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How do we Make Decisions about Symbolic Vocabularies for High-Tech Communication?

Research Stream
  • Janice Murray (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Juliet Goldbart (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Simon Judge (Barnsley Assisitive Technology Service)
  • Liz Moulam
  • Stuart Meredith
  • David Meads (University of Leeds)

This presentation describes the initial stages in a programme of work investigating the decision-making processes around the choice of symbolic vocabularies for children and young people who use, or could use, aided communication. The overall aim of this work is to inform the decision-making processes in the selection of communication systems with the hope that this will also improve the design and efficacy of such systems. The aim of this paper is to give an overview of the issues relating to decision-making regarding symbolic vocabularies for aided communication.


The paper will present an initial theoretical structure of communication and language relating to the use of symbol vocabularies derived from a review of the literature. The paper will also present an initial characterisation of existing symbol vocabularies. These two elements of work provide an initial foundation from the two perspectives of the user and the system on which the proposed future investigations can build. The presentation will report on on-going work and conclusions will be tentative and exploratory and aim to foster discussion with the audience.


Currently, findings suggest there is much to revisit in the decision-making choices of vocabulary design, in terms of vocabulary items, the organisational structure and the ability to map them into available technologies. Terminology used appears to be understood and applied in an inconsistent and unhelpful manner, e.g. dynamic systems.


Organisational and navigational consistency could be better described. Inclusion of language learning components and typical language trajectories seem absent from many existing systems. These elements form the basis of future work.

Level of Session 
Age Group 
All Ages
Primary school
Secondary school
Special school
Further/Higher Ed.