Blissymbolics Advances in Technology

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Blissymbolics
Advances in Technology



Bliss has renewed its mission in the area of technology.. It is now committed to undertaking projects with the following objectives:

    1. Ensuring that the most up-to-date, easy to use technological tools for creating symbol boards and using symbols are available for Blissymbolics,
    2. Ensuring that no Bliss user will have to abandon the language of Blissymbolics that he or she has learned and be required to learn a new symbol system just because Bliss is not available on his or her communication device of choice,
    3. Ensuring that Blissymbolics is not rejected from consideration as a language system for an appropriate user just because there is not sufficient technological support to work with the Bliss system easily.


TOOLS FOR WORKING WITH BLISSYMBOLICS

I. Tools for creating manual Bliss boards:

There is now a choice of five programs for PCs in different languages and one program for MACs that can be used for simplifying the creation of manual Blissboards.

  1. Boardmaker (American): We are in the final stages of completing a library of Blissymbols that can be used for creating Blissboards in English.
  2. Bliss for Windows (Dutch): The Document Maker component of Bliss for Windows can be used for creating manual Blissboards in Dutch, English and many other languages. This capability is also part of the new Symbols for Windows by the same manufacturer - Handicom.
  3. WinBliss (Swedish): This program can be used for creating manual Bliss boards in Swedish or English.
  4. Mind Express (Belgian) can be used for making manual Blissboards in French or English
  5. Bliss2: This program can be used for creating manual Blissboards in French
  6. AccessBliss: This program can be used for creating manual Blissboards in English using a Macintosh computer.



II. Tools for creating on-screen Bliss displays and scanning access protocols

With the addition of a voice output capability, these following programs can be used as general purpose communication aids.

There are three programs that can be used to create on-screen Blissboards and scanning access protocols. All of these programs also have optional voice output capability and hence can be used as VOCAs

  1. WinBliss


  2. Bliss for Windows with Clicker


  3. Mind Express



III Dedicated communication aids

There are two dedicated communication aids for which Blissymbol dictionaries are available:

  1. The DynavoxCurrently there is a beta version of Blissymbols for the Dynavox. It has the full set of capabilities except that it cannot have more than one user sharing the device and the word prediction and vocabulary searches will not display Blissymbols. These limitations are not critical to most single users of the device. They will be rectified in the next release of the system.
  2. BMW on the LiberatorThis software allows advanced users of Blissymbols to take advantage of their first language, Blissymbolics, along with Minspeak and Words Strategy.



V. Bliss in the Internet age

We are developing tools and various kinds of internet based supports for those who wish the use Blissymbolics. This includes providing a central internet location where Bliss users and those associated with Bliss users are able obtain relevant information about Blissymbolics as well as be able to communicate with one another via the internet.

  1. Publishing Blissymbols on the internet: We are developing a standard "authorized" set of Blissymbols in some of the popular internet graphic formats (i.e. 'gif', 'jpeg', & bmp) for internet publication. Through an arrangement with BCI that will include monitoring of the "publication", the symbols will be made available to those who wish to publish materials containing Blissymbols on the internet, in software or in printed documents. The intention is to provide a convenient, economical and quick way for developers to obtain a correctly drawn Blissymbol. These can be distributed electronically.


  2. Bliss users communicating with one another on the internet: We have developed an easy to use e-mail program - BlissInternet ? that anyone (who has the software) can use to send and receive Blissymbols over e-mail. The development of this program has lead to collaborative work with other developers (e.g. Bliss/{Symbols} for Windows by Handicom, WinBliss by Foreningen, Furuboda,). who are working on programs to support Blissymbol communication over the internet. These programs are currently under Beta test with field trials involving adult Bliss users in Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada (Baird, 2001).


  3. The Bliss cybercommunity: One fundamental component of our renewed mission is to establish a multi-facetted internet presence to support the dissemination of information in a wide range of areas that are relevant to Bliss users. A basic site has already been set up and is operating. The plan is to undertake projects to expand it to include the following activities:
      1. Support for direct communication among Bliss users, their care givers, friends etc. via electronic forums and e-mail. The internet programs mentioned above will be used to support this activity.


      2. Parents want to know: There will be a "frequently asked questions" section of the website designed specially for parents.




