Anti-Bullying Week

One kind word. It all starts with one kind word. The ability to encourage, set the tone, brighten the day. Our words have power.

Most of my life I’ve been unable to communicate with words.  Yet, I have experienced their power: words spoken about me and over me. Now my words have power – words my eyes spell out on an alphabet board held in front of me. When I started school aged four with the educational label Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) school staff presumed that I didn’t understand much. Words spoken to me were delivered in a ‘special’ high pitched sing song voice, words spoken about me or my classmates were said in a normal voice.  Maybe we weren’t meant to understand the normal pitch. We did.

Every comment about us was understood by us.  Every word spoken over us became part of our narrative.  Every phrase relating to our inabilities defined us.

When I was seven my mother was encouraged to question the academic assumptions professionals had made about me, and she removed me from the sensory curriculum at special school to teach me to read and write. Just before my ninth birthday I started to spell out everything I wanted to write and say.

Then the power of words was invested in me. Using my eyes I love writing poetry and pieces like this one, which is being read aloud for me by my friend Alaric. I’ve also had my memoir Eye Can Write published.  Having been non-verbal I realise the immense privilege and responsibility which comes with imparting words. As a voice for the voiceless, I set up a charity, Teach Us Too, campaigning for all children to be taught to read and write regardless of their educational label.  For this work I was honoured to receive a Diana Legacy Award in 2017. With my charity I give presentations to trainee teachers and other professionals challenging them to see beyond the labels given to students, particularly the label PMLD.

This year the theme for anti-bullying week is ‘one kind word’. When you meet someone who is non-verbal, remember that not speaking doesn’t mean not understanding.  Our words to each other, about each other and over each other matter.  Let’s use them well. 

A video presentation of my words above

Faith in the Media

In our society it is becoming increasingly difficult to bring a distinct Christian voice to the media, with the name of Jesus causing particular issues.

When a short children’s documentary was made of my life I requested it followed me for my confirmation and campaign, and relevant footage was gathered. However, when the final film and script came through, my confirmation, and any reference to my faith had been erased from the final cut. Long hours of work later I had re-edited the script and managed to convince the editor of 15 seconds on my faith which included the name of Jesus, although they still tried to change this when my friend was in the recording studio reading my words for me.

Including my faith in the documentary was not optional. Jesus is central to my life and if He hadn’t been mentioned it wouldn’t have been about my life. I felt betrayed and said if my faith wasn’t covered I would withdraw my consent for the programme.  It shouldn’t be such a battle.

Ironically, it was the resulting 15 seconds which secured the producers a religious broadcasting award.

Naively, I thought that when it came to writing my memoir I would not encounter the same issues. After all, this was to be my story in my words, but again at the final manuscript stage the editor not only erased Jesus and at best replaced his name with a ‘higher spiritual being’.  For apparent ease of reading, she also sent the changes as a clean manuscript so I couldn’t track the alterations.  In a very short deadline I compared the two, and with some difficult conversations with the editor Jesus made it back in.

Keeping faith and Jesus in the media and in writing is important to the group, The Association of Christian Writers (ACW) of which I am honoured to be their youngest member.   ACW is 50 years old this year and has released a book called ‘Write Well, A Handbook for Christian Writers’ which I was privileged to be asked to write a chapter in.

As ACW celebrates 50 years, this is a golden opportunity for the organisation to not only look back, but also forward to encouraging, equipping and releasing Christian writers and their distinct voices in an increasingly censored society.