Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Little Word" Sins: Are we guilty?

Today I was happily enjoying the lovely weather, trying to remember everything I needed to do before the FLASHA conference (registering would be good!), and generally having a laid back afternoon working on LessonPix when I got a Twitter Direct Message from a #slpeeps friend:
I haven't checked but I hope you don't have a 'little words' or 'grab bag' of words in your system...see today's Speech Dudes post
Well... do we?  I like the Speech Dudes: their blog's irreverent, fun, and generally informative.  But are we on their list of lazy bums who should get out of the AAC business?

Honestly, I'm not sure!

Oh No! Are we guilty?
The first paragraph of their blog seems to indict us:
I have a proverbial bee in my bonnet today related to the sloppy way that some folks seem to think that designing an AAC system is just a matter of (a) collecting a list of words, (b) adding a set of pictures, and (c) sticking them on pages. This is errant nonsense, positively dangerous, and, after over 30 years of living in a world where AAC systems have been in operation, a sad indictment of how little we appear to have learned. Is that strong enough for yah?
Um: yeah, pretty strong.  And unfortunately, it describes us pretty well. LessonPix is basically a collection of (great) pictures, associated with titles and keywords, that are "stuck on pages" and then some great tools to group those pictures and use them in interesting ways.  We include some new templates to create AAC overlays and labels for GoTalks and ProxTalkers, so I think we count as part of an "AAC System".  We even classify them by subject matter, and--oh the horror--have a Miscellaneous category!


Now, we don't have a "Little Words" category.  Mainly because we don't have many of those words: we are about symbols and pictures: and I don't know how to have our artist draw a picture of "were" or "is"... although we're open to suggestions!

I was a bit upset as I started reading the post, but as I went further, I started to realize that I was missing the point... I think.  So I decided to write this post asking for some clarification.

I think the Speech Dudes are upset when end users are presented "Little Words" and "Grab Bag" categories.  Our users are SLPs, special ed teachers and parents trying to get symbols for their AAC system of choice.

If they want "little words" because they want a small number of phonemes, they can do that with LessonPix: they can choose to just see "VC" words using our PatternFinder: that would give them "little words".  And they can stick them all on a single overlay for their GoTalk if that helps them.

They can certainly use our tool to do exactly the Speech Dudes are complaining about.  But they can also quickly search for the symbols they need and generate exactly the set of symbols they need: all in seconds and very inexpensively.

So, I'm not sure if we're guilty of this infraction--I hope the Dudes will clarify that.  But either way, I want to thank them for introducing some thoughts that will drive our development:
  1. We need to get those "to be" verbs, prepositions and other "little words" into our symbol set.  If we can't figure out pictures, then we need "word symbols" for now that just have in the middle of the the symbols area.
  2. When we do, we'll need to figure out how to classify them.  We'll need to do that "hard work" that the Dudes warn us of.  Because our audience is adult non-AAC users, I hope they'll grade us on a curve (or help out!).
  3. Finally, we need to keep paying attention to the #slpeeps out there... they're always thinking ahead and showing us where we can improve.
- Bill


  1. It is this type of care, concern and desire to produce a great, affordable and appropriate product that I wish all companies had. Keep growing, improving and learning...just as we all (should) strive to do.

    Tools are only effective in the right hands, and I feel I can do a lot with the tools you provide.

  2. Rest assured we're not starting an unofficial "lazy bums" list, and we're don't think you're a candidate, Bill! I think you hit the nail on the head when you said our gripe is with what is eventually presented to the end user. Our model of an AAC system is that it has THREE things it needs to address; 1. Vocabulary (what words/phrases/sentences will be in there), 2. Representation (which pictures/signs/objects will be used to represent vocabulary), and 3. Navigation (how do you arrange your vocabulary to that is can be found?)

    Folks in the business of creating symbol sets are focusing very specifically on segment 2 of our model; the representation. While there is a ton of discussion to be had about this (so let's leave it until we find a bar) the issue of representation DOES need to be addressed and it's a key component of a system.

    The "little words" issue (and there are others!) is precisely that because of one of those quirky linguistic realities that we've learned about over the past 40 years; the words we use most are the shortest and hardest to draw; the words that are longer and easy to draw are actually used least. That's why "is," "it," "in," and "if" are so tricky: there is no "intuitive" or "correct" way to draw them other than using some forms of standardized features that have to be taught.

    Anyhow, thanks for inviting us to stop by and contribute to your excellent blog. I'm going to try to fit in a post on the "3-part model" this weekend so keep an eye on your #slpeeps tweets!

    Take care, my friend!