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Infographic demonstrating the use of symbols
Accessible Product

Global Elevate Awards Runner-up 2016

Category: Education, Assistive Technology,

Nomination Details

Organization name: Tawasol Project

Launched Date: 2014-10-14

Who has created it: David Banes

Problem statement and how the Accessible Innovation solves the problem.

No symbols set was available that was built from an Arabic Linguistic base, lack of cultural familiarity with available symbols hindered uptake and successful communcation. Tawasol establishes both a symbol collection in MSA, Qatari dialect and English that is freely available for use in both commercial and open products and importantly can be further adapted by other language communities. This seeks to reduce the challenge of developing new goods and services for use by people with a disability

Tell us who is the target audience and how the accessible innovation will benefit them. Please specify the different target audiences groups and provide numbers and statistics of your current clients as well as what is the potential number of people that the innovation can impact and empower:

The symbols can be used by a very wide range of users. They support both AAC users and those with literacy needs. They can be built into software to aid communication or can be printed for use within the physical environment. The symbol set can be downloaded from

The symbols have been used throughout the GCC including Dubai, Qatar, and Oman by schools and organisations adding to their current symbol sets. Hence the potential user group is any person with severe speech or language delay in the Arabic speaking world. The symbols can also support literacy by being available within graphic word processors such as Clicker, and can further support those people for whom english and arabic are not a first language by adding visual cues to text within the built environment.

How is the accessible innovative solution different from current practices or ways of solving the problem?

The solution was built using crowd sourcing techniques to select symbols that represent specific concepts. The symbols were selected through an online voting system that ensured the functionality of the symbols. The development of an arabic core vocabulary and word lists was also innovative as was the creation of graphic symbols based within the Arabic and Islamic culture to ensure that familiarity and cultural values were incorporated into design.

How is the accessible innovative solution new, different or unique in terms of the technology or implementation?

It is freely available to both commercial and non commercial entities and is free to distribute. No other solution reflecting Arabic culture is available

How do you get the innovative solution to reach the target audience? Please elaborate on the your go to market strategy and which geographies do you currently work in and what are your future plans for marketing your innovation.

The main route is via commercial entities who will have access to the product for integration into their systems. Ongoing discussions with such software developers will see the first proprietary software released with in app upgrades in 2016. Throughout the process developers have been a vital stakeholder in identifying the form and nature of the symbols to aid further integration.

What is the potential impact of the innovative solution on the lives of the target audience? Please elaborate by providing statistics of the current impact and the potential impact.

Currently the symbols are being disseminated across the Arabic community, and the first products using the symbol set are being developed, it seems possible that based upon the demand for culturally familiar symbols for AAC users that some 75% of those needs would be met through the core vocabulary. Arabic is the 5th largest language group in the world and hence the potential number of users is huge.

Stories of how the Innovation has touched lives.

Mohammed and Prayers: Mohammed, is a 24 year old symbol user from Qatar who communicates using a Tobii eye gaze system. Mohammed has worked with a speech and language therapist to develop a personalised vocabulary that includes the use of localised and culturally sensitive symbols in particular those related to his religion.Mohammed was finding it hard to take part in the daily prayers as a Muslim and felt isolated when other members of the family worked through the various actions and he had to sit quietly watching.

With the support of the Tawasol symbols Mohammed and his therapist worked through his exact requirements and were able to provide a way for him to take part in the prayers with his family that was both respectful and at one with that special part of the day. When Mohammed was asked about his feelings concerning the new symbols he said:

“Now that I have my system and the graphics I can take a much fuller part in prayer, as each step of the prayer takes place I point my eyes at the symbol that represents that step. I sequence the images through my eyes as others sequence their movements. Its hard to explain how important this is to me, I know there are others who want to take part in prayer alongside their family and community. By working with people who understand, it can be a lot easier to do than you might expect.”

A further quote from the speech therapist indicates the way in which culturally and linguistically sensitive symbol systems can have a huge impact on AAC users.

“Building a system for communication is not just about the people communicating. Here in Qatar we share many daily experiences around our faith and culture, as therapists we are very good at helping people express their physical and emotional needs, but perhaps not so good at helping those that want to express their spiritual need, their belief and faith. it is so easy to ask the wrong questions, and hence never get those crucial answers if there is no common cultural experience.”

Maryam enjoying a weekend out: Finally Maryam has been able to tell her story using symbols that are much more relevant. From using symbols based upon a European culture she is now able to talk to her family and represent her experience using symbols and graphics drawn from her immediate environment and experience. More details of both stories can be found at

In addition we have real case studies of how young people with a disability were actively involved in the design and selection of symbols to represent their needs. Some great case studies around this can be found at

Links to a few videos about the innovation: