The background to this research into the development of a freely available Arabic symbol dictionary is based on the premise that there is a paucity of freely available culturally suitable Arabic pictograms, icons, symbols or other graphical representations of language for use within the Arabic community by those who have a wide range of communication difficulties. There is a growing recognition about the number of individuals who could benefit from this type of support. Their needs are being met by the use of externally developed Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) symbol systems which are not entirely suitable for use within the Qatari culture or surroundings. Some commercially available symbol sets have added additional Arabic culturally recognizable symbols but these are not available to all users as the costs are high. There is also a significant gap in the knowledge around the type of individuals who can make use of pictorial symbol systems and how symbols can be integrated into education and daily life.
Images, symbols and pictograms can be part of a toolkit of strategies to benefit two main groups of people with a communication difficulty. First those people for whom speech and text communication is impossible, where there is a push to investigate the use of natural language processing to speed access to symbols when used with electronic AAC devices, and secondly those people with low levels of literacy, learning disabilities or specific learning difficulties, including those with Dyslexia where symbols can aid reading and writing skills. In this situation it is important to have a symbol dictionary that contains frequently used words based on standard classical Arabic. There are also some individuals who have social interaction difficulties such as severe Autism where symbols can act as prompts. Symbols may also work in a similar way for those who acquire speech and language difficulties due to strokes and brain injury.
Symbols as indicators have value in supporting the understanding of Arabic for those with little knowledge of the language and symbols as pictograms can also be used as indicators within the built environment to assist in way finding or act as health and safety warnings in a way that is obvious to the widest possible audience.