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What It Is

Encoding is the use of a pattern or code to represent a message. One challenge in creating low-tech communication systems is providing access to enough vocabulary when a student has a limited number of locations that they can access. Encoding communication systems multiplies the number of message/symbol choices possible for a set number of locations.

Again, this strategy, if a match for a student’s needs, skills and existing strategies, can further expand a multi-modal communication system.

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What It's Not

Cryptology! Encoding is not meant to be more work. It is meant to visually simplify systems and reduce the demand for access so that students can focus on content.

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How It Works

This student chose the blue row and is now choosing icon number 3 to share her feelings about the story she just heard.

It generally involves a row-column pattern. The location of each message is represented by 2 variables. These variables must be represented in a way that is easy to see and communicate. Colors and numbers are commonly used. Using partner assisted scanning, the partner would first offer the color choice for each row. When the student makes a selection, the partner then offers the number coordinate for each item. Alternatively, the partner may offer choices using a key as pictured in the photo and the clips below.

Katie wants to tell her teacher something. First, she uses her encoding key to select the color of the row that her choice is in. Her teacher gives her feedback to confirm her color selection.

Now, Katie uses her key to select the column number that represents her choice. Again, her teacher gives her feedback regarding her column selection and the vocabulary item (book) that the color/number coordinates represent. The teacher then begins to probe the details of Katie’s intended message.

This clip shows the whole process of Katie conveying her message to her teacher.

Encoding increases efficiency because the student scans/makes selections from groups of choices rather than going through each one individually.

Encoding can also provide a nice segue to high-tech systems by giving students guided practice with the concept of encoding as well as specific scanning patterns.

“Using an Eye Gaze Board with Encoding for Written Expression or Communication for Students with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments” by Mari Beth Coleman-Martin and Kathryn Wolff Heller, Ph.D.

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