The Road Ahead – Main report
8. How appropriate is the available information on transition for young people with learning difficulties and their families?
This section contains young people's and parents' perspectives on the content and appropriateness of existing resources which provide information on transition.
Discussions of the resources was stimulated by questions developed from the Information for All guidance on developing easy information with, and for, people with learning difficulties (Rodgers et al, 2004). These questions prompted the young people and parents to give their opinions on different aspects of the information under consideration:
- Appearance - Is the resource attractively laid out? Is it inviting? Does it use colour? Is it clearly presented? Does it look easy to use?
- Content - Is the information interesting? Does it cover the topics you want to know about? Does it tell you where to find out more information?
- Ease of use - Does it tell you what's in it? Is it clear who the resource is for? Is it the right length? Is it in an appropriate format?
- In the discussions with parents we also asked about:
- Relevance - Does it provide you with the information you need to support your son or daughter? Is the information relevant to your young person's support needs?
- Usefulness - Is there a section for your young person? Would you use it or have found it useful?
The findings from the groups' discussions demonstrate the importance of working with people with learning difficulties when developing easy information so as to ensure that it is appropriate to their needs. The young people wanted information that was teenager appropriate, colourful and interesting looking, with the text broken down with clear pictures which conveyed the key messages from the text. Parents wanted their information to be clear, provide information on the transition process overall and how the process worked locally, with contact details for services.
This section presents the findings in relation to the discussion areas identified above, focusing on positive strategies for the development of resources. We begin by looking at the resources available for young people, before reviewing the resources aimed at young people and their parents. The resources for young people were evaluated by the young people in the project team. The evaluation techniques used are discussed in Appendix B.
Resources for young people
Good design is of central importance in ensuring that a resource is attractive to its audience. As teenagers, many young people want to be 'trendy' and fit in with their peers. The young people in the discussion groups had the same life expectations as any other young people of the same age. They expected resources to be age appropriate, with adult looking pictures and to be 'cool' and colourful. Some of the resources were criticised for having 'babyish pictures'.
The 'Teenzone' on the Transactive Website was particularly praised for its teenage specific presentation and held the young people's attention for the longest. The music zone was regarded as 'cool' because of the use of appropriate teenage language. The team's comments included:
'Like the pictures, the graphics are good.'
This style of interaction, with games and activities, was regarded as 'fun' and the pictures that moved across the screen were thought to be 'clever'. Interactive activities and games are excellent ways of giving important information in fun ways which will attract teenagers. The young people felt that paper based resources, should have colourful, adult looking front covers which should be plastic covered. This would protect the resource when being taken around and also ensure it was shiny and professional looking.
Resources were regarded as 'boring' if they were black and white, did not have appropriate pictures or graphics, or if the text was too dense. Attractive resources had large amounts of space around the content, the text broken up with appropriate pictures and, where relevant, symbols. A frequent criticism was that there was:
'Too much writing, not enough pictures.'
Resources without illustrations were difficult to use and very off putting to young people who could not read or struggled to decipher even small sections of simplified text. The inclusion of pictures was particularly important if the resources did not have an audio version to convey the messages from the text. A detailed discussion about the use of pictures can be found below.
A CD or audio of a website was also perceived as an 'attractive' feature, which enabled the team to access the material without the need for support. Some of the resources appeared to presume that young people would use the material with a parent or supporter who could interpret the content for them.
Attractive resources also had large writing. There was a general criticism of small font sizes, the team commenting on a number of occasions that the writing should be bigger
'The same size as the titles.'
Helpful information like telephone numbers, also needed to be in a big size.
The Information for All guidance suggests that text should be no smaller than 14 point and that where used symbols should be at least the size of this box (but preferably larger).
Transition was defined by the team as 'changes as you grow up'. The illustration of a path or road used in a number of resources was felt to be a particularly appropriate way of explaining the concept.
The team felt that most of the resources attempted to provide a wide range of information that they might need. The one area which was either missed out, or presented in an unclear way, was that of boyfriends, girlfriends and sex.
The young people believed that websites should address the issue of sex and relationships clearly and simply, rather than use oblique references to sex and relationships such as 'Beyond friendship' or 'special friends'. In some resources information about sex and relationships had not been provided; in others the material was complex and often lacking visual explanations.
The young people felt that appropriate explanations and examples were needed of important issues such as contraceptives. They established very quickly that appropriate pictures of contraceptives were easily available on the internet, including simple illustrations on how to use a condom, which could easily be linked to from a website or adapted and included in a learning difficulty specific site. They also discovered websites which explained the importance of contraception through a game ( http://viral.lycos.co.uk/games/condomgame.html ) which definitely got this essential message across.
Many of the resources provided the appropriate information if the young person could read, but did not if they could not. This was important. As the team frequently pointed out:
'Not everyone can read.'
'Pages with all words tell you nothing.'
Clear, short, unpatronising text with clear pictures was required. Lots of space around text was also needed, with any unavoidable difficult words explained the first time they were used.
