Monthly Archives

March 2015

Claire Holland Head of Training

Claire Holland on Deafness and Dementia

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One of the many things I love about being involved with Enhance the UK is no two weeks are the same. This week we were privileged to be asked to attend a roundtable event organised by the Mental Health Foundation entitled Rights, Dementia and the Social Model of Disability: A New Direction for Policy and Practice. You might ask why would we be invited along to an event about dementia. For those of you who don’t know, we at Enhance the UK have developed a Deaf and dementia course.

The need for this was highlighted when the director and founder of Enhance the UK, Jennie Williams, met Lily and her daughter Dee. Lily was an older woman living in sheltered accommodation. She had dementia and was also a Deaf, British Sign Language user. Dee was concerned that care staff were not able to communicate effectively with Lily because of her dementia and were also not able to converse with her in her first language, BSL. She feared that this was leading to Lily’s basic daily needs being ignored and that she was completed isolated in her own home. After further investigation we found that the University of Manchester had highlighted that ‘very few support services were accessible or appropriate for Deaf people with dementia.’

Furthermore it is not only Deaf, BSL users who are finding it difficult to access appropriate support. Since the majority of dementia patients are elderly, hearing loss is also common among them. It is our belief that it is essential that anyone involved with supporting people with dementia also have a good understanding of deafness and hearing loss in order to be able to communicate effectively with and appropriately support the individual. We secured a contract with Hackney council and were able to deliver the Deaf and dementia training to various care professionals. The feedback from this course was very positive.

So, back to the roundtable event. Overall it was a fascinating event, one in which I feel was very worthwhile us as a charity attending. From my perspective, it really is shocking how the treatment and attitude towards people with dementia is firmly rooted in the medical perspective. Discussions on the day centred around how the social model of disability could be applied to improve things. For those of you who don’t know, the social model of disability states that how society is organised disables people rather than their impairment or difference. It focuses on removing barriers and encouraging society to become more inclusive. I could go on all day about this but for me personally a few things on the day hit home.

Early on in the day we had the pleasure of meeting Peter who is a wheelchair user. We had quite an in depth discussion regarding Enhance the UK and the attitude that we aim to perpetuate. We all sat down and I gave it no further thought. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I realised that Peter was one on the guest speakers who has dementia himself. This really should not have shocked me as I have a hidden disability myself, but it did. It really powerfully illustrated in my mind why people with hidden impairments find it so much more difficult in everyday life. There is a choice of either not disclosing the impairment, in which case should you need any support or adaption then you are unlikely to receive it, or having to tell everyone you meet what your impairment is which isn’t the best at times.

During the course of the discussions the dementia friendly community programme created by the Alzheimer’s Society was raised. This worthwhile scheme is firmly based in the social model of disability and is aiming to encourage communities to be inclusive of people with dementia in all aspects including attitude and physical environments which are easy to navigate. One of the delegates raised that currently dementia is ‘sexy’. The government is keen to support people with dementia and there is a lot of focus on this at present. However, it was agreed that this will not always be the case. It more than likely won’t be long before the focus moves away onto something else and funding and support will be harder to come by. It was suggested that rather than focusing on dementia friendly communities we should be focusing on inclusive communities. This to me hit a chord. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all disability organisations worked together to aim to create inclusive communities which are accessible to all. Currently, for a number of reasons this is a pipe dream but one in which I like to indulge in.

The Undressing Disability shoot 2013 in front of Big Ben, London

Charity Projects at Enhance the UK by The Learning People

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How do you deal with disability in the workplace? That’s a question asked by awareness charity, Enhance the UK.

Jennie Williams, founder and project manager of Enhance the UK, offers awareness training designed to combat prejudices against disability in the workplace and schools in a fun, interactive and engaging fashion.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START ENHANCE THE UK?

“Part of the reason I started Enhance the UK was because I am a hearing aid user.

“This has given me greater empathy, understanding and passion to support people who have physical and sensory impairments.

“It is important to me that these people have a voice, so that’s why being user led is imperative to the success and integrity of the charity.”

 

WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU COME UP AGAINST?

“Like with anything you set out to do, you will have some amazingly supportive people and then people who completely do not get it.

“We sell disability awareness training to promote equality in the workplace but some businesses simply do not see why they might need it, which can be frustrating.

“More specifically, one of our most challenging but rewarding projects has been the 2014 calendar for our ‘Undressing Disability’ campaign, which featured disabled models in their underwear in public places.

“One of our shoots took place on a boat on the Thames so we had to make sure we were organised – taking enough photos with limited time.

“When the first round of calendars was delivered we were dismayed to find the watermarks hadn’t been removed.

