Professor Annalu Waller

Photograph of Prof Annalu WallerAnnalu Waller leads the Augmentative and Alternate Communication (AAC) Research Group in Computing at the University. She has worked in the field of AAC since 1983, designing communication systems for and with nonspeaking individuals. She established the first AAC assessment and training centre in South Africa in 1987 before coming to Dundee in 1989. Her PhD developed narrative technology support for adults with acquired dysphasia following stroke. Her primary research areas are human computer interaction, natural language processing, personal narrative and assistive technology. In particular, she focuses on empowering end users, including disabled adults and children, by involving them in the design and use of technology. She manages a number of interdisciplinary research projects with industry and practitioners from rehabilitation engineering, special education, speech and language therapy, nursing and dentistry. She is on the editorial boards of several academic journals and sits on the boards of a number of national and international organisations representing disabled people. She was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year’s Honours list for 2016.

Experience

Annalu entered the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for non-speaking people in 1983 and 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, Annalu joined the staff at Eros (a school for children with cerebral palsy) where she established an augmentative communication service. She left South Africa in 1989 to read for a PhD at Dundee University. Her research dealt with the incorporation of story texts in AAC devices.

Annalu remains in close contact with colleagues in South Africa and returns to consult and lecture on an annual basis. She spent three months in Toronto during 1992 as the Blissymbolics (a semantic graphic-based language) Resident Specialist. This followed a two month secondment to Don Johnston Inc. (Chicago) in order to transfer her doctoral research to the commercial sector. This culminated in the launch of a communication system called Talk:About in 1994.

Annalu was employed on several postdoctoral research projects at Dundee and was the principal researcher on the “Development of TalksBac” project from 1993 to 1997. The TalksBac software aims to facilitate interactive communication of adults with dysphasia. She held a Smith’s Research Fellowship from 1995 to 1997. Annalu was appointed to a lecturership in Dundee University’s then School of Computing in November 1997, promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2008 and Professor in 2013.

One of Annalu’s long-standing interests is the development of narrative skills in children with complex communication needs (CCN). These non-speaking children face the additional challenge of severe physical disability when accessing a communication aids. In particular she has shown that typical narrative development stages can be observed in such children when using systems which support narrative creation and narration. Annalu has managed several research projects at the School of Computing including WriteTalk, ICU-Talk, STANDUP, “How was School Today…?” and the CHRONICLES projects (all funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

Annalu has over a hundred publications in research journals, including seminal papers on narrative and AAC. She has authored book chapters on AAC and Assistive Technology. She has also translated a children’s book into Blissymbolics. She belongs to many organisations and committees dealing with issues facing people with disabilities and was awarded the Shirley MacNaughton Award for Exemplary Communication in recognition of her leadership in the field of AAC in 1996. She spent two months in Australia in 2003 on a visiting scholarship at the University of Sydney.

Annalu is an honorary chaplain within the University’s Chaplaincy team. Annalu trained part-time for the ordained ministry at the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican) in Edinburgh from September 2001 to June 2004, gaining a Diploma in Theology for Ministry. She was ordained deacon in 2004 and was priested in 2005 – she served her curacy at St Margaret’s Church from 2004 to 2007. She served as a team priest on the ministry team of the linked charges of St John the Baptist, St Margaret and St Martin in Dundee until Epiphany 2014.

Annalu has also been involved in acting and gained her Equity card while acting in an educational play/workshop “Operation Elvis” at Edinburgh Festival in 1992.

Commercial Products

A US Patent has been granted for the PhonicStick and has entered its international phase with coverage the EU.

The original TalksBack research (developed as part of Annalu’s PhD work) has been successfully transferred into the commercial sector as a component of an integrated communication system called Talk:About marketed by an American software company, Don Johnston Inc. (Chicago). Much of this early research is now implemented in the Improv Software.

Membership of Professional Committees

Memberships

Journals

Qualifications

  • PhD (Computer Science), Dundee, Scotland – 1992;
  • Blissymbolics Training Certificate, Toronto, Canada – 1986;
  • MSc Med (Biomedical Sciences), awarded with distinction, Cape Town, RSA – 1988;
  • BSc Hons. (Computer Science), Cape Town RSA – 1983;
  • Annalu holds an Honorary Research Fellow contract with NHS Tayside.