A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Sign pointing to the rainbow shipping container artwork in Fremantle. This is an example of a visual cue
The sign pointing to the rainbow shipping container artwork in Fremantle. This is an example of a visual cue

Therapy and Support Services Manager, Seb Della Maddalena ponders how non-text cues are a part of everyday life.

“Across generations, people have referred to the three Rs; Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. And yes, these are important.

Emphasis is placed on developing reading skills, and rightly so, but we also shouldn’t forget the importance of pictures and symbols. Regardless of how well-developed your literacy skills are, everyone can benefit from non-text cues such as symbols, signs and sounds to access information and to communicate effectively.

Within clinical practice, Speech Pathologists support clients with complex communication needs using a range of tools and strategies known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (link opens in new window).

The objective of AAC is to support a person to communicate in a more autonomous manner, maximising their participation in daily routines and activities and engagement with the world. AAC can include the use of visual supports such as picture symbol boards through to high-tech communication devices accessed through eye gaze.

And it’s not just people with complex communication needs or a print disability who benefit from alternatives to text or print. Think about it, when you Google or use Internet Explorer, do you look for the symbol on your desktop, or do you intentionally read the whole word?

I want to focus on the use of visual cues in our everyday environment. Cues you may not even realise you benefit from. Whether you’re a traveller with limited English, a person with an intellectual disability, you have dyslexia or you have no difficulties with communication. For people with vision impairment, audio or tactile formats can be hugely beneficial.

During the Summer break, I made a conscious effort to take notice of non-text cues within my environment. From a sighted perspective, here are 10 ways you could benefit:

  • Selecting Apps on your mobile phone or tablet. Look at the size of the App icon compared to the print.
  • Reading a fact sheet that is presented via infographics.
  • Driving to Terminal 1 and 2 at the Perth Airport and referring to the bold white directional airplanes painted on the road.
  • Communicating with friends and family using Snap Chat images, videos and stories.
  • Checking out the Fremantle cargo art and following the signage.
  • Finding the nearest hospital – in an emergency situation, seeing a large “cross” is reassuring.
  • Crossing a main road and hearing the audible signal to cross the road (when you weren’t looking up for the “green person”).
  • Sending messages with Emoji cons – how better to describe a “feeling” than through an emoji facial expression?
  • Driving in an unfamiliar suburb, searching for the nearest petrol station and following the signs.
  • Driving through a regional town and spotting McDonald’s Golden Arches.
  • I had to make an 11th point – creating this bullet point list on my Surface Pro by referring to the “bullet list icon”.

Rainbow shipping container artwork in Fremantle

I am sure you can think of many more examples. I feel privileged to live in a community where people are given the opportunity to communicate meaningfully, access environmental information and use technology to connect with others.

How can you ensure that your communication in your work or personal life can draw upon a variety of modes; print, images and symbols, audio – to ensure everyone has access?”