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Customisable Symbol Charts


Ace Centre’s free symbol communication charts are an important and popular resource that we are proud to offer as part of our charitable service. Thousands of people visit our website year after year to download them and help get someone started with paper-based AAC. Originally developed to complement our eBook Getting Started with Paper-Based Symbol Resources we thought about what we could do to improve the charts to make them more accessible to more people and have released updates and new features to do just that.

Below we hear from our colleagues Tina Voizey, Information and Resources Manager, and Katharine Buckley, Senior AAC Consultant and lead contributor to both the eBook and symbol charts, about this exciting development and things to consider when downloading a resource.

What’s new about the symbol charts?

When you visit the symbol resources section of our website you will find that all symbol charts can now be customised! This enables you to make changes to the way a chart looks before you download and print it.

Each chart download is accompanied by a helpsheet with information and advice on using the chart with a learner. It also provides signposts on where to learn more like the Getting Started with Paper-Based Symbol Resources eBook and some of our Ace Centre Learning courses.

For every topic, you can choose whether to download a chart optimised for finger pointing, hand pointing or eye pointing.

We reviewed the placement of the core word symbols on the charts and tried our best to align it with our Developing and Using a Communication Book layout to provide consistency for those who progress on from the charts and choose our book template as the next step.

Lastly, we made the symbol charts more ink friendly by looking at how we used colour in the background and cells. Though with our customisable charts you can always add that back in if it helps with accessibility.

What charts are available for each topic as standard?

Every topic has charts that are optimised for finger pointing, hand pointing and eye pointing.

There are three finger pointing charts available for each topic: Stage 1 has 8 vocabulary options, Stage 2 has 16 and Stage 3 has 30.

The hand pointing chart has 6 well-spaced vocabulary options to make it easier for someone selecting symbols using a hand or other body part.

The eye pointing chart has 6 vocabulary options spread around the edge of the page, with a central area that to make it easier to follow what the learner is looking at.

What about Listener Mediated Scanning?

Any of the finger and hand pointing charts can also be used with a learner who is making use of Listener Mediated Scanning to select symbols.

Listener Mediated Scanning means that the communication partner points to and / or reads aloud the label of each symbol in turn until the learner communicates “yes” to tell you that that’s the symbol they want.

You can find out more about Listener Mediated Scanning, also known as Partner Assisted Scanning, clicking here to read this article from Linda Burkhart and Gayle Porter.

Why did you decide to add the customise options?

We know tweaking a feature or two of a symbol chart can make it more suitable for an individual. One change might help someone to see it better, another can help someone to point to the symbols more accurately and others could mean someone likes the look of it a bit more and decides to use it! Chapter 6 in Getting Started with Paper-Based Symbol Resources explores some of these issues in more detail.

What can I customise on the charts?

There are two levels of options to edit. The basic level involves choosing which of the chart layouts you want, and which symbol system and font to use. The more advanced level gives control over background, cell and text colour, cell and page spacing and the position of the label in relation to the symbol.

What should people consider when customising the basic options?

Symbol system: These collections of specially drawn pictures differ from clipart in that they cover all word classes (verbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc) and not just nouns. The two symbol systems we currently offer are Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) known to many through Boardmaker from Tobii Dynavox and Widgit Symbols which are found in InPrint 3 and Widgit Online from Widgit Software. Both are widely used in the UK (and beyond!) in paper-based and electronic AAC systems.

Not all symbols are transparent. They need to be learned through teaching and constant exposure. Whenever possible, we should aim to be consistent with the symbols we provide to support this learning and avoid confusion. Before you start downloading our charts check which symbol system (if any) the learner is already familiar with or is being used in their environments e.g. nursery, school, college, day centre, etc.

Layout: The choice of finger, hand or eye pointing will be dictated by how the learner is going to point to the symbols on the chart. If you are not certain which is best, print off various options to try out and see which they have more success in accessing.

Finger pointing charts are available at Stages 1, 2 and 3, which complements the stages found in Developing and Using a Communication Book. Stage 1 charts contain 8 symbols, Stage 2 contain 16 symbols and Stage 3 charts contain 30 symbols. The choice of chart will be affected by the learner’s language level and their ability to see and / or point to the symbols on offer.

Font: This choice may be less about the needs of the person using the chart and more about the needs of their communication partner(s) who may struggle to read the symbol labels due to dyslexia or a visual issue. Though sometimes it can simply be down to personal preference and familiarity. There are four fonts to choose from including OpenDyslexia, designed to increase readability for people with dyslexia, and Atkinson Hyperlegible, designed to increase legibility and readability for people with low vision or visual issues.

What should people consider when customising the more advanced options?

There are lots of things to consider and each learner will be different. For many, choosing between the basic options will be fine. However, for some you may want to carefully consider the following.

Background, cell and font colour: To save ink, stick with the default option of a white page background and cell colour with a simple black font. But sometimes including someone’s favourite colour might just be the trick to pique their interest. You can even type in the hex reference of a specific colour if their favourite shades isn’t on offer!

Learners with visual issues could benefit from the use of high contrast colour schemes. A black background with yellow cells is often the most familiar. However, there are lots of different high contrast combinations and one of these alternatives may enhance the visual accessibility of the chart. We recommend speaking with a qualified teacher of the visually impaired if possible for support. There is also a lot of information on the internet – click here to visit one website we recommend.

Cell spacing: You can adjust the amount of space between each cell to support someone who has difficulties accurately pointing. Experiment with increasing the space between each symbol to give more margin for error. Creating more space between each cell may also help with visual accessibility as it separates out each symbol, reducing visual clutter.

Page spacing: This feature affects how close to the edge of the page the symbols appear. You can use it to adjust the area of the page that the symbols take up. The greater the page spacing, the smaller the area covered by symbols. It may be that someone prefers using a smaller more discrete chart. However, for someone with limited range of movement, reducing the size could assist with making more accurate selections.

What developments are you planning?

PCS offers a specialised library of high contrast symbols designed for people with cortical visual impairment. We are hoping to add these as an option very soon.

What do I do if customising doesn’t help?

If you try working with these features but someone is still unable to see the symbols and/or physically select them, please don’t give up as there are lots of different ways to support their communication! You could consult our eBook Access to Paper-Based Symbol Resources when Pointing is Difficult or book a free online session through our Information Appointment service to chat things through with our clinicians by clicking here. You can also drop us a line via email [email protected] or give us a call on our advice line 0800 080 3115.