Tutorial - AAC Boards

Tutorial - AAC Boards

Introduction

In this tutorial you will learn how to create augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) boards based on text, pictograms, photographs or a mixed approach, and make them accessible with a mouse, touch screen, switches, joysticks, head mice or eye tracking systems.

Remember that you will not normally need to design your communication board from scratch to work with Verbo. Most of the time, you can use an pre-made board as a template and edit it to adapt it to your needs and your own taste. For example, you can freely use any of the boards freely available in the Verbo Community, a collaborative space in which other Verbo users share the resources they create when they feel the may be useful to other people.

Throughout the tutorial we will use concepts such as "pages", "cells", "styles" or "commands" that you should be familiar with. If you need a reminder, visit the user manual.

Inserting cells

Pick a style

First, select "New board" on the drop-down menu or click the toolbar icon. A dialog will pop up showing a number of board styles to choose from.

As you know, "style" refers to how your board looks: page color, row and column spacing, cell shapes, etc. In the Verbo style, for instance, both pages and cells have blueish tones and an outline that indicates what kind of action the cell performs. It is a neutral style that is suitable for many types of boards. The High contrast style, on the contrary, uses very dark pages, and cells with striking colors and bold letters, so it is more convenient for users with low visual acuity.

For this tutorial we will be using the AAC style, a style that follows the Fitzgerald key. We could also use the AAC borders or AAC children styles, which use the same color-based categorization with different design choices. Select AAC from the dropdown list and click OK.

Add rows and columns

Once you have chosen the style, the next step is to decide how many rows and columns your page will have.

Say you want a page with 3 rows and 5 columns. Initially our page is 3×4, so we need to add one more column. As the page is currently empty it does not really matter where you insert the column, so just press the "Add column to the left" or "Add column to the right" icon in the toolbar. Note that there are icons to remove the selected column as well, and to add and delete rows.

Insert a cell

Next we will insert a cell. Double-click on the empty cell at the upper left corner and use the dialog to choose the type of cell: Say something, Jump to a page, Music, etc.

The Say something category contains cells that say a message. It is the basic cell type in communication boards. As explained in the user manual, depending on your preferences, "Say something" can mean just reading the message or representing it with symbols and/or letters.

Since we chose the AAC style, we have a number of message cell types to pick from: People, Verbs, Descriptive, etc. Other styles may choose to define other different types of cells. You can also find cells that perform some action related to the message bar, such as reading or deleting previously added messages, or removing them all.

First things first: let us add a cell to say "Hello". Hello belongs to the Social category, so click the Social icon (the one with pink background). In the dialog, just type the message you want to say - "Hello".

Note that, as you type, Verbo suggests a few symbols. You can select the one you like, or click on the ellipsis buton at the right to see more options. In this case we will stick with the one that has been automatically selected. Click Ok or press Enter. That easy!

This is what our board looks like so far:

In a communication board, most of your cells will be like the one we just added. Now that we have seen how it is done, let us add two important messages: I and You. Try to make your board look like the image below. Remember that I and You belong to the People category, so make sure you choose the right type of cell.

Play your board

Do you want to see what your board does so far? Press F5 or the icon at the right side of the toolbar.

The window will go full screen and the toolbar will disappear. We are now playing the board. From this point on we can start using it with any of the access methods (mouse, keyboard, switches, etc.) that have been configured.

Try pressing the three cells of your board one by one. Since they are message cells, they will do just that: say "Hello", "I" and "You". Furthermore, these three messages will be added to the bar as symbols and text. The bar provides visual feedback of the messages being said. It is like a notepad on which we can build sentences.

As discussed later, you can customise its look (whether it displays symbols, text or both, which font it uses, size, etc.) or even hide it completely to work with a more conventional communication board.

Controlling the message bar

So far our board does not do too much. For one thing, there are not many messages we can say, and secondly, once we have selected them we cannot do anything else with them. If you press the cells several times in a row you will see that the messages fill the bar up quickly.

If we want to use the message bar to build sentences we need a way to read the previously added messages together, and to delete them when they are no longer needed. Press F5 again or Escape to exit playback mode and enter edition mode again.

Double-click on the bottom right cell, and in the dialog select Read. Then double-click the two cells at its left and select Delete and Clear. After that, your board should look as shown below.

Done. You now have a board with cells that allow you to control the message bar. Try playing back your board (F5) and clicking different combinations of the three message cells and the three new ones. Note the difference between Delete and Clear.

When you are done, press F5 or Escape to edit the board again.

Save your board

We have done a fair amount of changes, so lets us save our board. Press Ctl+G or click on the icon on the toolbar. Save the board with the name "My first board."

Moving and resizing cells

Cells need not expand exactly one row and one column. You can stretch them to make them longer or wider. You can also move them from one place to another in the page.

Say we decide to leave the entire top row of our page for messages of the Social category, such as "Hello" and "Goodbye". We will then need to move the I and You cells to the second row. To move a cell, just drag it to its new position. If there is another cell in that position, they will just swap places. Try moving I below Hello.

A different way of moving a cell is to cut it and paste it elsewhere. Try cutting You by clicking on it to select it (the selected cell has a blue outline) and pressing Ctl+X or clicking the icon in the toolbar. Then select the cell to the right of Me and paste the cell that you just cut by pressing Ctl+V or by clicking on the icon in the toolbar.

Now suppose we decide that the cell Read is important enough to make it twice as large as the others. First, move Read, Delete and Clear one position to the left. Then click on the cell Read and see the two circles that appear on it. These circles allow you to stretch the cell height and width. Stretch it to the right to occupy two columns.