  4. Bliss cybercollege: There is a great need for information and training in AAC in general and in the appropriate use of Blissymbolics in particular. The internet is an ideal medium for providing such information and training instructors quite economically over wide geographic regions. We intend to exploit this medium in series of educational activities. In addition, there will be courses for training Presenters who are certified to give Blissymbolic workshops and teach Blissymbolics to other instructors as well as course for training Monitors who can proofread and edit publications, websites and software certifying that the symbols contained in that material are correctly drawn and that the information presented about the symbols is accurate



V A Library of the writings of Bliss users.

Many users of Bliss enjoy writing and have a great deal to tell us about their experiences and views of the world. These writings are currently being assembled and published on the internet site. Apart from providing an important platform for the Bliss users themselves to speak out, they are of interest to many others - parents, other Bliss users, clinicians, etc. Although we are starting with the writings of people in Ontario, we hope eventually to have writings from Bliss users from all over the world so that we can set up sections for each country.

VI Current research projects

We have always been committed to research and development to provide needed information and communication tools related to the use of Blissymbols. This commitment continues. For example, a very recent relevant project that we have undertaken involves investigating employment opportunities for Bliss users in the AAC field.
Employment opportunities for non-speaking individuals
The Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy has funded a pilot project to assess what is required (feasibility of) for non-speaking individuals to be able to create Blissboards (either manual or on-screen) for other Bliss users. The project was begun in the summer of 2001 and is ongoing. 

Planning a Communication, Language and Literacy program

A colleague asked me to send her my latest thinking regarding Blissymbolics as it is used for persons who require a substitute or supplement for speech due to a speech impairment.

The following article is based on my response.


I find myself thinking alot about Bliss as I work on my thesis. I see the value of Bliss more and more as a transition "language" between pictures and print, for all who can achieve literacy, and a longterm language for those who cannot become fluent in spelling. I am beginning to treat more seriously the distinction between spelling and reading, discovering that there are those who can use spelling very competently for communication, but who still have serious reading difficulties.

My ideal program for children who have severe speech difficulties would be an introduction to pictures at as young an age as possible, with ongoing evaluation as to when the child is ready to transfer to pictographic Blissymbols. Once the child is using some pictographic Blissymbols, I would begin adding ideographic Blissymbols to their display, and I would follow this with the teaching of letter strategies (beginning with the use of initial letters, then adding other letter strategies as the child becomes aware of their role in decoding. I would add whole words to the child's communication display whenever the word is known and can contribute to effective communication.

I would relax on whether the plural, past tense, possessive, etc., is symbolized by Bliss or by orthography - using whatever the child latches onto and uses. My goal would be emphasizing the structural aspects of Bliss in the INTRODUCTION of symbols and relating this to orthography whenever the child can grasp the concept. I would not worry if there was a mix of pictures, Bliss and print,, so long as the structural aspects of Bliss were consistently adhered to. It is the language structure and scaffolding that Bliss provides that I believe is its strength. This means that I would want the child to be aware of the past tense symbol even if he/she preferred to use "ed" after the symbol or work. The combine, opposite meaning, similar to, and sounds like, strategies would be high on my list of for mastery even while print was being worked on.

I believe we should concern ourselves with (1) the child's development of conceptual strategies to compensate for having to communicate in a cumbersome way (note having the system of choice -natural speech) and (2) the child's development of language in order to gain a metalanguage competency and a mastery of print in as many forms as possible - spelling, reading, writing. This means a strong emphasis on (1) cognitive skills and (2) phonological skills - always being aware that proficiency in the phonological domain is likely to be an area of difficulty. The development of both areas requires innovative teaching.

My desire to maintain an international standard for the system of Blissymbolics is as strong as ever, but I do not believe it should be our concern as we are working with children who are developing within an emerging literacy program! I believe Blissusers who progress to progress will appreciate the international capability of Bliss all the more after they have joined our literate community. They will have a real edge on the rest of the world as BlissNet becomes used between language groups and they can retun to their first language for interacting internationally.

So, what I am emphasizing is the needs of the learning child must come first. I firmly believe that Bliss has a strong contribution to make and that we should not be thinking of which system an individual should have, but rather, when should the three types of systems be provided to the child. Pictures, Bliss, orthography, each offer different strengths to the developing child when introduce aat the appropriate stage of development. All of them are important. Pictures offer immediate recognition and and reduced cognitive demands, freeing attention for communication - important when the child is just learning what communication is all about; Blissymbols offer an explicit language scaffolding, preparing the way for independent mastery or what will always be a challenge - trying to replicate the accomplishments of speech; orthography offers the ability to generate any utterance and to access all of the opportunities afforded by literacy.

