Skip to content

Visual communication aids for people with learning disabilities

This is a visual communication toolkit designed to help people with a learning disability to express emotions and preferences, share news, and take part in community decisions. It can be used both individually and in groups of people with limited verbal skills.

Illustration of a group using the communication aids toolkit.

Existing visual aids are often based on conventional systems that must be learned - for example, green-amber-red for good-neutral-bad.

The advantage of this new toolkit is that it is based on bodily experiences we all naturally use to express feelings or ideas. For example, because of the experience of gravity, we typically associate ‘up’ with happy/good and ‘down’ with sad/bad. Similarly, large size stands for more importance.

Activities

General principles

  • Everybody chooses a card colour, which is their colour for all activities.
  • For people with colour-blindness, their name or initials should be written on the cards, or a small photo of them can be glued in the middle of the cards. For people with no vision, thicker cards should be used.
  • If the activities in the toolkit are regularly used by a group, they become a shared language that everyone can learn to use and understand.
  • Have blank sheets of paper ready for some of the activities in case anyone wants to draw during the activity.

Expressing preferences

This activity helps individuals and/or group members show which of several options they prefer (eg where to go on holiday, or how to spend some money), by using large or small heart shapes. It also gives a visual record of the results.

Expressing preferences activity guidelines

Expressing preferences activity guidelines

14 March 2019

Instructions for the expressing preferences activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.

PDF

Materials

Expressing positives and negatives

This activity gives everyone the opportunity to express positives or negatives (eg what is good or bad about living in a community), by putting thumbs up-down cards on a white to black gradient poster. It also gives a visual record of the results.

Expressing positives and negatives activity guidelines

Expressing positives and negatives activity guidelines

14 March 2019

Instructions for the expressing positives and negatives activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.

PDF

Materials

Sharing news

This activity gives everyone a place in their home (or day centre, work place) to share their news and how they are feeling.

Sharing news activity guidelines

Sharing news activity guidelines

14 March 2019

Instructions for the sharing news activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.

PDF

Materials

Expressing emotions

This activity gives everyone the opportunity to share how they are feeling.

Expressing emotions activity guidelines

Expressing emotions activity guidelines

14 March 2019

Instructions for the expressing emotions activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.

PDF

Materials

Agreeing on dos and don’ts

This activity gives everyone the opportunity to discuss how to live or work well together and to decide on the most important dos and don’ts. The results can be recorded visually and put in a prominent place.

Agreeing on dos and don'ts activity guidelines

Agreeing on dos and don'ts activity guidelines

14 March 2019

Instructions for the agreeing dos and don’ts activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.

PDF

Materials

Download the booklet

These activities are available as a booklet for you to download and print. We recommend you print the booklet in colour if possible. You can use the standard PDF to print each page separately:

Visual aids booklet

Visual aids booklet

22 March 2019

A visual communication toolkit for people with learning disabilities.

PDF

To correctly print the folded A5 booklet, you need to print back-to-back on A4, with the pages in a special order, so that when the A4 sheets are folded and stapled everything is in the correct place.

We have set up the pages for you, so that you just need to tell your printer to print double-sided.

Some printers turn the page (to print on the back) along the short edge, and some along the long edge. If your printer turns on the long edge, then the reverse side images have to be upside down, to come out the correct way up.

If you don't know which way your printer turns the page, print pages 1 and 2 of long edge version and fold the paper in half to make a mini booklet. If all the pages are the right way up, then you should use the long edge version for printing. If two of them are the wrong way up, then you should use the short edge version.

Underpinning research

This project combines Lisa El Refaie’s research on visual metaphor, Michelle Aldridge-Waddon’s expertise in supporting individuals with communication disorders, and Laura Sorvala’s experience as a visual facilitator.

The toolkit was developed in partnership with Mirus and Innovate Trust, leading organisations supporting adults with learning disabilities in Wales.

The project team participated in several of Innovate Trust’s monthly consultation events for members, with a focus on helping people with limited verbal skills to raise and discuss issues to do with supported living.

They also ran three workshops in a new, purpose-built housing development run by Mirus, to test the usefulness of visual aids in addressing needs identified by the community leader, support workers, and tenants. These included difficulties with expressing emotions and preferences, sharing personal interests and news, making decisions, and discussing community rules.

Project team

Dr Lisa El Refaie

Dr Lisa El Refaie

Reader

Email:
refaieee@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 6338
Dr Michelle Aldridge-Waddon

Dr Michelle Aldridge-Waddon

Deputy Head of School and Head of Subject

Email:
aldridgem@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 9017

Laura Sorvala

Illustrator and graphic recorder

Funding

This project was funded from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account.

Partners

Copyright

This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC). This means that the material presented on this page can be shared and adapted as long as appropriate credit is given, any changes made are indicated, and the material is not used for commercial purposes.