As you see, you can make cells have any size you want. When we see how to change the shape of the cells or the space between them, you will find that you can create boards with literally any look that you want.

Undo and redo

Nobody is perfect! When you are editing your board you will probably make mistakes. Maybe you even made some while following the previous steps.

In Verbo, it is ok if you make a mistake. You can undo and redo the last actions to return to a previous point. Try to undo several times (by pressing Ctl+Z or clicking the icon in the toolbar) to see the latest changes you have made on the board, and then redo (Ctl+Y) to return to the point where we were.

More cells

Let us complete our page with some more cells. Insert cells with the messages you want in the gaps available, but be sure to leave the bottom left cell free (we will use it later). To build interesting phrases, make sure to include a few verbs.

Play your board (F5) and try to build complete sentences (e.g. "I want to drink"), read and delete them.

Insert pages

Add more pages

As you see, pages get filled up quickly. We will include another page in our board to add some more messages. Click the "+" icon to the right of the list of pages.

In this page we will group messages of a given category. For example, types of food. Write "Food" in the dialog that appears.

Our board has two pages now. Note that the page that has been created is not empty: Verbo has automatically inserted the cell Back. This cell jumps to the previous page. If it was not there, we would not have a way back to the Home page.

Once added, pages can be rearranged. To do this, just drag the corresponding tab to the desired position. Note that if you move a page to the first position it will become the home page, and commands "Jump to Home" will jump to it. In this example we will leave the pages in the order they are.

Move the cell Back to another position, e.g. to the lower right corner, and add more cells with types of food. Following the convention, they must be of type Names.

Then go to the Home page (by clicking its tab in the list of pages) and in the free gap in the lower left corner insert a cell of type Jump. In the dialog choose the page Food and click Ok. Note that, as with the message cells, Verbo automatically suggests a few symbols.

Play your board and try to say the message "I want to eat salad." Note that, by adding a page, you have significantly expanded the vocabulary you can access from your board.

Delete pages

If you want to delete a page, first click the three-dot icon at the right of the page list. In the dialog, click the trash icon on the relevant page. In this case we will not do it, leave the page Food that you just created where it is.

Edit cells

Once a cell has been added, can it be modified? Of course! Double-click the first cell we added to our board, Hello.

In the dialog you have access to everything that affects a cell: content (text and image), style (how it looks) and its commands (what it does).

Note that in most cases you will never need to edit a cell after it has been added to the board. When you insert a cell (whether it says message, jumps to another page, clears the message bar, or any other action), Verbo will take care of adjusting all its parameters so it performs and looks as expected. You only need to edit it when you want to do something special (such as a cell that executes more than one action), or fine tune the cell style.

Commands

As you know, a cell can execute one or more commands. Commands refer to the behaviour of the cell, to what it does.

In general, there is no need to worry about commands. When you insert a message cell, for example, Verbo takes care of assigning the corresponding command ("Say the message of the cell"). The same happens when you insert a cell that jumps to another page or reads the message bar.

To see the commands of a cell just edit it (double-click). Still in our board, let us edit the cell Eat. Double-click on it to open the dialog.

This cell has a single action that was added automatically when you created it: Say the cell text. It does just that - when the cell is pressed, it says whatever text is in it (in this case, "Eat").

But suppose we want the cell to say something slightly different. For example, "I want to eat." Just double-click the action, and change it.

Now the cell does not say exactly what is written on it, but "I want to eat" (try it). This is an example of how the appearance of the cell does not necessarily have to coincide with what it does. In the same dialog we can make the action show a different symbol than that of the cell, or even assign it a sound from an audio file or the microphone, instead of using a synthesized voice as is done by default. If you use this option, the sound is saved in the .verbo file.

But we can go the extra distance. Let us add another command by pressing the "+" icon. In the window that appears, select Jump to a page, then Food.

Now, when the Eat cell is pressed two things will happen: it will say the message "I want to eat", and jump to the page Food, allowing the user to choose what to say next. With a couple of changes you have created a much smarter board that can do the same, with fewer steps.

Edit style

When you created the previous board you selected a predefined style (in this case, AAC), but you do not have to settle for this look: you can modify it and adjust it to your liking.

Click on the icon Edit style in the toolbar to display the style editing dialog. Try changing the background color of the page, the shape, color and font of the cells, or any parameter that you like to adapt the board to the taste and needs of the user.

Next steps

You have seen how to add new message cells to your communication board with a synthesized voice or a recording, with diferent styles to identify their function. You also know how to insert "Read" and "Delete" cells to control the message bar, and how to organize your board into pages with "Jump" commands.

With these tools you will be able to create your own communication board with whatever look and functionality you may need. Try these next steps to keep practising:

  • Add "People", "Places" and "Hobbies" pages to your board. Insert cells in those pages, and do not forget to add jump cells to get there from the Home page.
  • How would you modify this board for someone who cannot read? How would you modify it for someone who does not need pictograms?
  • Add a simple "music player" for the user to listen to music from within the board.

In the following links you will find more resources:

  • The user manual describes all the options of the software. Review the "Preferences" section and try to configure your board for scanning, eye-tracking systems or to use it with a different voice.
  • If you have already completed this tutorial, you may now move on to the Activities tutorial to create your own games and learning activities with Verbo.
  • Do not forget to check the Verbo Community out! There are hundreds of ready-to-use communication and activity boards.