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Why are Talking Mats and CIRCA powerful communication systems?

By Dr Norman Alm, School of Computing, University of Dundee.


Have been thinking for some years – and having dialogues with Joan Murphy – about this : would it be possible to come up with a new type of AAC where both the non-speaking person and their communication partner(s) were equally in joint control of some sort of system? Imagine a touch screen which also could be controlled by switch input. A non-speaking person and their communication partner are both engaged with the screen and both equally making use of it to do … what ?
Don’t know at the moment, but there are several suggestions for ways to explore and develop this idea further. Talking Mats is one.

Ian 3
‘Talking Mats supports conversation’

The purpose is to help the person with communication difficulties express their opinions, with the other participant being a facilitator. But notice what is not happening – a face-to-face interview. Instead both participants look away from each other and focus on the mutual task, manipulating the symbols on the mat to produce the communication. Much less stressful – and much more enjoyable and productive. Another example is the CIRCA system, which supports what is usually problematic communication between a person with dementia and a carer or relative. The support takes the form of touchscreen access to an engaging multimedia display of reminiscence material drawn from public archives. Again a potentially stressful and unproductive face-to-face encounter is converted into an enjoyable mutual activity that flows effortlessly. The design of each of these systems taps into something powerfully motivating. Talking Mats lets the person describe their emotional reactions to a subject, as manifested by the scale which organises the elements on display into a snapshot of that person’s individual feelings. CIRCA makes use of the one faculty still operative even in quite advanced dementia – the ability to recall long-term memories and enjoy sharing them.
Both these systems offer a structured communication encounter in which the structure has the effect of not restricting, but freeing up the communication. Crucially ( I would argue) both free the participants from the direct responsibility of keeping the interaction going and let them share that responsibility with a third agent.