Adaptations for Learning to Use Touch Effectively
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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
Traditional 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.
Textured 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") Occasionally, 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 as 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 meaning.
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 plate- a 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
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 tactilely.
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
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
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 following bibliography.
Communication Institute (1984). Picture your Bliss symbols instructional
manual. Toronto: Author.
Lloyd, L.L., & Schlosser, R.W. (1992). Further development of
an augmentative and alternative communication symbol taxonomy. Augmentative
and Alternative Communication,8, 67-74.
(1999). Augmentative and alternative communication techniques. In
J. Downing (Ed.). Teaching communication skills to students with
severe disabilities, (pp.119-155). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
(1987). Transparency and ease of learning of symbols represented
by Blissymbolics, PCS, and Picsyms. Augmentative and Alternative
J.G. (1995). Manual and spoken language. In K.M. Huebner, J.G. Prickett,
T.R. Welch, & E. Joffee (Eds.). Hand in hand: Essentials
in communication and orientation and mobility for your students
who are deaf-blind (pp.261-287). New York: AFB Press.
Schweigert, P., & Prickett, J.G. (1995). Communication systems,
devicesand modes. In K.M. Huebner, J.G. Prickett, T.R. Welch, and
E. Joffee (Eds.). Hand in hand: Essentials in communication and
orientation and mobility for your students who are deaf-blind (pp.219-295).
New York: AFB Press.
H. S. (2002). Clinical implications of an augmentative and alternative
communication taxonomy. Augmentative and Alternative Communication,18,