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Symbol layouts

Ways of using symbols

Low-tech: communication books and charts are paper-based ways of making a set of symbols available. The symbols are usually accompanied by text. The book or chart may be accessed by pointing but other access methods also exist. See Low-tech use of symbols for more about these, and other methods, of using symbols.

High-tech: symbols on mobile devices may be part of a communication app or may need to be purchased separately. It may be possible to choose a preferred symbol set. Apps may have a pre-arranged vocabulary and layout. It may be possible to edit the vocabulary or it may need to be designed from scratch. With a dedicated communication aid, it may be possible to choose a preferred symbol set and to alter the layout. Symbols on a computer may be used for accessing the internet, to support reading or to generate messages which can be printed, emailed or uploaded.


Producing symbol supported materials

Here are some programs for producing symbol-supported materials. They let you create a wide range of resources, including communication books and charts, posters, labels, worksheets and timetables:

Communicate: In Print
This is a desktop publishing program for creating symbol-supported resources for printing accessible materials. The program contains the full Widgit Symbol Set. There are templates and resources available for signage, labels, posters, books, leaflets, flashcards, worksheets and timetables.
For further information see: www.widgit.com/products/inprint/index.htm

Communicate: Symwriter 2
This is a symbol-supported word processor using Widgit Symbols to show the meaning of each word as it is typed. The program contains the full Widgit Symbol Set. The program offers text to speech and a spell checker with symbol support. The student can write by selecting symbols from grids (using alternative access methods). Teachers can create their own activities.
For further information see: www.widgit.com/products/symwriter/index.htm

Boardmaker (Plus and Studio)
These are design programs for creating visual materials using Picture Communication Symbols.
For further information see: www.mayer-johnson.com

Matrix Maker
This is a design program for creating visual materials and uses PCS, Widgit Symbols and Symbolstixs.
For further information see: www.inclusive.co.uk/matrix-maker-p4837


Symbol layout for AAC communication

The layout of symbols should simplify the task of finding a particular symbol. This often means that a person may have several 'pages' of symbols. Some symbol layouts are grouped according to the meaning, e.g. symbols for clothes on one page, symbols for places on another. Some layouts make use of grammar, e.g. all describing words ("big", "dirty, "hungry") are together, and all action words ("go", "drive") are grouped together. Others are organised around a topic or situation, (Bowling, or Getting Dressed) so words for that situation are grouped on the same page.

Symbols need to be organised so the person who uses them for communication can see, reach and carry them as required. Some people have their symbols displayed on a chart on their wheelchair tray, others use a book with the symbols arranged on the pages. Different sizes of books have their own pros and cons – a small book might be very easily carried around but is likely to contain fewer symbols than a large A4 folder. Some people might need different books for different situations. Topic boards can be useful for specific activities or places. Topic boards might be displayed permanently in specific environments (e.g. at the sand tray, in the bathroom, at the supermarket) rather than being carried by the individual.