Symbols have been used to support the face to face communication of those with little or no speech since the early 1970's. More recently symbols have been used to support the development of literacy skills and the use of text by those whose experience of text is limited.
Rebus Symbols were first devised as part of the Peabody Rebus Reading Program in the USA in the 1960's. They were further developed in a UK school by Judy Van Oosterom and Kathleen Devereux to make them more applicable as a support for language development with pupils who had moderate or severe learning disabilities. This set was first published in booklet form by LDA in the UK.
With the advent of symbol software, the development of the Rebus Symbols was gradually taken over by Widgit Software, with Judy's support and with contributions from many practitioners and organisations. Until the advent of the software the number of symbols was about 600. New libraries of symbols were brought out on a regular basis and added to as a result of requests from users of the symbols and professionals supporting symbol users. At the start of the Widgit Symbol Development Project, in October 2000 there were 6000 symbols. The growth of the symbol set has therefore been extensive but it has not always been consistent. The style of the symbol drawing has also changed over the years. These factors led Widgit Software to set up the Widgit Symbol Development Project to review the whole symbol set with a view to consistency. The new Symbol set will be known as the Widgit Symbol Set (previously know as Widgit Rebus), to ensure that its identity is clear, especially as the extent of the use is growing internationally. We are grateful to Judy van Oosterom for her continued support for these developments from her original work.
This report describes how the project was set up and described the basic structure of the new Widgit symbol set.