the average scores were above 3.9.  Where individual symbols have received lower scores in any of the criteria further adaptations will be made taking into account any comments received.  These redrawn symbols will be submitted for voting once again alongside new symbols developed for the next batch of voting that will take place in May.

Average scores for symbols in Batch 1

Average scores for symbols in Batch 1 all over 3.9 out of 5

Case Study A Aejaz and Tullah also met up with two young AAC Users on separate occasions.  Aejaz set up a  batch of 21 symbols on a grid with 5 versions of thumb positions for the 5 scores for A aged 8,  with the support of his father he voted on the symbols and the results were positive with only 3 symbols being marked below the mid point as can be seen with the results below.


A's scores for the symbols










casestudyMWhen working with M in the Shafallah Center,  the criteria  for voting was simplified to thumbs up for an acceptable symbol straight across for in the middle and  thumbs down for a reject.  The latter worked well and once again most symbols were found to be acceptable.  It is hoped we will have more case studies to share and batch 2 of the adapted symbols will be voted on during May and early June before Ramadan.



Designs for Symbols and Arabic Core vocabulary.

Over the past month a further 20 therapists with 13 Arabic speakers voted on the first batch of symbols with Tullah reporting that there was a preference for colour versions of male and female images for verbs rather than stick figures  (3 voted for stick figures and 17 for full image with colours). Tullah also felt that gender might play a role in the symbol choices,  as it appeared that the male attendees were more willing to accept stick figures in black and white.  This area needs more research!   Does the gender of the therapist impact on the choice of symbol they may make for their AAC users?  

When it came to discussing the clothing concerns there was a general consensus that there should be a range of dress with options for traditional styles as well as westerner clothing.  The final dictionary will provide access to all the ARASAAC symbols as well as the specially designed ones for Arabic culture so it is hoped that there will be sufficient choice.

Survey stick figure with Arabic modificationsBecause there have been some concerns about the way action symbols for verbs are portrayed and the type of clothing needed across all the symbols it was decided that we needed to increase the number of people involved in making these decisions so a survey is being sent out across several organisations with AAC users in the hope that we receive clear direction.

The  results from this survey and the final votes for Batch 1 of the newly designed symbols will be discussed in the next blog.   In the meantime a new collection of Arabic words lists have been gathered from the Awsaj Academy teachers, parents and speech therapists working with AAC users.


Core Vocabulary

During the year the team have kept up the discussion about core Arabic vocabularies.   According to the PrAActical Blog (author Carole Zangari) the recent ATIA 2015  conference

“served as validation that core vocabulary is now a widely accepted practice in supporting language development with AAC learners. Presentation after presentation discussed the rationale, research support, and strategies for implementation.”

Early on it was the aim to have a localised core vocabulary used by AAC users in Doha with a set of words that were based around a symbol vocabulary collected from therapists, teachers and parents in specialist schools and clinics.  The original list was largely based on an English core vocabulary taken from the  100 frequently used core words provided by Prentke Romich Company (PRC),  with a considerable number of fringe words – mainly nouns as can be seen from the most frequently used ones.

11 most commonly used words









Now an Arabic word list has been developed, built up thanks to collaboration with 8 Doha based institutions.   Description of data origins for Core vocab.  The AAC user lists contain around 1000 words and the initial analysis has shown an interesting set of frequently used Arabic words which still need more accurate analysis and checks against other lists.  The top 20 translated into English (with frequency in brackets) are at the moment:

I (16), car (13), ball (12), on (11), banana (11), to (10), he went (10), work (10), house (9), he sat (9), bicycle (9). clock/watch (9), in (9), chair (9), I want (8), aeroplane (8), pen (8), was (8), he played (8), flower / rose (8)

Arabic top 20 words



signing young in Arabic

Signing young in Arabic (taken from ‘ndictative dictionary’ provided by The Qatar Society for Rehabilitation of Special Needs)

We also have access to a list of words collected by the Qatar Society for Rehabilitation of Special Needs for those who are deaf or have hearing impairments and are using sign language in Qatar and we are beginning to collect words used when teaching Arabic to children and those wishing to speak Arabic as a second language.




