Accessible sexual health images for all

Dean Milner-Bell is Accessible Information Designer at easy on the i, creating images and resources including leaflets, brochures, banners, etc. as well as running the website, image bank and image request service. He also provides a commissioned design service, supporting any organisation to create their own accessible information. He tells us what lead him to this role, and why his work is so vital.

The concept of creating free images for people with learning disabilities started in 1999, originally set up by Marion Crab, a language therapist, and myself, a graphic designer. We both worked within learning disability services and felt that the information available was poor and creating easy-read documents was expensive and time-consuming.

We started our first ‘Symbols Group’ in Leeds, designing and developing a range of free symbols that were made for, with and by people with learning disabilities, therefore giving ownership of the symbols. The easy on the i brand officially came into being in 2008, but this concept of being a user-driven service has never changed.

My career path was a little different to many designers. I struggled through school and college due to my dyslexia. Once I entered the field of graphic design, my dyslexia made life difficult. I made the decision to step back from design for a few months and volunteer at my local Adult Training Centre for people with learning disabilities. This completely changed the direction of my life in the most amazing way and I ended up working there for 14 years, running the Symbols Group and managing the Inclusive Symbolic Language service. This gave me the opportunity to incorporate both my passions of design and working with people with learning disabilities, many of whom have become lifelong friends.

Due to the nature of my dyslexia, I have an insight into how hard written information can be and how images can support making this easier. In short, I have the coolest job working with amazing people.

User-led design

All our images have input from service users who access the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, local groups also feedback via social media etc. For example, a Health Facilitator led a project on pain images – they ran groups asking many service user questions around different types of pain using objects of reference, and for everyone to draw how these images should look. Once all the drawings were collected, I invited service users who had taken part to help me co-produce drawing these. When we had all the images ready, they were then taken to the Leeds People’s Parliament (involving many services throughout Leeds, chaired by people with learning disabilities) with a facilitator on each table gathering feedback on all the images. All the feedback was collated and the images were amended where needed, with the support from the same service users whom had co-produced the original idea.

We encourage feedback from all whom use easy on the i as this can only strengthen and support how effective we can be, learning all the time and improving our images and resources.

We don’t get all the images right, and that’s why we embrace feedback so we can change our images to suit the individual or the collective.

Sexual Health

I strongly believe having accessible sexual health images increases the interaction between support staff and the individual, and can in turn aid the conversation around important topics such as consent. Taking the first step to having these conversations can be can be quite daunting but with the support of friendly images, both service users and care-staff/carers can communicate a little easier. Plus, having the relevant images to support conversations when other staff, carers, friends or family are involved in reinforcing the discussion on consent they can be confident using the same friendly images, which also increases consistency.

This year we have seen an increasing demand for images relating to sexual health from organisations and healthcare professionals, and we’ve been working on expanding our image bank as a result. Positive feedback on our sexual health imagery has been overwhelming, showing me the importance of having images available supporting people with consent, sexual health, relationships etc.

How can people access the image bank?

You can access many images and resources at www.easyonthei-leeds.nhs.uk/all/. You can also request any image to be drawn for free through the easy on the i request tab. We have many large projects coming up in 2020; one of these will be producing more sexual health related resources and images.

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