Monday, December 8, 2008

Visual Scene Displays

I recently read an interesting article on Adapted Learning in the News & Views section. The article is about Visual Scene Displays. If you log into Adapted Learning then click on the link you will see the actual article. The article includes pictures, I have reprinted the text below. I have never specifically used a Visual Scene Display, but am looking to see how it might work. I'm not sure I completely understand how a visual scene might make a difference with students, so I'm looking for comments. Has anyone used these before? What sort of luck have you had, do you think it works?


Using Real-Life Backgrounds for Communication Boards:Why Visual Scene Displays?

by Phyl T. Macomber, Assistive Technology Specialist

Augmentative communication systems have traditionally used single symbol target and grid-based symbol displays for depicting vocabulary and promoting language development. These single symbol targets can contain a photograph or digital image, pictograph or cartoon-like illustration, or word. The symbol targets are placed on a page in squares that look like a grid, often times in uniform columns and rows.

An alternative functional approach to these grid-based displays, known as Visual Scene Displays (VSDs), has been gaining wider use in recent years. Visual scene displays organize and depict vocabulary in scenes relevant to the communicator – child or adult. VSDs use background images, such as photographs of a particular event, to provide contextual support for the learner. They place the communication messages on the communication board in an environment image in which they exist or will be used.

Start by creating simple low tech communication boards using a visual scene approach:

1. Purchase basic file folders to use as communication folders.

2. Obtain 2 copies of your background image – one printed on photo paper and the other printed on cardstock.

3. Place the first photo paper background image on the inside folder. Next, cut apart the cardstock background image to make your communication symbols. I like silhouetting these symbol target images so they appear as part of the scene - as opposed to squaring them off.

4. Make the symbols durable by laminating them and placing your favorite adhesive (Velcro, two-sided removable tape, or Dual Lock) on the back of each symbol.

5. Place the symbols onto the background image and you are ready to provide your AAC user with a practical environmental scene in which to communicate.
Visual scene displays can be used in a number of ways using Boardmaker Plus! and Speaking Dynamically Pro to make them interactive. These software solutions offer quick and easy ways to drag and drop your background images onto a board. Then, you can create invisible “hot spots” over different parts of the background picture so that, when touched or otherwise selected, they say or do something relevant to that part of the background picture.

Boardmaker Plus! and Speaking Dynamically Pro offer excellent options for expanding vocabulary within a visual scene display. Using pop-up boards or variables, you can increase the number of communication intents for the augmented user and expand language usage.

I have had a great deal of success guiding teams in using this practical design approach with both low tech and high tech tools because visual scene displays:
• Empower the communication partners to be much more active in the communication process – it gives them something to talk to their AAC user about by referencing the real-life environmental image,

• Reduce the cognitive demand for symbol learning – it is easier to learn communication symbols displayed in the context in which they are used, as opposed to numerous squares,

• Improve the motivation of not only the AAC user, but also the team implementing the tool because it makes sense to them and they see successful communication quickly
Research shows that visual scene displays offer more immediate success for emerging communicators and for many individuals with communication deficits due to congenital or acquired disabilities. Simply put, it is a real-life way to display communication messages – low tech or high tech.

“Reprinted from Phyl T. Macomber’s free AT Solutions At-A-Glance Newsletter. Subscribe at”


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