The Transactive website was praised for telling the young people one thing at a time. There were only a few words on the screen at each time, which were accompanied by a picture or symbol. The Information for All guidance (Rodgers et al 2004) suggests that sentences should not be longer than 15 words.
All of the young people liked the pictures on the Transactive website. It had 'nice pictures' which the young people felt clearly explained the information.
The team did not like information with only one picture per page. One picture on a page of text was felt to be overly selective and often conveyed just one element of the wider message being presented in the text. There were various examples of this in the resources investigated. In one case a picture of exercise was included whilst the text discussed a whole variety of opportunities available for a young person during the day, which were listed. Smaller pictures of each example could have conveyed a far wider variety of options.
In a number of resources, the pictures/cartoons relied on text included within them in order for them to be understood. This defeated the point of using illustrations to convey messages to people who have difficulty understanding written text:
'We don't like pictures or cartoons with words that you have to read to understand it.'
The North Somerset young people make clear the importance of pictures in their report (NSYPF, 2004).
'We look at all the bits of the picture to try and understand it. Some pictures are confusing and more like a puzzle.'
Pictures need to be clear and simple, rather than a montage of different elements around a topic. While the latter type of illustration may be thought attractive and inviting to some, from the young people's perspective they were actually very confusing.
A particular issue was the way pictures represented education. In a number of resources, a picture of a person on a computer was used to represent learning choices or further education. The young people, however, thought this picture was about using, or playing on, a computer.
The young people were clear that pictures needed to relate to the ways in which they, as young people, interpreted concepts. In pictures relating to work, a picture of someone doing decorating had relevance, while a more symbolic picture (in another resource) of a workbench for woodwork did not mean anything to them.
This highlights once again the importance of ensuring that illustrations are appropriate to the target audience, through working with them and testing out the choice of pictures rather than using the designers' or writers' assumptions about what would explain a concept or is thought to be a common understanding of it.
The way pictures and symbols were used in Your Book for the Future (Partnership with Parents, undated) was considered good. The pictures got the ideas across and the symbols indicated specific things.
When symbols were used from symbol sets these were often well known representations of a concept. Computer symbols might be slightly different but still recognisable. In some resources symbols were not so easily recognisable. On one occasion a symbol meant to indicate 'keeping safe' was understood as 'sleeping'. Again, as the Information for All guidance suggests, any symbols used within resources should also be checked out with the target audience (Rodgers et al 2004).
Relevance to the individual
The content and presentation of the resource also needed to demonstrate its relevance to the individual. In one transition plan, for instance, the example of a school girl was used. A young man in the project team did not like this or see its relevance to him. He did not get the concept of making a transition passport from this example. The example of a young male had far more relevance for him. This shows the importance of ensuring that both sexes are included in examples.
Resources which enabled the young people to think about the information provided in relation to their own lives were praised. These included games, choice cards and planning sheets. The planning sheets provided by the Transactive website were considered particularly useful by two of the young people. One said:
'If I was going somewhere I'd use these.'
Similarly, the choice cards in the Your Book for the Future (Parents in Partnership, undated) were recognised as being helpful for young people who communicated in different ways.
Further information (like contact details) relating to a topic needs to be in the main section of a resource rather than at the back or in another place where its relevance will need to be explained again and where it could be difficult to find. Where information was provided for parents and young people in the same resource, the young people found that the contact details were in the parents' section. They felt that they should also have been provided with contact information in the section aimed at them. Contact information should include symbols to illustrate telephone numbers and explanation, using pictures or symbols, of what young people can find out there.
Ease of use
Sound on websites or CDs was appreciated and could be accessed without additional support.
The team recognised that contents pages, in paper based formats, varied greatly. Contents pages without pictures were not initially recognised as providing any information. Colour coded explanations of sections were regarded as helpful, as well as contents pages which used symbols that could be linked to the appropriate section. Colour coded sections or symbols in, or on the corner of, paper or webpages also helped navigation.
Two members of the team did not initially understand the standard web protocol of clicking on the underlined words to get to the information on a subject. They preferred to use forward and back buttons, like those on the Transactive site or an appropriate picture link (where clicking on a picture takes you to further information on the subject) or a button with a picture, like those found on the Plain Facts website.
The young people recognised that people had a range of impairments which resource producers and designers needed to be aware of. One suggested a paper based resource including:
'Feely bits for people who are blind.'
When discussing paper based outputs, the project team liked a smaller size which would fit in pockets or bags. This finding differs from that of the Information for All guidance which suggests material should be larger, to accommodate pictures and make it easier to handle.
The team preferred information for young people to be separate from parent information. Inclusion with parent information made the resource large, and on occasion heavy, and while recognising that transition is a shared process between young people and parents, as well as other professionals, it did not encourage independence.
Spiral binding was considered easy to use and flexible and did not result in a floppy resource. A plastic front cover on paper based resources was also needed for protection so that the resource could be taken around with the young people and made use of.
