The Joking Computer
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The online version of the Joking Computer is now available.

Annalu Waller


Originally from South Africa, I did my undergraduate degree in Computer Science and masters in Biomedical Science at Cape Town University.

In 1983, I started working on computer devices that help people who cannot speak to communicate. This is called "augmentative and alternative communication" (AAC). I was a founder member of Interface - Total Communication for the Disabled, the first association for AAC in Southern Africa.

Having qualified as a rehabilitation scientist at the University of Cape Town, I joined the staff at Eros, a school for children with cerebral palsy. I established the first augmentative communication service in South Africa for these children.

I left South Africa in 1989 to do a Ph.D. at Dundee University. My research dealt with the incorporation of story texts in AAC devices. I remain in close contact with colleagues in South Africa and return to consult and lecture on a regular basis.

Cape town
© slack12


In 1992, I spent three months in Toronto, Canada, as the Blissymbolics Resident Specialist. Blissymbolics is a graphic-based written language, with approximately 2000 characters, each representing a concept. New concepts, Blisswords, can be generated by sequencing characters. For example, the image on the left is a Blissymbolics sentence for "I want to go to the cinema". I also spent two months in a US company to transfer my research into a commercial product: a communication system called Talk:About.

Back in Dundee, I worked on several research projects. For example, I led the development of the TalksBac software, which helps adults who have difficulty speaking after a stroke (dysphasia) to engage in interactive conversation. I am currently a senior lecturer in Dundee University's School of Computing.

One of my long-standing interests is the development of narrative skills in children with complex communication needs. These non-speaking children face the additional challenge of severe physical disability when accessing a communication aid. In particular I have shown that typical narrative development stages can be observed in such children when using systems which support narrative creation and narration. I have managed several research projects including WriteTalk, ICU-Talk and STANDUP (the predecessor of the Joking Computer).

Dundee university
© Yellow Arrow/six city

Child using How was school today

Currently, I co-lead the "How was School Today…?" project, which helps children who cannot speak to tell stories about their day. I also work on a system which allows children with Asperger Syndrome (high functioning autism) to practice social communication. I supervise five doctoral students working on projects ranging from the development of a phonic based talking joystick to supporting adults who use AAC in hospital. See "Other projects for children with communication difficulties" for details on some of these projects.

In addition to my scientific publications, I have also translated a children's book into Blissymbolics about a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy in South Africa. I belong to many organisations and committees dealing with issues facing people with disabilities and was awarded the Shirley McNaughton Award for Exemplary Communication in recognition of my work on AAC.

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