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.
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.
- 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.
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
Instructions for the expressing preferences activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.
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
Instructions for the expressing positives and negatives activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.
This activity gives everyone the opportunity to share how they are feeling.
Expressing emotions activity guidelines
Instructions for the expressing emotions activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.
- gradient poster (PDF)
- basic emotions (PDF)
- complex emotions (PDF)
- circles (small) (PDF)
- circles (medium) (PDF)
- circles (large) (PDF)
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
Instructions for the agreeing dos and don’ts activity for individuals or groups with a learning disability.
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
A visual communication toolkit for people with learning disabilities.
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.
- Visual aids booklet - for long edge printing (PDF)
- Visual aids booklet - for short edge printing (PDF)
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.
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.
Illustrator and graphic recorder
This project was funded from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account.
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.
Help us improve these visual aids and develop new ones by giving us your feedback.