are many different types of symbols to support the communication
skills of individuals who do not use speech and are deaf-blind.
Although Project SALUTE is primarily interested in tactile means
of communication, we recognize and support the use of additional
modes that involve vision and hearing as well. The fields of linguistics
and alternative and augmentative communication have identified
the relationship between a symbol and what it represents as
entirely learned (Venkatagiri,
2002). The literature on augmentative and alternative communication
with children who are deaf-blind has used the term "symbol"
to mean "representation" and so photographs and objects
have been included in symbol systems. This information sheet presents
a list of abstract to concrete symbols that may be considered
in developing an individualized alternative communication system.
Individuals may use certain types of these symbols for expressive
communication and different ones for receptive communication.
Most individuals will probably use a combination of these symbols
depending on their abilities, needs, motivation, and the demands
of the communicative setting. While the following list is not
intended to impose a strict continuum from abstract to concrete
symbols, the purpose of this information is to facilitate the
selection and development of the most efficient communication
systems for individual students.
Traditional orthography or braille
orthography (print) for those who see and braille (for
those who dont have functional vision) are standardized
and abstract symbol systems comprised of letters formed
by a unique visual (lines) or tactile (dots) character.
Stringing a series of these characters together creates
words, which in turn stand for a very specific referent.
The string of characters (whether visual or tactile) does
not resemble their referent and are considered abstract
in their representation. For example, the written word,
"cup" has no visual relationship to its meaning.
symbols are individually created for students reading
a tactile and static system. A given texture such as cotton,
leather, plastic, dried glue dots, are affixed to cards
and used by the student to indicate desired items, people
or activities. The majority of textured symbols will have
no relationship to what they represent and are therefore
considered to be an abstract communication system (e.g.,
a pattern of glue dots represents "going for a swim").
an effort is made to have the texture more closely resemble
what it is meant to represent. For example, a small piece
of tile means a desire to go to the bathroom. When texture
symbols closely resemble what they represent they are
less abstract and more iconic. The more iconic textures
may be easier for the student to learn their meaning.
signs can be a visual or tactile means of communicating,
borrowing vocabulary from ASL. Signs are made with 1 or
2 hands and include a specific hand shape, position in
space, and movement. Each sign represents a word or words
that convey meaning. Although usually presented visually
at a distance from the receiver, when used tactilely,
the signer signs under the hands of the communication
partner who does not see or hear. The majority of signs
(borrowed from ASL) does not resemble their referent and
are considered abstract (e.g., MOTHER). However, several
signs look similar to their referent (e.g., BABY, DRINK,
CUP, LOOK) and are considered to be iconic. Other signs
bear a resemblance to one or more aspects of their referent
and are considered to have greater iconicity than completely
abstract signs (e.g., DOG, TREE, SPIDER, HATE, FISH).
The more iconic signs may be easier for the student to
learn. However, the student must have adequate physical
dexterity to form the manual signs needed for this system.
Modified signs that meet the cognitive and physical needs
of the user may also be easier to learn and use, but harder
for others to perceive and understand.
developed by Charles Bliss, contain primarily abstract
visual symbols that serve as an alternative to traditional
orthography. Based on a logical system that allows the
user to create any message, visual markers are added to
symbols to change syntax and pragmatic functions. While
many Blissymbols are quite abstract, several are iconic
and therefore, easier to understand. For example, the
shape of a heart can represent the noun, heart. When an
arrow pointing up is placed next to the heart shape, the
word conveyed is happy. If the arrow points down, the
word becomes sad. As shown in the examples, the Blisssymbols
for money, clock and animal resemble an aspect of their
referent. While primarily visual, Blissymbols can be designed
to be tactile as well. The logical nature of the system,
plus its iconicity are believed to students learn their
Lexigrams or logos
and logos are primarily visual symbols, but can be designed
to be 3-D and therefore, tactilely perceived. Lexigrams
or logos are shapes (with or without color) that represent
different referents. While considerably abstract, many
of these shapes can closely resemble referents (e.g.,
the universal logos for male and female restrooms resemble
the silhouette of a man or woman). As shown in the example,
the logo indicating access or parking for individuals
with disabilities represents a person sitting in a wheelchair.
