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Home > Vocabulary Selection > Context Dependent Communication > Non-Customized

Using NON-CUSTOMIZED Vocabulary
for Context-Dependent Communication

Many teams rely primarily on vocabulary that they obtain from other resources, which we will call NON-CUSTOMIZED vocabulary. Ideally, these words and phrases would be enhanced with custom vocabulary to make it powerful and personal to the user. The 14 techniques for identifying custom vocabulary were just described in Strategies for CUSTOMIZING Vocabulary. In this section, we will cover 7 additional methods, all of which use vocabulary from other sources.

Strategy #15: Large Commercial Vocabularies:

There are several commercial vocabularies that can provide a large set of single words and small phrases, allowing users to combine words into sentences. In this section, we will describe 3 representative systems: 1) Blissymbolics, 2) Minspeak/Unity and 3) Gateway Language and Learning. There are a number of other vocabulary sets that come as symbol sets or as pre-programmed vocabulary for devices. After you read through these descriptions, you should be able to evaluate these other systems, at least in part.

1) Blissymbolics from Blissymbolics Commercial International (BCI)

According to proponents, this system is based on 120 key symbols that can be combined in a variety of ways to produce nearly any message. The standard vocabulary of composite symbols is approximately 2400 symbols or symbol combinations. Here is an example of Blissymbols:

Symbols can have a single meaning:
     "animal" = or     "feeling" =

Or symbols can be combined to form a new meaning:
       "pet" = "animal + feeling"    

Considerations with Blissymbolics:

a) Acquisition of Bliss takes considerable time and training, as with every other complex system
b) It is difficult to represent "fringe" vocabulary for an individual that is consistent with the Bliss system. For example, how would you choose to represent the expression "password" using Bliss? If caregivers and teachers become highly versed in Bliss, they can design consistent symbols but this takes considerable time and training.
c) The way in which Bliss symbols can be combined allows it to represent a very wide range of concepts and it is consistent with the processes for reading and writing.

2) Minspeak/Unity System from Prentke Romich Company, Inc.

The Unity 32 system is based on Minspeak symbols and available only on Prentke Romich devices. This very sophisticated vocabulary system has approximately 2100 words and phrases (and word endings, too) that can be retrieved by 2- or 3-symbol codes. Minspeak is discussed here only in relation to context-dependent communicators, individuals who depend upon us for vocabulary. (It has many additional advantages for independent communicators that will be discussed in Selection Strategies for Independent Communicators.)

Here is a photo of a Pathfinder voice output device showing the relatively abstract Minspeak symbols. They were selected carefully to relate to multiple concepts simultaneously, such as the sign for medicine/health/doctors/hospital, and the "sun" for yellow/warm/dry/happy etc.

(click image to enlarge)
Prentke Romich, Inc.

Considerations with Minspeak:

a) PRC acknowledges that many symbols are not transparent and must be taught to the individual.
b) There is some evidence that a static (or unchanging) selection set speeds up communication.
c) It is still necessary to customize the vocabulary to make it powerful to the individual. This is often neglected in the push to teach the Minspeak system. But everyone needs to have access to the names of people, places and things that are particularly important to them.
d) Initial training with Unity may still seem daunting to some teams, but Prentke Romich has addressed this with the BUILLD training series, including online courses via the PRC website

3) Gateway Language & Learning (DynaVox Systems):

This vocabulary is available only on devices from DynaVox Systems. This summary will be for the Gateway54 system only and will not include features available for speed enhancement (as will be discussed in Selection Strategies for Independent Communicators.).

Gateway 54 provides a core vocabulary appropriate for an individual who understands language at about the 4-year level. Approximately 30% of the vocabulary is single words (e.g. "swim, drink, house). The user can take these 750 "root" words and add word endings and tense markers (e.g. -ing, -ed) to produce more than 250 additional words (e.g. "swimming", "drank", "houses"). The vocabulary includes words for academic activities (e.g. math, literacy, etc.) as well as social and recreational vocabulary. According to the manufacturer, most words can be selected with one- to two-key activations.

Considerations about Gateway:

a) Not all DynaSyms symbols are transparent, particularly functor words (e.g. the, and, a...).
b) Sentence construction with dynamic displays can be very slow when the vocabulary is large because the user has to change screens many times to locate words. Gateway is organized to try to reduce that problem, but the impact on the individual user remains to be seen.
c) Regular, intensive training is still essential for the individual to be successful with this system. It is erroneous to believe that this vocabulary makes success quick and easy.
d) It is still necessary to customize vocabulary for the individual's personal needs (e.g. friends names, activities, places of interest etc.) Gateway makes it easy to customize vocabulary for the individual, to make the device powerful and relevant to the particular AAC user.

