Category Archives: disability

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Neither mad nor bad, just dyslexic

IMG_0656.1This time of year when Christmas cards come though the letter box seems to me to be the one occasion when handwriting matters. While e-cards are in vogue and a great money saver, there is something special about digging out the best pen, or even a half decent biro, and doing Real Writing.

According to an article in the Guardian,  research  commissioned by online stationer Docmail earlier this year revealed that the average time since an adult last scribbled was 41 days. But it also found that one in three of us has not had cause to write anything “properly” for more than six months.

Many claims are made for the power of handwriting on our psyche and development. Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva who said: ‘Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.’ He believes it helps with reading and learning the alphabet.

Now I have spent a lot of my working life with people with dyslexia who often have dreadful handwriting which they struggle to read and have seen the way that touch typing can transform composition and spelling as people move from thinking in terms of individual letter shapes to writing whole words so I am not excited by such assertions and I do not accept that handwriting helps develop muscle memory whereas computer don’t.

I am also quite shocked by notion put forward in the article  by historian Philippe Artières that doctors and detectives in the late 19th and early 20th century found signs of deviance among lunatics and delinquents, simply by examining the way they formed their letters.  Quite possibly these people were neither mad, nor bad but simply dyslexic.

However, I will admit that handwriting is very individual and personal compared to word processing. I am amazed how many people’s handwriting I can still recgnise at a glance after a gap of many years. I am also saddened when I open a card from an old friend and see how their handwriting has started to break down with age .

Handwriting is our personal mark, it reveals something of our identity and as such is very powerful. We need to be careful how we use it.

Growing the next generation of readers

What is the role of a library in a special school where many young people are likely to have literacy problems? Liz Millett obviously knows the answer. She has just won a School Librarian of the Year Award.

Winner Liz Millett at school
Liz Millett Winner of a School Librarian of the Year Award

Liz works at WeatherfieldAcademy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a special school for students aged 7 to 19 with moderate learning difficulties and additional complex needs. Many of the children come from backgrounds where reading is not a priority. She set up the library in 2009 and her role is to make sure that the 3,000 books will fire up the 112 pupils and turn them into enthusiastic readers.

Nowadays there are so many different forms of entertainment that reading for pleasure is not high on many children’s agendas. Liz finds she gets the best results by tapping into their interests so she spends time talking to children: ‘One of my students, a 13-year old girl, improved her reading levels by 23 months in a year. Once I realised that she loved horses I found her collection of horse and pony books and she just ate them up. At the moment I know that one little boy is obsessed with lorries so I pick books out for him.’

Liz has set up a rewards system to motivate pupils. She had built a relationship with Weatherfield’s local public library and adapted the idea of the Summer Reading Challenge. Children are given a set number of books to read and those who persevere and meet the target are presented with a certificate in assembly. There is also an end of term Library Trophy for the most enthusiastic reader.

She tries to encourage parents to enjoy reading too and this can be hard work as some of them have problems with literacy. Like most special schools, WeatherfieldAcademy takes pupils from a wide area and many live up to 20 miles from the school. Liz builds personal connections very slowly and encourages them to email her as the school is promoting an online facility for children and parents to choose books together at home.

The school’s uses the Creative Curriculum up to Year 9. Last term’s topics were ‘Sport and Life’ and ‘Health and Fitness’.  Liz helps teachers to find appropriate resources and creates displays to reinforce topics. She also ensures that each pupil develops information literacy skills to the best of their ability, with colour-coded shelving alongside the simple Dewey system so that pupils can find their books independently.

The School Librarian of the Year award recognises the fact that Liz has made such great progress since taking over the role in 2009: ‘I’ve been given more and more responsibility over the years and I’m always busy but the difference you make to individuals makes it worthwhile.’

 

 

 

Consign volunteers to the scrap heap

I hate that phrase ‘volunteer opportunities.’ Of course it is fine to be a volunteer if you want to – many of us have a passion for a cause and are willing to give up our time, run marathons, bake cakes to raise money for a charity. But we do get a touch narky when the charity phones us up and starts pressing us to make a regular commitment aka a direct debit, especially when we know the cold caller is being paid good money to pile on the guilt.