It is felt that these three collections should be representative of the types of vocabulary needed as a basis for the dictionary.  The intention is to analyse the collections looking for similarities in the words used between the lists, frequency of use and comparisons with the English core vocabularies used at the start of the project.


Zangari, C. (2012).Helping the general education team support students who use AAC. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 21:82;91. (Accessed 22nd February, 2015 http://www.minspeak.com/students/documents/%20Zangari.pdf)

VanTatenhove, Gail M. (2013) Core Vocabulary with Emergent & Context-Dependent Communicators in Special Education Classrooms (Accessed 22nd February, 2015  http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/handouts/CoreVocabWithECDCommunicators.pdf )

VanTatenhove, Gail M. (2007 Normal Language Development, Generative Language & AAC (Accessed 22nd February, 2015 http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/papers/LangDevelopmentIntervention/NormalLanguage&AAC.pdf )

Symbol Manager changes to suit the needs of the voters

Feedback from participants involved  in the voting has resulted in some changes to the interface for the Symbol Manager.  There has been the introduction of a quick voting screen that removes the clutter causing problems and allows the user to see a large image of the symbol alongside the presentation of the criteria.

quick vote screen

There was also a discussion about the criteria as some felt it would be better to have the image showing without the symbol label but later several therapists asked for the label to be available in English, MSA and Qatari not just MSA. However, there may be slight differences in the translation and this will need to be discussed.

It was decided to stay with the closed-ended questions used to measure iconicity of each symbol and to keep the five point scale rather than the seven point scale mentioned by Evans et al (2006). The optimal length of the Likert scale is a complex subject and can affect the end result (Friedman and Amoo, 1999a).

In trying to keep the criteria scales as simple as possible it appears that one can re-scale results when comparing a seven point scale to a five point scale (Dawes, 2008) and it is even possible to have more clear cut decisions if a shorter scale is used (Foddy, 1993).  There was also the debate about having a mid-point where there is thought to be a tendency to choose 3 in the case of a 5 point Likert scale.  However Lietz (2008) points out that the research shows

“response without the middle. point had lower validity and higher random error
variance, indicating that people randomly chose other available response
options when the middle option was not available. This desirability of having
a neutral middle point to increase the reliability and validity of response
scales has also been confirmed by a meta-analysis of 87 experiments of
question design reported by Saris and Gallhofer (2007).”

The next set of voting results will come via the Quick Vote system which was piloted by Tullah with 20 therapists and teachers initially using paper based  versions of the system to discuss the best way forward as well as issues around the style of the symbols.  This will be discussed in the next report as Nawar has now made it possible for Symbol Manager to export voting data directly to Excel using Power Pivot. 


Dawes, J.(2008)  “Do data characteristics change according to the number of scale points used ? An experiment using 5 point, 7 point and 10 point scales”. International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 50, 1, 2008

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

Foddy, W. (1993). Constructing questions for interviews and questionnaires: Theory and practice. Melbourne: Cambridge University

Friedman, Hershey H. and Taiwo Amoo (1999a). “Rating the Rating Scales.” Journal of Marketing Management, 9 (Winter), 114-123.

Lietz, P. (2010). Research into questionnaire design – a summary of the literature. International Journal of Market Research, 52(2), 249-272.

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.


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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.

Voting to make symbol choices – update on progress

Over the last few months we have been deciding whether we could use a symbol set that best suited users and their carers as well as complementing what is already in place.  It was decided that it would be useful to have a series of sessions with experts looking at the issues.  The video below explains the stages we have reached and is going to be used at a series of meetings in Doha.

The Arabic Symbol Dictionary Progress transcript can be downloaded and below can be seen the PowerPoint that is used in the video and available on Slideshare.