Strategy #16: Small Commercial Vocabularies

Many manufacturers provide some task-specific sets of vocabulary. These are limited to one or two topics and they prove useful for an AAC user only if they supplement other vocabulary. A few examples include:

Playing Dynamically by Mayer-Johnson, Inc.
Laminated Communication Displays from Beyond Play
Nursery rhyme displays by AAC Intervention
Overlays for Intellikeys by Linda J. Burkhart

Strategy #17: Public Domain Vocabulary (from the Internet)

There are a growing number of websites devoted to sharing vocabulary sets for particular devices or computer software. Typically, these sets are customized for the individual, so your team would have to edit the vocabulary carefully for the AAC user you serve. Here are just a few examples of sites that permit this sharing via the WWW:

Page Sharing Center at DynaVox Systems, Inc.
Intellitools Activity Exchange at Intellitools

The Barkley Augmentative and Alternative Communication Center website has vocabulary for different activity centers for pre-school children and different topics for older youths and adults. You can take these ideas and apply them to any system you use.

Strategy #18: Words and Phrases from other AAC Users

There are many resources with lists of words and phrases that other AAC users have elected to have on their systems. When you locate a list that is relevant to a given AAC user, you should show it to the user or family/caregivers and have them select high priority items to add to the current vocabulary.

The Barkley Augmentative and Alternative Communication Center website is the very best resource for this information. Select "Vocabulary" from the left menu bar. Scroll down until you get to "AAC user" where you can select the age group that interests you.

You might also consider these excellent resources:
* For pre-schoolers: Fried-Oken & More (1992); Fristoe & Lloyd (1997); Lahey & Bloom (1977)
* For school-age children: Marvin, Beukelman & Bilyeu (1994)
* For academically mainstreamed students for writing: McGinnis & Beukelman (1989)
* For AAC users in general: Yorkston, Smith & Beukelman (1990); Yorkston, Dowden, Honsinger, Marriner, Smith (1988); Yorkston, Fried-Oken & Beukelman (1988)
* For adults: King, Spoeneman, Stuart & Beukelman, (1995); Beukelman, Yorkston, Poblete & Naranjo (1984); Beukelman & Mirenda (1998, p. 34); Collier (2000)

Strategy #19: Words and Phrases from Speakers

The very best resource for vocabulary used by speakers of English is, again, the website for the Barkley Augmentative and Alternative Communication Center. Click on this link and then select "Vocabulary" from the left menu bar (it may require scrolling down). You should be able to find the following excellent resources:

  • 20-30 Year-Old Adult Vocabulary
  • Core Vocabulary-Older Adults
  • Preschool Non-Disabled Children Vocabulary

When you find a relevant list, you can show it to the AAC user and/or family and caregivers and have them select high priority vocabulary for inclusion in a the AAC system.

Also check out the following excellent resources through the reference list:
* For toddlers: Fenson et al (1993)
* For preschoolers: Beukelman, Jones and Rowan (1989); Goossens', Crain & Elder (1991;1992).

Strategy #20: Control Phrases from other AAC Users

Control phrases are phrases or full utterances that help the AAC user control some aspect of the interaction with communication partners. Typically, these phrases have to be said quickly and completely to be effective.
Phrases may be used to:

* Initiate conversation: "Wait up. Can you talk a second?"
* Control the communication partner: "Please don't interrupt me."
* Control the partner's use of the communication system: "Please guess words to speed up our conversation."
* Repair breakdowns: "This is very important. Please be patient."
* Ask for assistance: "Please put my brakes on."
* Expand his vocabulary: "I need a new word on my board. It sounds like ___"
* Control interactions with peers: "Yo. What's up."

There is a great list of these control phrases at the website for the the Barkley Augmentative and Alternative Communication Center. After you select "Vocabulary" from the left menu bar, scroll down until you get to "Context Specific Messages."

Strategy #21: Small Talk Phrases from other AAC Users

Small Talk is the type of conversation that we engage in at cocktail parties or in elevators, vocabulary for initiating and maintaining social interactions. This type of communication may seem trivial, but according to Beukelman & Mirenda (1998) small talk is actually an essential bridge between greetings and information-sharing, particularly when the partners are somewhat unfamiliar.

The Barkley Augmentative and Alternative Communication Center has the only lists of small talk vocabulary that we have seen. Use these lists as you would any other vocabulary list; find the most relevant list and ask the AAC user or the partners to select the highest priority phrases.

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