An Aided Communication System for Arabic Speakers with Speech and Motor Impairments

by Saad Mohamed Lafi

Abstract

The use of computer is expanding throughout society and affecting various aspects of human life. The use of computer as a means of communication becomes more prominent for people with severe speech and motor impairments (SSMI). People suffering from SSMI, such as dipiegics, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and the like face difficulties in expressing themselves in a simple and understandable through natural communication. These people use special techniques for communication with the help of computer technology. These techniques, along with other speech systems, fall under the Augmentative and Alternative communication (AAC) systems (ASHA, 1991). 

An AAC system is defined as “an eintegrated group of components, including the symbols’ sets, aids, strategies, and techniques used by individuals to enhance communication” (ASHA, 1991). The foundation of AAC appeared in western languages. The technical history of AAC in North America and Western Europe dates back to longer than 40 years (Rockville, 2001). Most of the existing AAC products are designed for communication in English or western languages. Thus, these products are adjusted to Western accent and foreign socio-cultural context, including design,’interface, and content. These products are not available to ordinary people because of its cost, which is determined by limited markets and insufficient developers. Consequently, the development of an Arabic augmentative communication system takes into consideration the culture and specificity of users with SSMI to help them overcome communication problems, enable them to make more contributions to society, and access digital information independently. 

The primary goal in developing and describing an AAC system is to provide the user with the fastest means of communication possible. Therefore, numerous research in AAC are focused on finding alternative tools (electronic and non-electronic) that can be added to the natural language to enhance communication rate and help disabled people express their thoughts, wants, needs, and ideas. This process may improve social interaction, school achievement, and feelings of self-worth. 

The major objectives for this thesis are the following: (a) investigation of basic foundational language issues involved in AAC system design; (b) investigation of ways to exploit AAC techniques for designing a computer-based AAC system with adaptable virtual scanning layout based on personal models; (c) enhancing user performance and communication speed by incorporating, personal personalization in each interface layout taking into account every action by the user and adapting its display accordingly; (d) evaluating the designed system in detail to get additional insight into usage issues and scopes of improvement. 

The present work attempts to give an overview of basic foundational language issues, and the different factors involved in designing an Arabic language system based on AAC for motor-impaired users who practically use computers as a conversation assistant. This study presents a new method for optimizing an arbitrary set of items over a group of keys on an adaptable virtual scanning layout. We hypothesize that this method will improve user performance and enhance communication rate. The developed system will track the mental and physical development of a user by its adaptation techniques. The evaluation of the system reveals that the present system performance is comparable to those in prior studies. initial experiments on the system indicate that it can provide better communication rate to users than most of the other described works. The system provides more flexibility in terms of versatility of interfaces and features than the existing systems.

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