“This was stressful as we couldn’t afford to buy hundreds more of the calendars, but fortunately the calendar company were sympathetic and replaced our order free of charge.

“Finally, we had the calendars but no real platform to sell them on a large scale, however, we did have social media and we also sent press releases to major publications.

“These proved fruitful and we were featured in large international publications such as The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post, ending up selling all of our calendars worldwide.”

HOW DOES THE TEAM COMMUNICATE?

“Communication is key to ensuring everything gets done in the different projects we work on.

“Myself and my staff are in constant – several times daily – communication through every given medium, even WhatsApp.

“We regularly stay on top of emails and have a group Google Drive folder which contains spreadsheets for fundraising trusts we approach, which is updated weekly.

“We have a big, face to face meeting every three months, while myself and my core staff will typically have strategy meetings every couple of months.

“Skype is also useful for speaking to potential volunteers or trainers around the country.”

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE WITH PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND THEIR FAMILIES?

“Many disabled people are fiercely independent and want to get that across by offering us their opinions.

“Others may be more reserved and not used to having their voices heard so you have to try and gain their trust – it’s all about working with what individuals need.

“When it comes to sensory impairments, more technical issues surrounding communication arise, so we make our website – and ourselves – as accessible as possible.

“This will include subtitling our videos, as well as using a BSL interpreter in them and adhering to the correct guidelines for blind people.”

HOW DO YOU MANAGE STAKEHOLDER EXPECTATIONS?

“While setting up our crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign for our teaching children about disabilities book, The Secret Sign, we were required to offer our contributors/stakeholders rewards for their donations.

“We meet these expectations by offering perks such as personalised thank you notes, copies of the book, voice recordings and artwork – all things we can offer while keeping our costs low.

“The estimated arrival time for the product is three months, which we will strictly adhere to, but which also gives us plenty of time to custom print the books so our stakeholders are not let down.”

WHAT DO YOU HOPE SOCIETY’S ATTITUDE WILL BE TOWARDS DISABILITY IN THE FUTURE?

“A new survey by Scope shows us that only 5% of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out a disabled person.

“I hope in the future that this drastically changes, to the point where disability is not an issue for people in any setting.

“If disability awareness training, much like the programme we offer, is implemented in more schools I would hope we would see a much more natural and empathetic approach to disability.”

 

Claire Holland Head of Training

Claire Holland and Perceptions of Disability

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One of our experienced trainers, Emily Yates, ran a twilight training session with members of the student union at Queen Mary University of London last week. The session was attended by 16 students who are keen to volunteer in the local community. It was like a trip down memory lane for Emily as this was the university that she attended. I asked Emily what the highlight of the session was. She explained that for her it was seeing the positive transformation of people’s perception of disability throughout the session. This got me thinking about what perception do we actually want to foster?

It’s much easier for me to think about what we don’t want to promote than what we do. Personal stories and experiences are an essential part of our training sessions but we certainly don’t want our trainers to be seen as inspirational just because they are disabled. I always feel a real sense of discomfort when I see what is known as inspirational porn – a phrase coined by the late Stella Young.

You know the type of thing, the ‘if we can do it then so can you’ philosophy. That being said, some of our trainers are inspirational! Emily is still in her early twenties and is a accessibility consultant, travel writer, blogger and presenter. She’s a go getter and I am full of admiration for her. Therein lies the difference though. I do not think of Emily as inspirational because she has a disability but because I know her as a person and am aware of what fantastic achievements she has accomplished due to her sparkling personality and bloody hard work! Emily’s disability simply does not come into the equation for me in that respect. I always remember that intense feeling of discomfort at school when a French teacher said, ‘if Claire can do it then so should all of you’! My parents in a roundabout way stuck up for the teacher when I went home and said that it was obviously more difficult for me as I am deaf so the teacher was right. The more I thought about it though, the more uncomfortable I became with it. Yes ok, lipreading in French and learning to speak it was really hard work, but I had a natural capacity for languages that other students simply didn’t have so in my view the teacher’s logic was flawed.

We also need to be careful of implying that disabled people can do everything non disabled people can. This is an easy trap to fall into. We want to encourage a positive image of disability and show that disabled people lead normal lives. It is very easy to underplay the challenges that we face and skim over the things that we can’t do. I myself have been guilty of using the phrase I can do everything that you do but in a different way. When you actually look at things clearly, this is simply not the case however much it galls me. The same can be said of all disabilities. That said, we clearly must ensure that we are not seen as individuals to be pitied. I think the crux of the matter is that we wish to promote empathy and not sympathy.

