A communication board is a visual presentation of images and text with a specific layout and style that serves several purposes, including education, communication, inclusion, and awareness. These boards can help close the communication gap between non-speaking or those with limited verbal speech and their caregivers, teachers, and classmates using graphics and photographs. The pictures, symbols, or illustrations on the boards help people with difficulty speaking communicate by pointing at the pictures. The pictures show practical vocabulary that can be adjusted based on the needs of the specific environment or even linguistic requirements. Each communication board will include images based on the location where it will be placed. If it were at a school, it could include pictures of a school bus; if it were placed at a doctor’s office, it could have a pain scale. Each has a meaning that can be expressed by touching the image.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication:
Communication boards are used as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices in homes, schools, and other public settings. Digital devices can also be used for augmentative and alternative communication. These communication modifications can be used to satisfy a person’s communication needs.
- High-tech AACs often incorporate speech-generating technology and tablets with language software.
- Low-tech solutions include books, personal paper communication boards or larger public communication boards.
- One of the most well-known systems is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which is presently offered in various low-tech and high-tech variants.
What is the difference between a communication board and a playground communication board?
A playground communication board is a type of communication board that is designed to be used by multiple people at a specific location. Even though we refer to it as a “Playground Communication Board”, it should actually be referred to as a Community Communication Board. They will be used by the community at specific group settings. These community communication boards can be found at dentist offices, waterparks, pediatrician offices, therapy clinics and so on.
Why do we need playground communication boards?
Children have the right to communicate in all places they need to. This includes, but is not limited to, the playground, school, and home. Children with disabilities have the same rights and needs for communication as their peers. Occasionally, it is impossible to bring a high-tech device to some places, and unless another form of communication is in place, the child won’t be able to communicate. That’s why low-tech community-based communication boards should be implemented anywhere possible.
The Steps to Creating a Playground Communication Board:
A playground communication board is a group of symbols mounted on a sturdy and hard material that can be seen in public places like playgrounds, parks, beaches, and museums. The words included should reflect the location and corresponding communication needs. For instance, a communication board at a playground would include a graphic for the word “slide” whereas one near the beach might have the word “swim.”
The steps to creating a playground communication board are below:
- Identify the Location:
Before creating a playground communication board, you must determine and visit the location to gather information regarding the appropriate vocabulary for that specific fixed location board. Fully understanding the vocabulary a child will likely need within a given place takes time to analyze the unique surroundings, routines, and interactions of the people communicating within them. These factors are also important in figuring out the best installation spot within the location.
- Observe the Surroundings:
While you visit the location:
- spend sufficient time there to see what the communication needs of children are within that place and how those needs may change depending on the time of day.
- Take note of the most important subsections of the location and objects of importance. Include notes on important nearby locations, as they too may impact communication desires.
- Observe the priorities of the children within the location. What would a child need to be able to communicate with other children? Observe the priorities of the caretakers. What will they need to communicate with their child?
- Take photos, so you have a clear, reliable reference of the specific area.
- Select the Words and Images to be Included on the Board:
What were the most important nouns (people, places, and things) at your location? What were the most important verbs (action words)? Are there any regular routines or activities at that location that should be considered? Any communication board has a finite amount of space, so the time you invested earlier in observing is crucial for making informed decisions on what to include.
- Selection of Board Material:
The type of material needed will depend upon the environment and how it will be mounted.
- Is the location indoors or outdoors?
- Will it be freestanding on posts or attached to a larger structure like a wall or fence?
- Are there any extreme weather elements that the board will be regularly subjected to?
Companies such as Smarty Symbols make this process much smoother. They have created boards based on different locations. These boards can be customized to fit the needs of specific locations, and they have made the process of the initial vocabulary selection much easier for customers.
- Considerations for the Board:
After selecting appropriate material and creating the playground images, it’s time to build the communication board. For this board, special considerations have been made:
- Written guidelines and advice for utilizing the board.
- Use a color system so the symbols and letters can be clearly shown.
- Use letters and numerals for spelling words not available as picture symbols.
- Make sure your images are diverse and inclusive
- Make sure you have a license agreement before printing any communication board with images protected by copyright.
- If fundraising, you may include logos of businesses and practices on the board.
Printing the board:
After considering the board, it is suggested to look for a printing company to install the communication board in the playground. You will need to research materials: wood, plastic, and acrylic to determine which one would work best for the environment. All these steps can be resolved, if you purchase a board from companies like Smarty Symbols. Smarty Symbols has already identified the correct and appropriate materials for each environment.
If you are installing it in a public place, you must get the government’s, or city mayor’s permission to avoid any inconvenience. You may actually want to start with this step prior to completing the previous ones.
Creating a large durable communication board is not inexpensive. If you are doing this on your own, you must take into account all the time, energy and effort it will come with this process. The communication board is being funded in several ways. Park management may have appropriate funds to cover 100% of the costs of the communication board. If that’s not the case, they may also help you raise your communication board funds. Local advocacy organizations or families in the neighborhood may be able to help you raise money. You can also ask nearby businesses for sponsorship. Creating a crowdfunding campaign can also be an alternative.
As the goal is to help children communicate, find an area of the installation that is easy for children to both see and reach so that the board will help them be included in activities. If there is already a structure, such as a wall or a fence, and there is an appropriate location to attach the board, it may be utilized for an easier installation. If not, you may need to purchase wood or metal posts which may require concrete in order to secure it in the ground. A Smarty Symbols consultant will help you identify best installation plans.
You can watch a video on step-by-step process with Barbara Fernandes.
Although it may seem like a daunting task, the process is worth it for the meaningful impact it can have. Interacting with others and being understood is a priceless gift. It enables us to develop our social skills, sense of self, establish friendships, and feel like we belong in the world.
Don’t let the process overwhelm you, as mentioned earlier, Smarty Symbols has made it much easier for cities and schools to order a high quality ready-made board and get advice on all the steps needed to move forward.