Symbol Communication for Users with Limited or No Literacy Skills from Tobii's perspective


by Tobii Technology 

For a range of AAC users, particularly those who are not yet equipped with high cognitive abilities or are at the start of an intervention, a variety of needs have to be accommodated when creating an appropriate AAC language system.  Many of these following needs might appear to be contradictory at first glance:

  • Quick wins in successful communication from the start, without steep learning curves, but still with a substantial long-term scaffolding system to guide growth in language development.
  • Careful selection of words and phrases, keeping vocabulary slim to avoid cramping the systems with irrelevant information and long navigation paths, but also providing a lot of spare structures across the program to discovery and growth.
  • Make the system individualized (to the unique needs of a single person), but also keep it general enough to reach many users, without a lot of programming necessary by their caregivers.

Simply speaking, we expect the ideal language system to be very simple, yet perfectly sophisticated. It needs to be optimized for the communication needs of the user today as well as “plan” for future language development by providing the learning paths for the user to grow into.

We at Tobii believe these goals can only be met by offering a variety of language elements (this conviction is backed by both scientific research and experience from the field). These elements are:

  • Highly interactive phrases enabling quick interaction, both for concrete situations and generic conversation
  • Single words that allow for individual sentence building, thereby opening the chances of conversing with new, unexpected, messages
  • Situation specific words and phrases need to be held available for frequently recurring situations, sorted by the context they are used in (“schematic” categorization)
  • General words and phrases have to be offered in a categorization system that is independent from situations (e.g. sorted according to word classes like nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc, as in the Fitzgerald Key, with so-called “taxonomic” categorization)
  • Access to Alphabet and Number boards even when the users are pre-literate

How these elements are put together and which are used (and to what extent) will always vary depending on the individual user, their growing cognitive abilities and the increasing size of their vocabulary.

That means that we need to provide mechanisms for users to easily mix and match the individual, above named, elements. Allowing users and caregivers to easily change the content mix, e.g. placing more emphasis on phrases than single words or focusing on word-class categories as opposed to situational categories, needs to be organized in a way that will allow for smooth transitions and a continual learning path.

As many AAC interventions suffer from a lack of resources to maintain and individualize the vocabulary, the ideal product needs to come with a broad range of premade content.  At the same time, content not being relevant to the individual user has to be kept out, so that navigation paths can be kept simple and efficient. Also, it is important to keep the programming of new vocabulary or the building of new individual categories simple.  This will help caregivers with the goal of individualizing the content the user to advance within the content.

All this we achieve in our new language content product Tobii Sono Flex as follows:

  • It mixes phrase-based and word-based communication
  • It combines topic based vocabulary with core words and universal phrases
  • It is categorized both in situations and according to part of speech
  • It comes with an extremely broad range of contextual vocabulary subsets, with areas covering children and teenagers to adults
  • It provides exactly the necessary mix of elements due to unique, and flexible ways of linking elements together while hiding the individually irrelevant stuff

Tobii Sono Flex provides both flexibility and solid structure as an easy to learn and growth orientated language system.

Individual needs also vary regarding the use of hardware systems

The field of AAC has seen a tremendous change in the past two years with the growing use of iPhones and iPads for AAC. Still, we do not believe that iPads or iPhones are generally better communication devices than dedicated SGDs. Dedicated SGDs have a number of advantages when compared to these consumer devices, as they are specifically built to fulfill the needs of AAC users; needs such as speaker volume, access methods, ruggedness, protection against harmful user interaction and many others. But relatively inexpensive, easy to use and physically/societally attractive Consumer Electronics devices offer a great chance to users by making available the initial uses of high-tech AAC without great efforts, especially when it comes to the struggle for funding.  For many AAC users iDevices and Android tablets could become stepping stones into the complete solutions of high-tech AAC. What we see is the beginning of a world of multiple devices. That is why the combination of AAC in Consumer Electronics and Full SGDs is an optimal path. We therefore consequently provide our new vocabulary across all platforms: for full Windows computers and SGDs running Tobii Communicator, but also on iPhone / iPod Touch and iPad, and soon to come on Android devices.

We understand it is not primarily the iPad or the SGD that provides the value to the AAC user, but the vocabulary structures and the language!


About Tobii Technology
Tobii Technology is the world’s leading vendor of eye tracking and eye control. Our eye tracking technology has enabled communication for thousands of people with special needs. More information:

Learn more about Tobii Sono Flex on or

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