It is loathsome that so many commercial companies are now routinely using volunteers to do essential work. This boosts their profits and takes a job away from someone else. In fact it is what we used to call exploitation. We also have a modern day Slavery Bill. I am just waiting for the moment when some company – possibly a pound shop or a highly profitable supermarket- says that a person who has no choice other than to work for their company for no wages is not a ‘slave’ but a ‘volunteer’ who gives of their time freely.

This week I watched Mary’s Silver Service on Channel 4 where that shameless self-publicist and entertaining red head launched a pop-up employment agency for out of work pensioners. I love the idea of helping people find jobs and it is such an antidote to the age of volunteering we are now in.

Charity Hft offers paid work to adults with learning disabilities
Ethical car cleaning offers opportunities for adults with learning disabilities

So I was delighted to receive a press release from a charity I have worked with in the past telling me about their latest employment venture.

Future Clean is a social franchise purchased by Hft which specialises in helping adults with learning disabilities. They have opened a car cleaning service in Gloucester giving people with learning disabilities the chance to learn new skills in paid employment. New employees typically stay with Future Clean for about a year, building the skills and confidence to move onto further employment, creating spaces for new learners.

If it is possible to develop businesses which employ people beyond retirement age and those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties AND TO PAY THEM, there is no excuse for those companies that exploit people into working for no money with the excuse that it makes them more employable.

Being ‘work ready’ does not mean surrendering your basic employment rights.

Hate crimes, mate crimes

Brent Martin
Brent Martin murdered and stripped (BBC photograph)

It was one of the saddest articles I have ever written. Sometimes you just cannot believe what savages human beings are. Humiliation, abuse – physical and verbal – violence, mutilation and murder and all because people are perceived to be different.

Access magazine has just published my article which they have called Healing the Hate . The piece looks at some of the crimes and the steps that the police and housing associations are taking to keep people with disabilities safe from harm.

‘Mate crime’ is a relatively new term. It is sometimes known as ‘cuckooing’, because the ‘mate’ in question will often move in to a disabled person’s home with the intention of taking their money, food, clothes, and in some cases, stealing prescribed drugs from them to sell on.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a report on disability-related harassment titled Hidden in Plain Sight, they define hate crime as disability-related harassment as unwanted, exploitative or abusive conduct against disabled people that has the purpose or effect of either::
– violating the dignity, safety, security or autonomy of the person experiencing it, or
– creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

We don’t really know how many people are affected. In our ‘inclusive world’ they disappear. Schools don’t know how many disabled pupils are bullied; local authorities and registered social landlords don’t know how many antisocial behaviour victims are disabled; health services don’t know how many assault victims are disabled; police don’t know how many victims of crime are disabled.

Why does it happen? Because we let it. We turn a blind eye. We like to raise money for ‘disabled kids’ but when they grow up, the politicians stoke the fires by referring to them as ‘benefits scroungers’. They are the same people with the same disabilities but are on the other side of the divide.

An article can’t do that much. It won’t change the world. But if people read it, at least they can never again say that they didn’t know it was happening here in Britain today.

Deaf awareness at the education Show

Stephen Briggs from Get Deaf Aware
Stephen Briggs from Get Deaf Aware

Signature is the new name for Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP). I got my BSL stage 1 qualification with them many years ago. Then that was their main function. They accredited courses on Deaf awareness and British Sign Language. Mostly these were for individuals like me who needed to communicate with deaf people as part of their work

At the Education Show in Birmingham last week I met Stephen Briggs from Get Deaf Aware. The whole world of deaf awareness has grown and developed beyond recognition. Now they have a full range of e – learning courses from as little as £10 a course.

They run courses for retail, transport, health and public sector but are now doing so much more for schools too. With more deaf children in mainstream than ever before it makes sense to accommodate their needs and what could be  better than  letting Deaf children study their native language at GCSE level and give BSL the status it deserves ?