Shirley McNaughton C.M., Ph.D.

Climbing the literacy ladder

This short paper relating to literacy acquisition by AAC users appears in the Symbol Talk section of Communicating Together, 1998, 15(4). Hopefully it will be of interest to those wishing to help Bliss users progress toward print literacy.

In Paul's Place, in the Summer 1998 issue of Communicating Together (Volume 15, Number 2), I described BlissInternet as our agent of change and promised to say more in a later issue regarding BlissInternet's capability to support Bliss users and Bliss alumni as they progress toward literacy. This issue's theme — Community Partnerships and Volunteer Involvement — provides the perfect context. My focus in this article is literacy acquisition for adults who use AAC. Many of the points, however, have application as well to literacy development in children who use AAC. Hopefully what I have to say will have relevance to those wishing to help persons of any age who communicate with Bliss, pictures or print and who wish to improve their literacy skills. The literacy program I am presenting has the acronym WRIB — Writing and Reading with the Internet and Bliss (McNaughton, 1998). "WRIB" provides an easy reminder that it performs a similar critical function in literacy acquisition as the ribs perform for the organs of the body. The rib case provides a structure to support and shield internal organs vital to our survival. WRIB provides a structure to maintain and support the further development of the individual's literacy abilities. And I use another analogy — considering literacy acquisition as climbing a ladder that depends for its stability upon a strong supportive platform. The literacy ladder has three rungs — pictures, Blissymbolics, print — each of which offers access to rich learning experiences. Only the top rung, however, opens the full world of literacy to the learner. It is a level to be highly valued, expecially for AAC users. For them print literacy not only opens the wide world available to all literate persons, but it also affords choices within many types of communication — face-to-face, with spelling/word boards and voice output communication aids (VOCA's); written, with many computer software options; telephone, with VOCA's; and computer-mediated telecommunications, using email and the internet. The supportive platform upon which the literacy ladder depends rests on four legs — (1) the learner's abilities and motivation, (2) knowledge of the factors involved in learning ro read, (3) a supportive instructional environment and (4) a committed instructor. I know of many situations in which one or two of the platform legs are in place, but one or more are inadequate — and the ladder topples! In those instances where all four legs are strong, the upward climbing of the ladder is a rich and satisfying experience for both the learner and the instructor.

Literacy Ladder

First, let's look at the literacy ladder. At the first rung, AAC users learn to use pictures or line drawings to communicate. At this level they can gain knowledge as they sequence pictures or line drawings to tell a story or to convey a message and as they interpret a series of pictures and drawings to gain information. The learner can derive lots of enjoyment and self esteem through participating in these "literacy" activities. As Detheridge and Detheridge (1998) describe this level of literacy, intellectual development is freed "from the constraints of writing and spelling, allowing language development to be successfully explored at an early stage" (p. 30). They report that many teachers claim, "by providing the means for structuring ideas and communicating knowledge it is possible that some learners will exceed expectations and will acquire higher levels of literacy than were initially anticipated" (p. 30). Their book, Literacy Through Symbols, contains many helpful examples of what can be accomplished through individuals participating in the domain of written symbols. As AAC users read and write with pictures, they can learn that graphic symbols convey meaning, that graphic symbols are sequenced from left to right and they can become aware of the arbitrariness of form-meaning connections. They can also develop a sight vocabulary through recognizing the words paired with their symbols. For a better understanding of the similarities in how pictures and sight words are processed, see the description of Type One (holistic processing) and Type Two (analytic processing) symbols in McNaughton (1993) and McNaughton and Lindsay (1995). But there is more to be gained at the second rung of the ladder, for this is where the language capabilities of Blissymbolics can greatly enrich the symbol literacy experience. Here, is where Type Two symbols (McNaughton, 1993; McNaughton & Lindsay, 1995) become available to the learner. As individuals "read" and "write" with the more arbitrary and rule-based Blissymbolics, the duality of this language system can add to the learning experiences acquired on the first rung of the literacy ladder. The language of Bliss provides two levels of structure in which discrete units can be combined. At the symbol (word) level, the meaning elements can be analyzed, or segmented and re-combined to form new symbols. The meaning of each symbol can be discovered through knowledge of its components. Families of symbols can be discovered — related to each other through the components they share. [See box insert.] As individuals gain fluency in analyzing the Blisssymbol elements, they develop an important skill for the print rung of the ladder that is waiting just above the Blissymbol rung. At the sentence level with the grammatical components Blissymbolics provides, learners gain more knowledge to support the reading of print. As individuals write with Blissymbols, they learn rules to enable the sequenced symbols to form statements or questions or commands, and to denote plurals, possessives, pronouns and verb tenses and negation. The combinatorial capability of Blissymbolics is so powerful that there is no limit to the number of symbols and sentences that can be produced. As learners read and write with Blissymbols, they gain experience with symbol elements and with syntax and they acquire the underpinning for the rules of their native language. They learn how to analyze symbols and sentences and apply this knowledge to creating new symbols and constructing original sentences. These experiences provide critical preparation for progressing to literacy fluency. For the speaking child this language foundation comes from their many years of talking and listening. For the AAC user, this language foundation must be acquired through the mastery and control of their expressive AAC communication being added to and refining their listening. This can be achieved through experiences with the dual structure of Blissymbolics. Duality provides the valuable additional learning opportunities at the second rung of the ladder. It's Bliss!
 
