The Arabic Symbol Dictionary research project aims to develop a lexicon with symbols that are culturally appropriate for Qataris and the Arab world. This project focuses on symbol use for those who cannot communicate verbally such as those with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Disability and Aphasia. Symbols can be used to communicate wants and needs, provide a method for dialogue with others as well as actively learning and advancing literacy skills. This is an example of Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC). AAC has opened the door for many with disabilities and/or communication deficits to become active participants in society and engage in everyday activities. Thus AAC has the ability to enhance one's quality of life, health and well-being to unprecedented levels. However, this potential is restricted in Qatar and other Arab countries. Currently, symbols used in Qatar are purely based on Western symbol sets. This poses great cultural and linguistic challenges. The need for symbols to be adapted to suit the Qatari culture are sentiments echoed by therapists and symbol users across Qatar. The Statistics Authority's Disability Survey of 2009 showed that the recorded number of people with disabilities grew 23% from 2007 to 2009. This means that services and resources for Qataris need to be accessible and suited to their needs to ensure that this growing portion of the Qatari population have equal opportunities, optimal quality of life and overall good health and well-being. The Arabic Symbol Dictionary research team has deemed user led research using a partcipitory and iterative approach the most effective method to develop a dictionary that will meet the needs of symbol users in Qatar. Action research with forums, interviews including quantative and qualitative methods for gathering data and working with AAC users, therapists, school teachers and carers has been employed. Guidance has also been sought from a group of advisors who are experts in this field. During the first six months of the project, it has become clear that many aspects of consistent symbol use by those belonging to Arabic speaking families is a great challenge. This is due to a lack of suitable symbols, their inappropriate cultural and linguistic features, a lack of Arabic speaking specialists and the time needed to adapt Western symbol sets. Simple word for symbol translation from English to Arabic and symbol sentence presentation from left to right (English) rather than right to left (Arabic) is the cause of much confusion. Encouraging literacy skills requires an in depth understanding of morphology and semantics undermined by current symbol sets. This presentation will explore the cultural and linguistic challenges of developing a symbol dictionary for Arabic and English speaking AAC users in Qatar. A rare insight from the view point of teachers, therapists, families, symbol users and evidence based literature. The concerning results from our online symbol voting system will be presented, a system that offers the AAC community participation in rating the acceptability of symbols. Solutions to these challenges and future directions for the development of the dictionary will be outlined.


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