A Vial Image

Images grab attention. They allow readers to summarily apprehend and review complex descriptions and concepts

On 30th July BBC news ran an article headlined ‘Public Health Wales ‘scoping’ Down’s syndrome Blood Test.’ From the point of view of the Down’s Syndrome Community the article struck a positive note. The article reported that Public Health Wales had cautioned that any plans to introduce the new test for Down’s syndrome within NHS maternity units in Wales must be carefully considered. It also quoted Julian Hallett from the Down’s Syndrome Association in Wales as saying ‘there should be no rush to implement NIPT in Wales until NHS staff were ready to support women and explain the new choices for screening’. Also reported were his comments that midwives and screening coordinators need to be trained (in the system) and have up-to-date, balanced and accurate information on the conditions being tested for: the need for health professionals to ensure that they balance the information they give parents by including positive information, and explaining the increased opportunities that now exist for both children and adults with Down’s Syndrome: and the need for rapid access to appropriate counselling, so that parents can make an informed decision.

 

This is exactly what so many in the Down’s syndrome community have been calling for: careful consideration instead of blanket acceptance and assumption; balanced and up-to-date information that will allow prospective parents to make a truly informed decision. At last, perhaps, our voices are being listened to.

 

But the BBC chose to run the article accompanied by the following image:


 

Five vials of blood, side by side. Appropriate enough, you might think, for an article about a blood test. So what’s the problem? Look closely at the picture, at the tubes. What do you notice about them?

 

I appreciate that whoever was responsible for choosing the image did so without malice, or even much thought. In all likelihood they just grabbed a stock image. Why does it matter?

 

Images grab attention. Images allow readers to summarily apprehend and review complex descriptions and concepts. This is especially true in the image-heavy, quick-click world of social media, where we do not expect to have to pore over the details of a lengthy text; instead we want to consume information in the form of easily digested pictures and bite-sized captions.

 

Visual images make a point more quickly and forcefully than words. But it is easy to be misled by them, because they show only a snapshot of the reality that the artist or image-maker has chosen to portray. This is a particular problem for those grabbing stock images generated by someone else: the creator’s original message or intention can be overlooked, and a superficially appropriate-seeming image can end up giving out a quite different impression to that contained within the text.

 

Those viewers who do take the trouble to read all of the accompanying text will not remember all the words and are, therefore, vulnerable to have their understanding of the text biased by one, simple, stark, arresting image that their mind will retain for much longer.

 

Now, look again at the image above. Read it. Consider every detail and the impression it creates in your mind. What does this picture say to you?

 

Five vials of blood in a row, three with different labels. The vials are not equal in size; one, labelled ‘Down’s Syndrome’ looms large in the foreground. That’s right: it LOOMS. Consider the sinister connotations of this word.

 

What does this suggest? That Down’s Syndrome is a disease? That it is worse than cancer? That it is a deadly scourge to be eradicated, as as we have eradicated smallpox?

 

Down’s Syndrome is NOT a disease. It is a genetic anomaly, a naturally-occurring chromosomal arrangement.

It is in no way comparable to cancer.

It cannot be eradicated, because we cannot prevent babies with Down’s Syndrome from being conceived, and we should not seek to prevent those parents who are so inclined from welcoming a child with Down’s Syndrome into their families.

 

How bitterly ironic that an article at long last calling for balanced, accurate, and up-to-date information about Down’s Syndrome to be given to parents has run with an image that is blatantly unbalanced and inaccurate.

 

Advertisements