Illustrated health information leaflets have been drawing
inspiration from the needs of people with learning difficulties.
Graham Hopkins profiles one scheme already exploiting this
“Knowledge,” said Samuel Johnson in 1775, “is of two kinds. We
know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information
upon it.” Most of us tend to rely, not too inconveniently, on the
second kind. But for people with communication difficulties,
knowing where to find information (in an easily understood format),
no matter how vital, can be a tiresome and traumatic task.
Information, as Johnson suggests, is but a passport to knowledge
– where true power resides. Information in itself is worthless if
it is in a form that is not understood.
According to the Scottish executive’s review of services for
people with learning difficulties, The Same As You? – the
first such review in over 20 years – at least 50 per cent of this
client group have significant communication problems, with up to 80
per cent having some communication difficulties.
It also notes that if people with learning difficulties are to
be fully included in our communities, “they need to have accurate
information so they can make informed choices and decisions about
their lives.” However, it’s good to report that some fair-minded
people in Scotland are turning those fine words into action – or,
pictures at least. Fair (Family Advice and Information Resource),
an Edinburgh-based confidential advice and information service, is
leading the way with a series of guides for people with learning
difficulties on personal health care.
Fair was highlighted in The Same As You? as an example
of good practice in the field – and you can see why by looking at
its leaflets. Publishing them in association with the Lothian
Primary Care Trust, Fair designed the leaflets in response to a
request from a men’s group. At the time there was no user-friendly
information available about detecting testicular cancer, the most
common cancer among men aged 20-35, for people with learning
difficulties. Community nurses from Lothian PCT, responsible for
community services in Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian, were
involved along with clients and their carers in devising the
The latest titles, A Guide to a Healthy Mouth and A Guide to
Having a Healthy Heart, add to two existing leaflets, A
Guide to Examining Your Breasts and A Guide to Examining Your
Testicles. The guides use plain language – although
“testicles” is used in the title, in the text they are called
“balls” – and humour to put the healthy message across. One piece
of advice runs: “Don’t forget to check your balls regularly, in
places where you can be private, like the bathroom. Make sure it’s
warm where you check themÉ or you might have trouble finding
Although user-friendly, for many people any form of written
communication is unhelpful. So Fair also produces interactive
CD-Roms on each subject. Indeed, the testicular cancer CD won The
National Information Forum’s Getting the Message Across Award
Daniel Lambie, carer of 19-year-old Johnny, says: “Johnny
thought that the testicular cancer CD-Rom was funny and the message
hit home. I think it would have been difficult to explain this
fairly complex medical issue to him without the help from this
The Scottish Accessible Information Forum, charged with
co-ordinating a national plan to make sure that all information is
accessible to people with learning difficulties, agrees with
Lambie’s sentiment. It believes that information leaflets such as
the Keep Yourself Healthy series will help enable people to make
informed choices and live independent lives.
Communication is central to being included in society. People
with learning difficulties in Edinburgh and the Lothian region look
set Fair to meet that challenge.
For more information call Margaret Hurcombe, project manager,
Fair, 25-27 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DB. Tel: 0131 662
1962; Fax: 0131 662 9486.
SCHEME: Health information leaflets for people with learning
LOCATION: Edinburgh and the Lothian region, Scotland.
STAFFING: From within existing staff.
INSPIRATION: A request from a men’s group for information on
examining for testicular cancer.
COST: Funding has been from a variety of sources, including
lottery grants and the Health Education Board Scotland.