New books to support young people with learning disabilities to think about work and volunteering

Written by Sue North and Dr Roger BanksDate 15 May 2018

Sue North and Dr Roger Banks from NHS England tell us about an initiative they have been working on called 'Books Beyond Words'.

Four new picture books have been published by charitable publisher Beyond Words to help young people to think about and explore ideas around work and volunteering.

What are books beyond words?

An example of some of the books in the 'Books Beyond Words' series.

Thinking in pictures

Children, young people and adults who can’t read or who don’t like written words are often very good at reading pictures. That’s why there are no words in the Beyond Words picture stories. They were initially developed to support people with learning disabilities but are helpful for any child, young person or adult who can’t or finds it hard to read words.

The books all tell a story, but they also let the reader tell their own story – the one they see in the pictures. This can tell you a lot about a person’s inner world and their understanding of situations. There is plenty to talk about and each story explores feelings and relationships as well as giving information.

All the pictures used in the books are tested by people who find pictures easier than words, to make sure they are easy to understand.

By telling the whole story in pictures, each Books Beyond Words narrative gives people the chance to work together and explore different types of situations.

The new books have a focus on thinking about getting a job and volunteering.

Having a job brings many benefits. It enables us to build relationships, provides us with more financial independence, increases our social capital, and gives us pride and purpose – outcomes which all have a positive impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing.

Young people and adults with learning disabilities have the lowest rate of employment of any group, with just 6% in paid work.  One reason is the low expectations of employers, families and supporters, as well as their own low expectations. In response to this, Beyond Words have published a set of books that will help to raise the aspirations of people with learning disabilities, as well as those around them.

Through 12 months of research and planning, lead authors, Baroness Sheila Hollins (Beyond Words Founder and Series Editor) and Dr Roger Banks (Senior Psychiatry Lead in the Learning Disability Programme of NHS England), worked with a team of artists and expert advisers in the field of supported employment and transition, including experts by experience, to produce four engaging accessible books: ‘Choosing My First Job’, ‘Glory Wants a Job’, ‘A Family at Work’ and ‘A Good Day’s Work’.

The stories include transition from education as well as finding the right job later in life and the benefits and responsibilities of a good job, solving problems and getting the right support to stay in work, as well as self-employment and social action. 

Each story is designed specifically for those who find pictures easier to understand than words, with additional guidance provided at the back of the books for employers, schools and colleges, families and supporters. By telling the stories through pictures alone, the books provide information in a format that is accessible to all.

Six partner organisations including employment support services, FE colleges and employers, have been trialling the books in practice since October 2017. People with learning disabilities participating in the pilot have been using the four new books in group sessions to support discussions around work and volunteering and encouraging people to consider what these ideas mean for them. Partners involved are East Kent College, Skillnet, The Tower Project, Langdon, Kisharon and The Grange.

Over 200 people with learning disabilities have been directly involved in the book development process and associated pilot project, both of which have been funded by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The books were officially launched at a reception event at the House of Lords on 30 April by Baroness Hollins.

Baroness Hollins said: “These new titles in the Books Beyond Words series will challenge negative attitudes, showing that work is for everyone and inspiring people to think about what their own unique strengths and interests could enable them to achieve.”

Supported employment expert and Series Consultant Kathy Melling said: “The books will be such a help to so many people with learning disabilities and autism to understand the world of work, and what will enable them succeed with their career aspirations. I hope they will support an increase in the numbers of people with learning disabilities in meaningful and fulfilling jobs as we know that so many people are keen to work.”

Author and expert by experience Wayne McGregor says his book, ‘A Good Day’s Work’, will inspire others to reach for a successful work life just like his: “I’m very happy with it. It will help people to find that confidence and that belief to say, ‘I want to be like that guy!’.

You can find out more about Books Beyond Words and the new books by going to  where you can find lots of you tube clips that help demonstrate how the books are being used.

 Sasha, Amy K, Mattie, [Lucy], Amy S, and Lily

Photo of Books Beyond Words artist Lucy Bergonzi  (who illustrated Choosing My First Job) alongside Supported Learning students from Warwickshire College who modelled for her illustrations. Left to right: Sasha, Amy K, Mattie, [Lucy], Amy S, and Lily