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A researcher from the University of Granada designs an accessible tale which allows people with intellectual disability to ‘read’

Clara Luna, illustrator and researcher at the department of Drawing, defends the necessity of making ‘accessible pictures’ which allow people that lacks good reading and writing skills to understand the story told through them.

A researcher from the University of Granada (UGR) has designed an accessible tale aimed at people with intellectual disability, which allows them to “read a story even if they cannot read”, since it has been ‘written’ using an illustration-based graphic language as the only narrative thread.

The author of this work is Clara Luna Rodríguez, illustrator and researcher at the department of Drawing at the UGR Faculty of Fine Arts, who defends the necessity of “making accessible pictures which allow people that lacks good reading and writing skills (people with intellectual disability or communication problems, immigrants, children that haven’t learned to read yet, or elder people suffering from dementia) to understand the story we intend to tell through them”.

The UGR researcher has developed a new graphic language that doesn’t need text or pictographic language for its interpretation and where pictures are presented in a very detailed and simple way, both in its individual composition and in the sequence they follow. This makes it a communication method which doesn’t need a special training for its understanding.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Apart from developing said graphic language, Clara Luna Rodríguez has realized her research in the form of an accessible tale: El soldadito de plomo (The Steadfast Tin Soldier), in which she applied the language she developed. The project involved a group of people with some disability, who guided her and give her tips on how to make the pictures understandable for them, as well as the collaboration of several professionals in the field of intellectual disability and the publishing business associated with it.

“It could be said that the images used in this project are not pure illustrations nor is it a pure comic book: it’s a parallel language which combines all of those disciplines to a greater or lesser extent, taking into account the needs that the people with disability estimated necessary for a better understanding of the tale’s content”, the UGR researcher says.

Among the guidelines recommended by the researcher for making accessible pictures, she stresses the necessity of making the tales linear or circular, without temporal or spatial leaps, as well as avoiding parallel stories, in order to make the story clear and easily understandable. Moreover, she stresses the necessity of telling the story only through the use of illustrations, not overstimulate, use a simple and direct graphic language, and expressing just one idea per illustration.

Some other tips are: to make the main character appear in all the pictures, with the intention of making them the narrative thread; to draw the action from left to right, making it readable just like a sentence; or inserting arrows in some of the pictures to help people understand movement actions and directions.

Tested with 146 people

For her research, Clara Luna tested her tale with 97 people intellectually diverse whose ages ranged from 6 to 66 years and which had different skills, as well as with 49 children between 4 and 5 years old without intellectual disability. The work done with each participant was individual, taking around 15 minutes each, during which they dealt with the tale by themselves.

The results showed that the graphic language developed by Clara Luna adjusted to the skills and characteristics of people very diverse in age and level of cognition. The comprehension of most people involved in the test was high and positive in relation to the skills they show in their daily life. The level of comprehension of several participants with a severe intellectual disability was surprising, even though they weren’t initially taken into account as possible targets, given their low skills in some fields.

“It’s not that they didn’t have the ability to understand: it’s that the material suitable for them had not been created yet. This project means the first step in the creation of this kind of material and, of course, we must continue researching and improving the method in the benefit of comprehension and disability”, Clara Luna concludes.

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Varias imágenes del cuento accesible diseñado por Clara Luna, así como de la autora y de algunos de los participantes en su estudio.


Clara Luna Rodríguez

Departamento de Dibujo de la Universidad de Granada