Make use of e-learning and get your staff to do a Get Aware course It can be completed in an hour, is simple and fun and there are no time limits or deadlines.

Business was brisk at the Education Show as more schools signed up to make their staff deaf aware. P’raps it  would be a good thing to so in your school as well?

Tablets transform lives for deaf people

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), showed me some of the advances in technology for deaf people when I was writing my article for Access magazine.  See the full article here ian noon

iPads and similar tablet technology has revolutionised life for deaf people and let them use services in a less ‘special’ way.

Ian uses an app to call a taxi, and now uses Twitter to receive live updates on train services and send queries to his local operator in the event of a delay;. He uses it on a plane to watch films with subtitles instead of just getting half the story.

Many films are available with subtitles, but cinemas are, however, still commercial businesses that want to keep regular audiences on side. They tend not to schedule subtitled screenings at weekends or on ‘Orange Wednesdays’, which is when Ian’s hearing friends usually want to go. He can therefore see some of the latest films at a nearby cinema, but only if he is content to go on a Monday or other less busy time, and then probably on his own.

He is hoping the Google Glass headset will make a difference to his life. Their ‘subtitling specs’ should soon be available. Wearing them he will be able to see subtitles which are invisible to others.

The Ed Show Cometh

The Education Show is coming very shortly (20-22 March) and I have to say it has improved immeasurably over the years. Although it is on my doorstep at the NEC in Birmingham it used to be my least favourite show.  I felt it was very unfocused offering everything form sink plugs to robust crayons to school visits and the latest high tehc offerings from computer manufacturers. It is now a lot more fun.

Things I have loved in recent years have included seeing the tallest man in the world folding himself up to get in a lift, seeing Peter André lecturing a group of head teachers about why ‘Education is Very Important’ and seeing a man demonstrating the delights of wok cookery. What with the flashing chopper, hissing oil and sizzle of vegetables it must have given school bursars and staff health and safety reps much to think about.

darawebThis year the Ed Show has gone all cerebral on us. Not the Fonz or a footballer but instead Professor Brian Cox on Thursday. Presumably he will be talking about Life the Universe and Everything and How Things Can Only Get Better. And indeed they will. Because on Friday we have the lovely Dara Ó Briain discussing the importance of Maths & Science.

I have lined up nine seminars I want to cover including Dyscalculia Strategies and Solutions, Introducing Enterprise to Children through Play and Working with Children Who Have an Acquired Brain Injury.

I notice that this year there are 33 exhibitors for science but only 6 for food.  Sadly, the man with the wok has had his day.

All this and Jo Brand too

The BETT awards are almost upon us and I can nearly get into my posh frock to join the glitterati at a new venue, the Brewery at the Barbican. This year we are in for a real treat as the awards will be announced by Jo Brand. Even if your company doesn’t win, you are assured of a good night out.jo2I have been looking down the list of finalists seeing who I would like to see win in some of the key categories. This is a purely subjective approach. I am not going to support anything which deals with assessment in any form as I now believe that this is just another way to cosh teachers, parents and children into submission and give them an inferiority complex.

There are many shortlisted products that I know and love. I am running two sessions on Audio Notetaker for dyslexia learners on the Sonocent stand C470 on Thursday at 1.30 and Friday at 2pm and they are on the list for the ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching section. I am of course familiar with all the products in the special needs category and I am delighted to see other old friends such as 2Simple, Twig’s TigTag, TextHelp and the Yes Programme.

