In November 2010 Crick Software and Mada (Qatar Assistive Technology Center) began discussions about the use of Clicker 5, Crick’s flagship reading and writing support software, in the Arab speaking world. David Banes, then Deputy Director at Mada, wanted to explore how to make it easier for Arab users to use Clicker and how we might help them share resources. At the same time Jonathan Reed, International Business Manager at Crick, was starting to explore the Gulf region as a potential area for export growth and exhibited at Bett Middle East 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
During initial discussions Crick and Mada identified the different areas of Clicker 5 that would need to be localised for Arabic users, taking both culture and language into consideration. This did not necessarily mean a full translation of the program, rather a version of the software with Arabic resources and Text-to-Speech as a default. We decided that the best way forward was to work in partnership to create an Arabic version of Clicker, with Crick providing the technical development resources and Mada the skills to be able to localise the various resources for Arabic use.
In March 2011 Mada decided to formalise the process and invited a number of manufacturers to submit a proposal to develop assistive technologies to support Arabic speaking people with a disability. The project plan Crick submitted included details of the financial and non-financial support that was to be required from Mada for the localisation and launch of the Arabic version of Clicker in Qatar. We agreed that both Crick and Mada would provide their time and expertise to localise the resources at no cost and in return Mada would provide a copy of Clicker 5 to all Qatari public schools.
Mada accepted the proposal and we then agreed the resources needed, timescales and milestones for the project. After agreements were signed work commenced on the project in June 2011, with Mada’s staff translating the resources and Crick Picture Library (1800+ curriculum-based graphics), Crick’s artist drawing new graphics to add to the library and its developers testing the resources and compiling an installer that included all the components.
As Clicker 5 was the first Arabic localisation project that Mada was involved in we spent a great deal of time liaising with each other to ensure that everyone understood what was needed. This included a face-to-face training session with Jonathan in Doha at the beginning of the development phase for all Mada staff involved.
Throughout the project we faced a number of interesting challenges, with one of the main issues being the variety of colloquial Arabic use between people from different countries in the Middle East and North Africa. This became particularly obvious when translating the names of the graphics found in the Crick Picture Library – this feature is used to enable students to write using words and pictures, with the images instantly appearing when a word is typed. However, the ‘instant picture’ facility only works if the word is spelt correctly, so a lot of time was spent agreeing on which variation of a word to include with many of the graphics.
In written Arabic it is possible to see words written without vowel signs in everyday use, e.g. in general publications and on street signs. The Arabic Text-to-Speech supplied with Clicker 5 is a high quality speech engine created by Acapela, the world leader in speech synthesis software. To get the software to pronounce words correctly they have to be written with the vowel signs included, as is the general practice in learning materials, and end users (teachers, therapist, students etc) therefore find it difficult to understand why the software occasionally mispronounces words.
Just eleven months after our initial discussions, and following four months of collaboration on the project, Crick and Mada met all the deadlines and Clicker 5 Arabic was launched successfully at Mada’s offices on October 19th, 2011. Mada has run regular training sessions on Clicker since its launch and is now working with teachers to build a repository of resources for use by Arabic speaking people with a disability across the world.
Looking back on the experience leading to the successful launch there were some interesting challenges that we needed to overcome. The first relates to the process of working together, throughout the process we arranged phone calls and regular reports on progress, whilst these were successful they lacked the opportunity to look at some of the issues in greater depth as they emerged. If there had been the chance to meet face to face during the timetable some of the issues that emerged late in the process might have been averted or mitigated.
Really understanding the patterns of activity from each other’s organisations was also important. The impact of working with a three hour time difference, with different weekends, and allowing for the differences in public holidays, especially the impact of Ramadan on available time.
This mutual understanding can be extended still further in the light of experience. Planning beta testing during the summer, when many people had left the country and during a period of high temperatures that saps volunteers enthusiasm, is probably something to mark down to experience.
In the end the success of the project was down to our shared commitment to make it happen, we learned to be flexible and to listen very hard to each other to accommodate those local needs. The result was a very successful project that has spread throughout schools in Qatar and has been well received throughout the region.