Our Visual Voices – Via Widgit Software (c)

These are my thoughts as I finish the website, and explain our use of  Widgit (c) symbols in our work. First I ask you to read

OUR VISION:  A society where orphaned and abandoned children, those with abilities and disabilities are not segregated but are respected as necessary members of our society.

 It’s nice, with lots of honing of words and meaning in putting it together.  Is it memorable?  I’m not sure.

Now read Our Vision below,  illustrated with symbols, and you know exactly what I mean.  Hopefully it is more memorable.

More than 30,000 years ago, before our written language of letters and alphabets, we communicated in drawing and symbols, on mammoth teeth and bone, in caves, and probably many other places lost over time. These were our expressions of meaning, communications, aesthetics, our visual voices etched to last over time.

More than 5000 years ago, the Sumarians used symbols and drawings on clay to communicate, to express themselves, to tell and pass on stories to those who would follow. Art and symbols have never been replaced by written language.

Rather they have complemented each other.

 Symbols have become an accepted and integral part of communication in the disability community, as part of what is called assistive and augmentive communication, but at the same time acquiring a status of “lesser” than regular.  But symbols enhance meaning, add aesthetics, and add to the community of people with whom we can communicate. Shishur Sevay uses the language of Widgit for just these reasons.

The blog is my “thinking out loud.”    Our website will be Widget enabled in two ways.  First, we have a license to use the Widgit symbols on the website (Insite) and also here in the blog.  Second, there will be a way for symbols and spoken voice to appear when the cursor hovers over a word, called Point.

We have worked hard to have a site that is accessible to hearing impaired, visually impaired, and also the language impaired.  In a way I think of this as people who understand more by JPG than by DOC.  My minimal understanding was that the Apple frame was more based on image, on a form of JPG, and DOS on more linear byte building. (WikiMe requests info on this.)  One of our  older girls is severely dyslexic, still doesn’t know the alphabet or meaning of numbers, but she wins at memory games that require matching images of cards turned over.  For her, the use of Widgit symbols allows her to understand, to follow what is being read.  We’ve also used it in teaching English, using the symbols of up, down, in, on, under, etc.

But our biggest user has been Ganga, about whom I’ve written a lot before.  Currently she is in Class III in a regular school with the other girls, and is the only child there with motor disability.  Ganga is very bright and loves to study.  She makes sounds, but not words.  When the teacher asked all the children who had seen a globe, Ganga called out loudly.  In her class she was the only one.  How does she use it?

In this picture, Ganga is practicing her typing, and also learning what has been taught.  As the keys are pressed, the program voice sounds the letter, and then the word, and then the sentence.  So there is constant feedback visually and aurally.   And it is fun.  Sometimes she is naughty and presses many numbers, and then the spacebar and giggles as the voice tries to read off zillions, trillions, billions…  sounding like random syllables.

If you click on the link below you will see a story I wrote in Widgit for Ganga.  It’s about why she has a disability.  To me, the illustration makes the story what it is.

ganga cp story-2

I like the aesthetics of the Widgit symbols, the cuneiform markings, similar to the Sumarian writing.  (I just learned about the cuneiform aspect of writing today — the triangle shapes that are part of the Sumarian script, and some in the Widgit).  It is similar to Hieroglyphics.  I have a children’s story I wrote some years ago and I want to write it with the Widgit symbols.

I looked at a number of symbol systems before I chose this one.  It was a big decision as it is costly for the software and now for the licenses to use it on the website and this blog (if we can get it to work on the blog).  I want this site to be truly accessible, even as I struggle to define what that means.  But the challenge is also to make it accessible, including with symbols, without creating a “cumbersome” aspect that will cause the “normals” to click off the site.  Isn’t that what it always is with a minority (even if the minority is the majority)?  It’s about power in part, those with power not wanting to be “slowed down” or have their thinking or reading interrupted because of something useful or even necessary for those with disabilities.

What I like about symbols is that they are less ambiguous.  When I started using Widgit a couple of years ago, their symbol for orphan was a child, and no parents.  I talked with them and they made a new symbol, orphan with two children, one in a wheelchair, one without, and without parents.

But now that I look at it, I realize there is one more step in the creation of the orphan line of symbols.  For our children it’s not just the loss of parents.  If you look back at Our Vision, you will see a symbol of “community” but it’s that community, or society that our orphans do not have.  Yes, first is a loss of immediate family, but then to end up in an institution there is also the rejection, actively or passively by the community.  So the symbols really should be:

Understand now?  These are the girls we brought here. lost, abandoned, living in an institution, but nothing can say it better than the symbol  Well, I feel I’m closer to what I’m trying to say.  I’d be grateful for comments.

Widgit software (c) is at http://www.widgit.com.    We have the icon for the website and it will go up with that.  We haven’t been able to get Widgit working on the blog, or I’d be writing much more in Widgit.

This blog is my thinking out loud, and my conversation with  interested parties, whomever they may be.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sudipendu
    May 11, 2012 @ 10:57:55

    nice idea…


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May 2012
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