But there are many products which I am less familiar with. Here is my top ten to look out for:
1. For early years one good choice would be Rising Stars Switched on ICT, a step by step approach to get young children using ICT in meaningful ways. I like Rising Stars and have written about some of their other products especially their e books.
2. I like the look of TTS Group’s Mini Mobile Phones: ‘Children will delight in developing their language using this set of 6 realistic mobile phones. Colour co-ordinated buttons make for easy use.’ This will at least stop children using their parents’ boring old iPhones. They have also been shortlisted for:
3. The NEW Ultimate Timer, a rechargeable stopwatch with a simple to use, lapsed time function. Anything which saves looking for batteries will be welcome in the classroom.
4. For primary I am going to opt for 3P Learning Reading Eggs a library with over 1,500 eBooks, for specific year groups, as an intervention/catch up tool and to support EAL and SEN requirements
5. Another good choice is Espresso Education – Espresso Coding that teaches students to code and make their own apps to share with their friends and parents. This will help children develop skills for their future working life which so much of the National Curriculum singularly fails to do.
6. For secondary I am going for English and Media Centre’s Arctic Adventure which works on ipads and has authentic video material, images and blogs from the Catlin Arctic Survey.
7. For ICT Tools for Teaching and Learning I like the idea of IGGY ,an online educational and social network for gifted 13-18 year olds from across the world with content for maths, science, history, politics, creative writing and life skills, and a safe environment for students to exchange ideas, debate and learn.
8. It’s a pity FlashSticks won’t be at BETT because the product looks excellent. It combines low tech post-it notes, foreign language vocabulary and smartphones. The notes are colour coded to help with gender recall (blue notes for masculine words, pink notes for feminine words) and a Free App channel means users can wave their smartphone or tablet over any note to call up a quick pronunciation video.
9. Visual Education’s Wordwall lets teachers make easy learning activities for interactive whiteboards. Apparently you pick a template, type in your content and with a few clicks you’re done. Alternatively pinch some ideas from their online community.
10. Finally I am on the look out for good maths resources this year so I am hoping that Jumpido will do the trick. It is billed as: ‘an exciting series of educational games for primary school. It combines natural body exercises with engaging math problems to make learning a truly enjoyable experience.’

If your product is in the running for an award, good luck. If not, then just enjoy the entertainment. I am sure Jo Brand will be very good value.

Will cheap be cheerful for those who need communication aids?

The impact of iPads and Androids on the world of AAC was the big theme for the Communication Matters annual conference at the University of Leeds last week.

Communication aids which can play back pre-recorded speech or generate synthetic speech have revolutionised the lives of many of the 300,000 children and adults in the UK who will need Augmentative and Alternative Communication at some point in their lives.

ipad aacMany people who need AAC have severe and permanent physical disabilities from birth as a result of conditions such as cerebral palsy. Others have degenerative conditions which leave them unable to speak.

It is a disgrace that in a wealthy country such as Great Britain children and adults are being left without the power of speech simply to save money.

One solution is to find cheaper alternatives to the specialist aids. In recent times, companies have started to develop apps which will work with iPhones, iPads, Androids and other tablet devices.

Good news you might think.  The trouble is that the users need support, training for themselves and their carers, robust devices which will bounce off pavements and ongoing research and development to make the next generation of communication aids the best that they can be. Buying a tablet online and downloading an app does not even begin to address these problems.

Catherine Harris, Chair of Communication Matters, summed up the dilemma saying: “It is an exciting time for the sector. Developments in adapting technology have increased the range of options for people and the growth of access methods, such as eye gaze, provide people with alternative ways to use their equipment. However, these developments need underpinning by comprehensive assessment, funding of equipment and longer term support services if they are going to be really effective.’

Max is a champion of inclusion!

max blog
Max the Champion

 

Look at this picture. What do you see? Ordinary people going about their everyday life. At last: an inclusive book!

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alex Strick illustrated by cartoonist Ros Asquith shows a day in the life of a boy who is sports mad. Max also happens to have a hearing loss. He lives in the world most of us inhabit where there are people of different races and religions and some who have disabilities and additional needs.

It is lively and entertaining and comes with some free resources on http://www.maxthechampion.co.uk including sticker templates and a lesson plan.

There is so much you can do with this book. Use this page as a stimulus for discussion, drama and creative writing. Here are some suggestions to start you off.
1 In groups choose names for the characters.
2 Which character will find it hardest to go shopping?
3 Which character will face the most prejudice?
4 Choose one character and create a Day in the Life. Write or perform it

The possibilities are endless!
Max the Champion is a hardback book available from all good booksellers or from the publishers http://www.franceslincoln.co.uk/en/C/1/Book/5323/Max_the_Champion.html