Communication Using Iconic Graphics

Richard Steele, Tolfa Corporation Lingraphica

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University June 5, 1991


There is much to learn about normal communication by investigating how it changes and degrades under conditions of stress, and how people and aids compensate. Persons with disabilities (motoric, cognitive, perceptual, other) can provide us with invaluable data: they are often highly motivated to communicate, despite frequent disruptions and failures. Text-oriented, computer-based communication aids may significantly help persons whose deficits are essentially motoric (e.g., persons with ALS, CP MS, etc.), but persons with aphasia -- central language processing deficits due to brain damage -- require conceptually new approaches, based on graphic rather than textual composition. Lingraphica represents an attempt to address the communicative needs of persons with aphasia: it is a graphically oriented, iconic computer-based communication assistive device which has been designed for use with aphasic individuals. In this presentation, the speaker will provide background on the development of Lingraphica, describe novel features which distinguish the system, survey clinical studies on the utility of these innovations, interactively demonstrate the system while describing its operation, and suggest implications of the work for understanding (and improving) communication with other populations.


Richard D. Steele, Ph.D., is senior scientist in communication at the Tolfa Corporation, a Palo Alto based start-up company working to bring technology- based devices to market to assist persons with disabilities. He graduated with distinction in Physics from Stanford University in 1964, and received graduate degrees from Harvard University in Slavic languages and linguistics (M.A. 1966, Ph.D. 1973). After teaching for 12 years at academic institutions, including Cornell University and Grinnell College, he worked for 8 years as a Research Health Scientist at the VA-Stanford Rehabilitation Research and Development Center in Palo Alto. During this time, he was principal investigator on a project aimed at developing a computer-based, graphically oriented alternative communication system for persons with severe aphasia. His presentation draws on over six years of research, development, and clinical evaluation by a multidisciplinary team of linguists, neurologists, speech pathologists, interface specialists, programmers, and others.


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