On the third rung of the ladder, AAC users read and write with words (print). Some of the words will be instantly recognized from seeing them along with their symbols or from books or from signs in the environment. These "sight" words can be "read" without having to analyze them or think about the sounds their letters represent. This kind of reading is similar to the reading that is done with pictures, when the processing is holistic and no analysis is required. The reading of sight words is possible, however, for only a limited number of words. Soon the learner will encounter many words that have not been seen before and for which analyzing and decoding skills will be needed. It is for this "reading" that the experience with Blissymbols at the second rung of the ladder can be helpful. Both Blissymbols and words require analysis and decoding. The analyzing to be done with words, however, differs from the analysis required of Blissymbols. Research has shown print analysis to be more difficult than Blissymbol analysis for early readers (McNaughton, 1998, pp. 131, 189). Because the analysis of a Blissymbol into its meaning parts is more easily learned at an earlier developmental level than the analysis of words into their sound parts, the second rung of the ladder offers a time for enjoying and learning about written language before climbing up to the more difficult demands of reading print. It is interesting to note that for both Blissymbols and words, the meaning or sound associations required of their elements are not always consistent — an important lesson to be learned! For example, In Blissymbols, the small circle sometimes means "mouth", but it is also used in the handle of the pictographic "scissors" and as a link in the chain denoting "combine". In print, the sound of the letter "c" is different in "cat", "cent", "child". One of the exciting breakthroughs in reading is in discovering what the associations are from the context of the full symbol (analyzing all its parts) or from the context provided by the full sentence (examining all its symbols or words). It is worth noting that knowledge derived from examining all the sentence elements can be gained at all levels of the literacy ladder — through reading and writing with pictures, Bliss or print. Only Blissymbols, however, provide experience analyzing symbol components prior to analyzing printed word components.

Literacy Platform

Now that we have seen what is offered by each rung of the literacy ladder, we need to examine what is needed to support the platform on which the ladder rests. For adults who use AAC, the first leg of the platform, the learner's abilities and motivation, may not be immediately obvious. Visual, auditory andd language abilities must be assessed to ensure that the learner can function within a graphic language environment. With regard to motivation, there are many reasons for it to be or appear to be lacking — repeated failure in the past, lack of energy, lack of knowledge as to benefits of literacy, the mistaken belief that writing and reading are not possible for persons who cannot speak (reinforced by a similar belief on the part of teachers and caregivers during the AAC user's formative years). This leg of the supportive foundation is the first to investigate. In order to know what to look for, we must consider the second leg of the supportive platform — the factors involved in learning to read. The mainstream reading acquisition research has identified many factors contributing to success in learning to read (Stanovich, 1986, 1991; Share, 1995). The factor that is primary and needs to be considered first is that of phonological recoding, defined by Ehri (1991) as "translating letters into sounds by application of letter-sound rules and then recognizing the identities of words from their pronunciations" (p. 107). A caution expressed by Adams (1990), is important to remember in considering phonological processing:
 
It is not working knowledge of phonemes that is so important but conscious, analytic knowledge. It is neither the ability to beat the difference between two phonemes nor the ability to distinctly produce them that is significant. What is important is the awareness that they exist as abstracuble and manipulable components of the language. Developmentally. this area seems to depend upon the child's inclination or encouragement to lend conscious attention to the sounds (as district from the meanings) of words.
Adam,, 1990, p. 65.
 