Other issues to be aware of
One resource included information about the disabled people's movement. Two of the young people felt that young people might take offence at this. These particular young people were not politicised and did not consider themselves disabled, although they were happy to respond to the categorisation of 'having learning difficulties'. One said:
'We're not disabled - we just find things difficult.'
These young people felt that disabled people, by contrast, had physical impairments and might use a wheelchair. This is a good reminder of the need to avoid making assumptions about young people's perspectives.
8.3 Information for parents
The information about transition produced for parents was evaluated by a mother and two grandparents (a couple) whose child and grandchild attended a special school in North Somerset. Of these participants, the grandparents had attended their grandson's first transition planning meeting but were still unclear about the process and their role within it. The other participant's son was only 13 and had not as yet had a transition planning meeting. These participants came along to the meeting to 'find out about transition'. (Parents of the young people's research team and of young people from the local college had not responded to invitations to attend the meeting: see Appendix B for more details.)
At their grandson's transition meeting the grandparents had got the impression that the professionals were 'filling places' at certain colleges. They had not understood that transition planning meetings were an opportunity to think through a broader range of options. They were aware, however, of the lack of services which would support his inclusion in social and leisure activities.
The participants felt that the text needed to be in a large enough font. They were 'put off if the print was too small and too close together'. The resource Transition for children and young people with disabilities (Swindon, 2002) was felt to be appropriate in font size and layout, as the text was not too densely presented.
The participants questioned whether the term 'transition' meant anything to anyone. They felt that for parents and young people titles such as 14-25: Your future would be far more likely to gain their attention.
The parents confirmed the themes discussed in Section 5 about the types of information they required. They felt that they needed basic information about the transition process including 'relevant national information 'as well as information on 'what happens locally' and how they would be involved.
The participants did not know that there were transition workers in their local authority, what direct payments were or that their young person would need an assessment to access services. They felt that they would need to be told 'what would happen'. The parents also stressed the importance of 'talking it through' and being supported through the process by a keyworker or social worker.
The participants felt that the contents of resources should include information on the services and supports available such as :
- How benefits change at 16
- Are there equivalent organisations to the Family Fund who will pay for holidays once young people have become adults?
The parents also felt that the information about services contained in resources should be subject to a quality check, so that the participants could be sure of a quality service.
The 'All Change Pack' (Mallet et al, 2003) was regarded as covering all of the information that they might need. It was good for reference and 'digesting at home .'The 'Transition for children and young people with disabilities 'pack (Swindon, 2002) was regarded as covering 'everything' but as it was much more condensed, would only take 'three or four hours to digest .'There was 'not too much' on each subject, and parents could 'dip in and out' to gain information.
Transplan CD (Facilitating Inclusion North East, 2002) was praised for its validation of parents' roles and the clear explanation it gave of the transition process.
Ease of use
The parents felt that for ease of use the relevant contact information should be in the appropriate section of a resource as well as in an overall list of contacts elsewhere.
In the 'Transition for children and young people with disabilities' pack (Swindon, 2002), the participants liked the fact that there were two separate versions, one for the young person and one for the parents, containing the same information but in different, appropriate formats. The parents' section was felt to be a suitable size to take around to meetings.
While the participants themselves did not have computers, and expressed no desire to use one, they felt that the sound on the Transplan CD ROM was useful for parents with visual impairments or difficulties with literacy. But they pointed out that it was wrong to assume that 'everyone has computers'. The monthly cost for internet connection was considered 'worrying' when families were on a 'tight budget'.
These participants wanted not only written information but also information to be conveyed in person. This view was confirmed in the more general parents' discussions which also highlighted the need for a keyworker to provide appropriate information at the right time. The parents and grandparents in this group, and the parents in the four groups in England and Wales, noted that they often received information through informal contacts such as other parents at school. Similarly, the young people in the discussion groups recognised that they often found out information from friends, teachers and support workers as well as through visits, videos, leaflets and, on occasion, the internet.
The participants recognised that relevance of the resources for use by young people with learning difficulties would depend on the young person's level of literacy. The grandparents agreed with the young people that 'Your Book for the Future' (Parents in Partnership, undated) would be a good resource if the young person could read or if parents were available to guide their son or daughter through it.
The participants (like the young people) did not like pictures that were cartoon like because they did not represent concepts clearly. A resource which used cartoons was considered not to have been successful in meeting the information needs of young people with learning difficulties and was described by one parent as:
'A bit of a mockery.'
This section presented young people's and parents' evaluations of resources that have been produced to support them during transition.
Key messages were that resources for young people should be age appropriate with large text and short clear sentences. The layout should be clear and pictures should be used to convey all of the messages within the text.
Websites about transition should be colourful, inviting and easy to navigate and present the information in interesting ways, for example using games and activities.
Information for parents should also be clear, inviting and not too densely packed with information. It should provide parents with an overview of the transition process, at both national and local levels, and include relevant contact information for services.