Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



Pitt, K., McCarthy, J., Pitt, A. (2020). Supporting the Visual-Cognitive Sciences by Exploring the Application of Photographic Composition to Visual Scene Displays. Accepted for presentation at the 2020 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Conference, Cancun, Mexico. (convention cancelled). doi:10.32873/unl.dc.oth.003


Copyright 2020 Pitt, K., McCarthy, J., Pitt, A.


AAC systems may be accessed via techniques such as touch, eye gaze and switch scanning, which are then translated into communication output. Traditionally, aided AAC displays utilize a grid layout, arranging communication items in a decontextualized manner. In contrast, visual scene displays (VSDs) utilize context rich images (e.g., photographs) that depict events and activities, presenting communication items in a contextualized manner (e.g., a toy in a toy chest; Wilkinson, Light, & Drager, 2012). Recent research focusing on principles of the visual-cognitive sciences has found that even small changes in how we present communication items in a grid or VSD format may positively influence communication outcomes (Light, Wilkinson, Thiessen, Beukelman, & Fager, 2019). For instance, to support access to VSDs, research in the visual-cognitive sciences has identified that including meaningful interactions and human figures may engage individuals in scene content and promote VSD-based AAC success. AAC has a history of benefitting from bringing the perspectives of outside disciplines into conversations related to innovation and service delivery. Although digital photographs are easier than ever to obtain, there is still room for consideration of what makes a “good” photograph and capturing contextually rich photographs can make an enormous difference in the communication interactions these images support. Principles of photographic and art composition may support findings from the visual-cognitive sciences by limiting scene complexity through increased image structure and brining the viewers’ attention to key scene elements (e.g., Peterson et al., 2003) that may be targeted during direct selection or scanning-based paradigms. Therefore, compositional factors may help ensure that an individual is not being distracted or possibly ‘pulled out’ of the scene during VSD viewing. Further, the use of compositional strategies in VSD design may provide avenues for the sorting and categorization of communication content on the AAC device, by allowing image sorting software to identify well composed images that are most likely to support communication success and social participation.