Important as it is, it must be remembered that phonological recoding is not the sole factor! To phonological processing must be added visual, language, memory and environmental factors. Above all, the instructor must be aware that literacy must be considered as but one component within the language learning process, developing gradually from infancy onward. AAC user's abilities and their past language learning environments are all of interest in determining their instructional needs. Many ways have been developed to assess the individual's abilities. Whether this be done formally or informally, the instructor has to be aware of the learner's strengths and weaknesses in all of the areas affecting literacy acquisition. Perhaps another Symbol Talk can be devoted to an assessment protocol that has proven helpful to this writer. For now, I will assume that the first two legs of the Literacy Platform are in place — that the learner has the skills and motivation for literacy learning and that knowledge concerning reading acquisition can be accessed by the instructor. The references below offer readings for those who wish to know more. It is the last two legs of the literacy platform that I wish to emphasize here — (1) the supportive instructional environment of BlissInternet and (2) the volunteers who can contribute so much as instructors. BlissInternet provides a medium for the transmission of both Blissymbol and print messages between individuals wherever they have access to a computer and telecommunications. The BlissInternet software is readily available from the two addresses listed below. It affords the experience to acquire the conscious and analytic knowledge of print, identified as critical by Adams (1990). It provides a means for interacting with a resource instructor whenever needed. As an example, a Bliss user in southern Ontario is exchanging messages, stories and "homework" assignments with a Bliss user in northern Ontario. Each partner is learning from the other as they take turns and exchange roles as tutor and learner. A resource teacher makes suggestions as the interaction proceeds. Stories, containing a "friendly" blend of known and unknown words, are being written and shared. They relate to topics of mutual interest. Questions are being asked in Bliss for responses in English and vice versa. Activities are being created and engaged in to give practice in consciously analysing the elements in both Blissymbols and words. Fluency in decoding and spelling tricky words and in processing difficult phonological units is the goal. The learning is fun and satisfying. Direct links are being made between the skills already acquired at the second (Bliss) rung of the ladder and those to be learned at the third (print) rung. And now, the reason for this article fitting so well in this issue of Communicating Together with its theme of volunteering and community involvement! Most important of all to the success of WRIB is the fourth "leg" of the literacy platform — the committed instructor who ensures that attention is directed to the sounds of words and that the other factors related to print acquisition are considered. Without the assistance and interest of this individual, the entire ladder falls. Here is where volunteering is needed. This role can be filled by a friend or a family member or a caregiver who can donate his or her time to helping an AAC user on a regular basis. It can be filled by a teacher who "volunteers" additional time beyond classroom teaching to help the AAC user who needs extra attention. It can be filled by a more advanced student who wishes to gain experience in teaching. Whatever the reason for the involvement, the volunteer can make all the difference! For time is what is needed. Time for the volunteer and the AAC user to climb the literacy ladder together, with the help of other Bliss users or Bliss alumni and with assistance as needed from a resource teacher — a role I thoroughly enjoy! The climb is a satisfying one. Each rung of the ladder brings its own unique pleasure and accomplishment. I would always welcome hearing from volunteers who would like to know more about or who would like to become involved in WRIB. Do send me an email message if you're interested! I promise a quick response!

References

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
 
Ehri, L.C. (1991). Development in the ability to read words. In, R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, (Vol. II, pp. 383-417). New York: Longman.
 
Detheridge, T., & Detheridge, M. ((1998). Literacy through symbols. London: David Fulton Publishers McNaughton, S. (1993). Graphic representational systems and literacy learning. Topics in Language Disorders, 13 (2), 58-75.
 
McNaughton, S. (1998). Reading acquisition of adults with severe congenital speech and physical impairments: Theoretical infrastructure, empirical investigation, educational application. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. McNaughton,
 
S. & Lindsay, P.H. (1995). Approaching literacy with AAC graphics. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 11, 212-228.
 
Share, D.L. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55, 151-218.
 
Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360- 407.
 
Stanovich, K.E. (1991). Word recognition: Changing perspectives. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, (Vol. II, pp. 418-452). New York: Longman.

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