A communication board is a display of images and text with a specific arrangement and design that has a variety of purposes including: learning, communication, inclusion and awareness. A “playground” communication board is a combination of picture symbols placed on a hard and durable material that can installed in public places such as playgrounds, beaches, public parks, museums and others. The pictures represent a vocabulary that is functional and can be customized to match specific language needs to the location. For example: a communication board in a playground may include a picture for the word “slide”, however a communication board at the beach may include the word “swim”. Children and adults can enhance communication by pointing to the pictures on the board to express their wants, needs and interact with others.
A special project in Texas
Visiting the playground
The city of Rowlett, TX has a playground called Kids Kingdom. The playground includes a variety of unique play areas. Our team visited the playground and took a variety of photos of the specific play areas, many of which aren’t easily found on a visual support system. Examples include a dinosaur sand area, and a giant robot statue. The objective was to capture these areas so that Smarty Symbols could create icons to represent these areas. This way children could easily identify the areas within the park that they would like to play. For children who require an adult to guide their mobility, having these areas clearly labeled and visually distinguishable was important.
After our team took the photos of the play areas, the Smarty Symbol illustrator created a total of seventeen (17) images specifically crafted for this playground. Take a look at a few of the photos and the created symbols.
Once the seventeen specific icons were designed, it was time for building the custom communication board. Special considerations for this board have been taken:
Including of a diverse symbol characters representing a variety of gender and ethnicities (Diversity and Inclusion)
Color coded background based on modified Fitzgerald key
Letters and numbers for spelling of words not on board
Core Vocabulary inclusion
Location of the park
QR code for more information on how to use the board, download a copy of the board on their device, and information on getting started on building a board at another playground
Instructions with ideas about how to use the board
Information on where families can seek help if they are concerned with their child’s language development
Copyright information of the symbol set included (Make sure you have a licensing agreement to print any communication board with copyrighted images)
Space for recognition of businesses that contribute towards the cost of the communication board
What to do after the digital board is completed?
Once you have come up with a design for the communication board, you will want to decide on manufacturing the board. Depending on your location you may be able to contact a sign printing company to get quotes on printing the board to be mounted on a fence or to be built on posts. If you are wanting to install the board at a public playground, you will have to contact your city parks or mayor to gather the appropriate permissions to install the board.
There are many ideas around getting the communication board funded. At first we contacted the city park and recreation staff to possibility have the board installed as part of the city budget. If that’s not an option, you can raise funds with families in the community or local advocacy groups. You may also reach out to local businesses for sponsorships. You can see that the Rowlett communication board has space for four business logos waiting that we will be reaching out to fund this board.
One of the way to fund your communication is to apply for grants. You can discuss with the city parks and recreations for options of city grants for a city wide communication board or even get on the city park budget as a line item: Communication Board!
The communication board done through us won’t break your bank. The basic cost is around $500 per board (licensing, design, and print of a 36×24 board) plus the cost of having a local contractor install it for you. If you have a budget of around $1000 per board, it should cover all the costs for a nice looking stand alone board. Ask four local businesses to donate $250 each and have their logos on the board display. Our communication boards have a space designated for this type of support.
This is the part that you can get fancy or creative to save on your budget. You can go to your local home improvement store and gather wooden or metal fence posts to attach the board. You can also get some cement to keep the posts in place and done. Alternatively you can find a local contractor to get the job done for you or your organization.
One of the most important aspects of this project is advocacy. You will have to find ways that you may not be fully comfortable in doing yet in order to get people to pay attention to this important cause. As the city’s park director stopped responding our messages and ignored us for 2 years, we felt that it was appropriate to post about the project on the city’s Facebook group. The message posted informed citizens about Autism, about communication boards, and explained the goal of the project and specifically where we would like it installed. We had specific asks:
Anyone with a city connection or contact to help us get the permission and/or funds for this project
Any local business interested in sponsoring the project (cost could be split between business to have their logo on such a great cause at a permanent local place)
A local contractor to install the board
Anyone interested in joining the advocacy efforts (moms, other local therapists or businesses) – you don’t have to do it alone.
Another option is to email your city council members directly with details about the idea and the project. One of our city’s council member was very important on this process.
Attending our city hall meeting was the icing on the cake. Now we are advocating for communication boards being a line item on any future park enhancements. You can replicate this in your city!
Let us do the work for you!
As we have gone through the process to create a custom communication board. Our team decided to create a large effort to make this process easier for anyone who wants to make their parks more inclusive and accessible for all. Smarty Symbols is launching a new service to support you make this a reality for your park. Our service includes a variety of support levels from the ability to purchase one of our existing board with a licensing agreement for this purpose, guidance on printing, or our highest level of support which includes a fully customized communication board.