The use of images in supporting dialogue

Saturday, November 2, 2013
First author:
Sofie Sergeant
Reciprocity & Friendship II


1 Disability Studies, UGent, Ghent, Belgium
2 Vonx, Sint-Amandsberg (Gent), Belgium
3 Independent artist, Ghent, Belgium
All authors:

Sofie Sergeant 1,2, Saar De Buysere 3


Saar De Buysere and Sofie Sergeant created two image books titled ‘Dingske’ (‘Thingie’) and ‘Nu en Straks’ (‘Now and Next´), which comes with a manual and a personal exercise book. It was published in 2010 (Dingske) and 2013 (Nu en straks) by Garant, a Belgian publishing house.

If a work of art, an image, appeals to an observer, he or she will try to become part of it. This sets in motion a whole process, involving all human senses.

When people observe an image, they often start talking about it: they try to convert the sensations they experience by looking at it into words, which will in turn create new sensations. By sharing these words, the observer’s perception is influenced once again. Does perception shape these words, or do they shape perception? I’m convinced it works both ways.

My proposition is that visual materials are essential to communicate successfully with people with intellectual disabilities.

Therefore we created the picture books ‘Dingske’ and ‘Nu en straks’. This neatly brings us to the three ways of using a picture book:

- You can use the picture book to provide information for someone.

- By using leading questions, you can invite someone to look at the pictures as a means to start a discussion.

- You can let someone watch the pictures without any objectives or ‘hidden agenda’. In this case, you are not driven by any specific need for knowledge. In deliberately not digging for information, you often get to discover fascinating stories and reach a better understanding of how this person perceives his or her environment.

In my opinion, the added value of these visual materials consists in:

1. structuring the conversation by providing the participants with something to hold on to

2. stimulating both the caregiver’s and his or her conversation partner’s capacity to concentrate

3. allowing the conversation partner’s agenda to lead the discussion. In discovering their agenda and how they perceive their environment, you can better

a. inform them

b. put them at ease

c. allay their fears

4. providing a means to communicate effectively by picking the conversation partner’s preferred ‘channel’.

Will everyone be able to benefit from this approach? No, some people simply don’t ‘get’ images and will be better served by applying other methodologies, such as using non-visual forms of sensory perception.

Hence my appeal: please let us use multiple forms of discourse. Let us combine written texts with drawings, photos and other types of illustrations. And, especially when entering into a dialogue with people with intellectual disabilities, let us also involve the other senses: taste, smell, sound and physical touch.