Communication Blog (By Jennifer)

I have decided to do this Communication Blog about some of our service users here at SAtA and celebrities with disabilities, as I think that they are an inspiration to other people and they are showing that just because you have a disability, you are the same as everyone else and are able to work.

We have a drama group that meets every Tuesday afternoon called Advo-Acts where our service users put together performances reflected on their experiences of having a disability. They have done various performances around Solihull and are an inspiration to everyone out there, that they are proof that people with disabilities can do just the same as everyone else. I was proud to work on the drama project when it was part of our Community Project, and we did a performance that portrayed people’s lives. Everyone held up a sign with Christina Aguilera’s ‘I am Beautiful’ playing in the background. Each of the signs had not very nice words that can upset people written on them which are sadly still sometimes used to label people with disabilities. Each one of us then screwed up those words and lifted up labels we have chosen for ourselves, such as mother, driver etc.

Advo-Acts performing

Our service users Colom and Kathy who are both part of the steering group for Hidden Lives Remembered have shared their experience of communication in the workplace.

Colom said that he has worked for the Premier Inn for the last 9 years at the weekends as a cleaner. He said that the communication there is okay and so are all the staff. He really enjoys going to work there.

Kathy and Colom at the Warwickshire County Record Office

Kathy has talked about helping out at SAtA, she is currently the Welcome Person at Changing Lives. Changing Lives is a group that meets monthly to discuss the issues people with learning disabilities face. They work together to make changes happen and improve life opportunities for themselves and their peers. She feeds back to the BILD Regional Forum what has been happening at Changing Lives and she feeds back to Changing Lives what was discussed at the Forum. Kathy is great at taking part in discussions and talking in front of the group at the Forum as there are lots of different organisations there.

Kathy is also a part of SAtA’s Advisory Board and Safe Places programme. Kathy says that she enjoys being part of all the groups at SAtA because it gives her confidence. In the years since I have known Kathy her confidence has improved greatly and she is starting to be a lot more involved in groups at SAtA. Kathy is an inspiration to those with mental health issues because she feels anxious about taking part but she still does it and receives lots of praises from people, especially the speech she did at the Hidden Lives Remembered Launch Event. On top of all the groups that Kathy has been involved in she has helped interview for new staff and also has done a few interviews for our project, helping people’s stories to be heard from Middlefield Hospital and Hampton Manor.

Kathy also informed me that she used to volunteer at a hospital for 5 and a half years and then had a paid job as an auxiliary nurse for 2 and a half years. In Kathy’s own words “People with mental health and people with Learning Disabilities do not have a voice”. To sum up she enjoys meeting with others and is proud that she has been chosen to be part of this blog.

Kathy and the Changing Lives group when Dame Caroline Spelman MP visited.

There have been lots of inspiring disabled people who through dance have been able to communicate their feelings.

I was watching The Greatest Dancer and there were two gentlemen on there, Andrew, who has Down’s Syndrome, and another person who was hearing impaired. There was also a dance group called AWA - Autism with Attitude. All of the dancers have different means of communication but are all able to express themselves through dance. I know, having a hearing impairment myself, that although you can’t hear the music, you can feel the vibrations. For these people get up on stage and dance just by feeling the vibrations of the music was inspiring.

All of the dancers were inspiring and I hope it encourages more people with disabilities to follow their dreams as we are just as capable as anyone else.

Acting is another way of expressing yourself. There are few actors/actresses that have disabilities but have been able to get a job through acting. Some of these are: R J Mitte in Breaking Bad, Cherylee Houston who plays Izzy and Liam Bairstow who plays Alex in Coronation Street. Cherylee was the first disabled actor to appear in a soap in 2010 and Liam was the first Down’s Syndrome actor to be in a soap.

I was watching the National Television Awards and the actor James Moore who plays Ryan in Emmerdale won Best Newcomer. He and R J Mitte both have Cerebral Palsy and James also has speech difficulties, so both of them are such an inspiration to everyone with CP, showing us you can do whatever you have your heart set on.

James Moore accepting his National Television Award (Daily Mail)

RJ Mitte as Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad (The Guardian)

The same goes for Lee Ridley, better known as Lost Voice Guy. He has Cerebral Palsy and no speech but he uses a communication tablet to talk. He won Britain’s Got Talent 2018 and is currently touring the country. He is an inspiration to myself with Cerebral Palsy, and I cried when he won. This is empowering to help get more disabled people into their dream jobs only 6% of people with a disability have a job.

Lee Ridley, AKA Lost Voice Guy (Twitter @LostVoiceGuy)

So, getting back to our heritage project. There are different ways of communicating with people who are non-verbal, when talking to them you need to have patience and give them time to respond to you. I usually count to 5 seconds in my head to wait for a reply and check that they have understood what you said, you can usually tell this by their facial expression, being aware of the visual environment around you. Are there any distractions? Is the lighting correct? And so on.

A good way to communicate with someone who is limited in their speech is by learning about and talking about things that they are interested in. A few of our service users are into colouring, and this is a great way to communicate as you talk about the picture, talk about the trees, the river, what colour pencil you are going to use or they are going to use? The possibilities are endless!

In our interviews I sometimes use picture cards, this is to encourage speech if they are able to and also it is visual communication similar to the colouring where they can see what the conversation is about. I look for their reaction to the pictures and they help the person to communicate through pointing to different parts of the picture or choosing an option.

To conclude using lots of different types of communication is important to help us on the Hidden Lives Remembered project as it enables us to ensure everyone’s stories are heard, there are various ways to communicate to and with people, such as dance, drama and using visual tools.

An example of the picture cards that we use in interviews