Claire Holland Head of Training

Behind the Scenes with Claire Holland: Enhance and Business

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Enhance the UK has decided to put its business hat on! I don’t mean that we will no longer be a charity or stop aiming for our charitable objectives but simply to achieve these we recognise that we need to learn from commercial leaders.

In today’s economic climate fundraising is hard work – it’s a case of taking one step forward and three back. Several charities this week have announced they are under threat of closure due to being unable to raise enough money for core costs. Just to explain, core costs are the day to day running costs of a charity which are not linked to a specific project, examples are salaries, admin, financial compliance, etc. All of these need to be paid for in order to continue with our projects, however, these are very hard to find funding for. And fundraising for the campaigning that we do, well that’s a nightmare!

Luckily, the team at Enhance the UK are not the type to admit defeat and crawl into a hole somewhere (although I am sure the urge has been there at times). We have decided to take the bull by the horns. We recognise that one way to finance our core costs and various projects is to sell more training to organisations and have been lucky enough to have met an inspirational woman from a media advertising company who has agreed to mentor us. We met this week and were provided with guidance regarding a business plan focussing on sales. During the meeting we concentrated on our mission and exactly how we plan to get there. I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty, but it’s safe to say that we had some fantastic advice which we intend to use.

Equally as important, in my view, is that we left the meeting drained but enthused by a vision. There has been a lot of publicity this week around International Women’s Day and rightly so. The conversation turned to all the initiatives to encourage women in business as there is immense pressure for businesses to diversify their staff. A large number of businesses now publicly recognise the positive impact that women at all levels of the business can have on them. The changes that are being made are irreversible, although it is acknowledged that there is still some way to go. Wouldn’t it be amazing if in five years time we could be in the same place regarding disabled people in business. In fact, not just in business but in society.

You may think that this is a pipe dream. Maybe it is, but I sincerely hope not.

The secret sign cover

Behind the Scenes with Claire Holland – The Secret Sign

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This week at Enhance the UK I have been promoting our Indigogo campaign – The Secret Sign. This is a campaign to raise £3,000 to be able to publish the book that we have written.

Anyone who knows us understands that we are all incredibly busy and are likely to be asking, ‘what were you thinking writing a children’s book?’ I thought I would take the opportunity to fill you in with the details.

When running disability awareness sessions in primary schools, I often had teachers asking if I could recommend good books with disabled characters in them.  This made me think about why it is important for disabled characters to be in children’s books. We at Enhance the UK are running the disability awareness sessions in schools because we believe that attitudes to disability are shaped during childhood and therefore we wish to encourage children to develop positive views relating to disability. It has, for a long time, been established that books allow children to see characters who look like themselves, have similar thoughts and feelings. Books also allow children to see characters with different backgrounds and learn about the world. It therefore stands to reason the importance of having positive disabled characters in children’s books in order for disabled children to be able to identify with characters similar to themselves and for non disabled children to learn about disability in a positive way. I then decided that I had better conduct a bit of research and, to be honest, the findings were shocking. Now don’t get me wrong, there are books out there. But in my opinion, they frequently fall into one of three categories.

Firstly, the books which address disability and being different in an abstract way. I am sure that we are all familiar with them. The characters tend to be animals who struggle to fit in. I am in no way discrediting these books. I think they are lovely stories and have a time and a place but I do not believe that the majority of the readers relate these characters to real people with disabilities.

Next, there is the picture book story in which one of the characters is wearing a hearing aid or in a wheelchair. The disability itself is not mentioned during the plot. An argument for this type of book is that it normalises disability. There is a drive to ensure diversity is displayed within children’s books. Picking up books written when I was younger (25 plus years ago. .. cough, cough) nearly all the characters in books were white and it was rare to see a character from a different ethnic background. Now there are far more books out there in which the characters are clearly not from a white European background but there is very little in the written content of the story about the cultural background of the characters. This, to me, can only be a positive thing and I hope that more books will feature children with disabilities in the same way.

Lastly, there is the book which features disabled characters who are central to the story, but tends to address the disabilities in stereotypical ways. In my view it is fair to say that books including disability which do not fall into one of the mentioned categories are few and far between. We at Enhance didn’t want to write a good book about disability. We wanted to write a good book, full stop. We have created a story about twin brothers Seth and Sammy – Seth is deaf, while Sammy is hearing. The book is about their relationship and how British Sign Language affects their lives. It’s the first in a series of books which will include characters who have various disabilities. We are also very lucky to have a fantastic illustrator on board too.

I hope you can all see why this book is incredibly important to us now. If you can support us in any way we really would appreciate it.

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