A circle logo meaning, "eat" somewhat resembles
a platea relationship that could be perceived visually
or through touch. The less the logo resembles what it
refers to the more abstract the symbol. The more it resembles
its referent, the more iconic it is. Furthermore, what
may closely resemble its referent visually may not do
so at all tactilely.
Line drawings (pictures)
drawings are black and white or color drawings of people,
activities, animals, or items that visually refer to what
they represent. While closely resembling what they represent,
they do not have to be realistic and can be somewhat abstract
depending on the message conveyed. A drawing of a cake
to represent cake can be quite concrete and iconic, especially
if it is exactly the same kind of cake. Adding a specific
color to a drawing (e.g., a red apple versus a green apple)
increases its visual similarity to the object it represents.
A drawing of two hands to represent help is considerably
more abstract. Drawings can be commercially made or homemade.
The closer the picture is to resembling what it represents
the more iconic or concrete it is considered.
Photographs (black and white)
and white photographs very closely resemble what they
represent, except for the absence of color. Photographs
of single items representing that item can be very concrete
(e.g., photographs of cup to represent drink). Photographs
that contain a great deal of visual information may be
more abstract (e.g., a photo of several children and teacher
and aide with background stimuli to represent singing)
because they resemble their referent less clearly. The
example shows one type of water fountain. This photograph
is more concrete for a student who has used this kind
of water fountain than for a student who has never seen
one like this.
are very small items that are designed to visually represent
certain referents (e.g., a small elephant means elephant).
As items they can be handled and therefore, have a tactile
element. However, while they may closely approximate what
they represent visually (a tiny house for home or a plastic
animals for real animals), they are often quite abstract
when perceived tactilely. Therefore, while they may be
very concrete representations for those who have adequate
vision, they can be meaningless and unlike their referent
for those without functional vision. This critical consideration
should help to determine their appropriateness for certain
students versus others. The example shows a small wooden
bottle that is twice the length of a 25-cent piece. While
it looks like a bottle, it would be difficult to recognize
photographs can very closely resemble what they are meant
to represent and so are considered quite visually concrete
in their representation. A color photograph of a childs
favorite toy visually reflects the same shape and color
of the desired items so that the relationship is clear.
However, when photographs contain multiple bits of information
or when they only tangentially refer to the referent,
they may be more abstract (e.g., a photo of a corner of
the room with chairs, table, pictures, toys, etc. to mean
centers or a photo of a disk being put into a computer
to mean computer time). As shown in the example, a row
of sinks, soap dispensers, mirrors, and the tile on the
wall make the photograph more visually complex than a
photograph of a single sink and faucet. Photographs with
the same subject (e.g. dog) can be taken from different
visual perspectives and may be more challenging for some
children to identify. Vision is required.
Parts of objects
of objects can visually and tactilely resemble their referent
very closely and are considered concrete symbols as a
result. For example, a piece of a straw can represent
drink if the child typically uses a straw to drink. Similarly,
using this bottle top to indicate "drink" will
only be meaningful if the child has drinks from bottles
with the type of top that is shown in the example. Parts
of objects as communication symbols can be large or small,
however, the smaller the object part, the easier it will
be to display and take where needed. Parts of objects
that are to be recognized visually should be selected
based on clearly representative visual information (e.g.,
the streamers hanging from the bike handles can be used
to represent the bicycle visually). Parts of objects that
are to be recognized tactilely should be based on meaningful
tactile information from the childs perspective
(e.g., part of the handles from the bike can be used to
represent bike because thats what the child feels
when riding the bike). Parts of objects that are not easily
seen or felt by the child will be more abstract and the
relationship less clear.
objects are clearly concrete representations of their
referent. A cup is used to mean drink, a bottle for milk,
a toy ball for playing ball, etc. The object may or may
not be used in the activity it represents. However, the
association to the referent is very clear and therefore,
may be easier to learn. As shown in the example, the computer
disk is clearly connected to "working on the computer"
but is not used in the activity.
Symbols represents a synthesis of information from Project
SALUTEs focus groups, National Advisory Committee, staff
activities, and a review of relevant literature such as the