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