October is AAC Awareness Month – Adding Colour to Symbols
This month Global Symbols aims to “Get Out, Speak Up and Break through the Screen in a Recovering World.” We want to shout a bit louder about using symbols for different tasks and in different localities!
Most symbol sets for those with complex communication needs are developed with a setting and potential user in mind. This may be an adult or child with complex communication needs and the author starts by considering a particular need and locality. As the symbol set is picked up by other AAC users and requests for more symbols begin to arrive, adaptations and additions to the symbols are incorporated to suit other users across wider locals and for different tasks, but usually the cultural elements remain selective.
Global Symbols has had a slightly different beginning, as a repository for different symbol sets, where we are always striving to provide symbols that can be used by the widest possible audience. The result is a growing collection of symbol sets that are constantly changing, being freely added to thanks to the nature of their open licences. Last month we added the Pashto language to Mulberry Symbols and Otsimo added their Turkish symbols with many more action words. This month we have added some colour.
The Mulberry Symbol set was originally developed in the UK, mainly for adults who usually understood aspects of communication, but who may have had a stroke or other acquired speech and language disorders. The original vocabulary was largely made up fringe vocabulary, but with the Otsimo additional symbol set in English as well Turkish, the set can now be used to generate more phrases and sentences. Last month Steve Lee, who has developed the Mulberry Github site for developers and took over the original Straight Street site, allowed us to offer colour options for skin and hair colours to the original set of symbols. The system we have used just enables a change in tones and we cannot automatically change features, so the outcome is far from perfect. Therefore, it would be really helpful to receive constructive feedback and impressions of the strengths and weaknesses of the system, so that we can build more responsive and flexible ways of making adaptations in the future.
At the moment the simple colour changes occur in Board Builder as a free online communication chart that can be downloaded and printed or used with open board formats. A user will see a small blue happy face icon to indicate which symbols can be re-coloured. In the future we would like to ensure individual adapted symbols can be downloaded with their new colours and also additional elements (such as arrows and other images) can be added to make composite symbols when using Symbol Creator that is found under the ‘My images’ tab.
As the COVID pandemic continues, we are aware that moving away from the screen is important for less remote forms of communication. The situation in care homes and other settings has not changed with the need to enhance equality, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of engagement, especially where often those with communication difficutles may feel they are losing control. Appropriate choices of symbols can encourage interactions and we are planning to make this possible, as well as providing free training materials to help carers and others working in these areas develop their own personalised communication charts when time is short and ease of access it important. This has all come about thanks to further funding from a top up Churchill Fellowship COVID-19 grant.