meeting at school

I have had quite an interesting day. I went in to school this morning, initially to help out with a photography lesson, but they asked me to meet the head of the boarding unit, nick, about helping out with a student. I think I’ve mentioned the student in question here before – he’s the only VOCA user in school, but I guess his main problem is he lacks confidence. He’s been at school since he was about 5, and will leave in a couple of years, but going out, especially on busses, seems to scare him. They want me and another volunteer with CP, Jim, to work with him to try to increase his confidence. We use public transport almost daily, and if we could help the student increase hiss confidence with busses it would be a major step towards his independence. In my opinion he has to start using his communication aid more, too. Anyway, looks like this project will certainly keep me occupied.

More observations about education

I just got back from school/ I’d asked one of the teachers I work with there to have a look at the blog entry I made Friday, and she had obliged. For the most part I think she agreed with me, although she pointed out one or two things I had overlooked. For example, many schools on London simple aren’t wheelchair accessible, which has a bearing on the extent to which wheelchair users can be included. Interestingly, though, she also raised a point made in my comments section by Liza that more kids with more profound disabilities are surviving to school age. Medicine has advanced hugely, which has lead to the school in question having kids with very very complex needs; far more complex than I had ever encountered before. There are other factors involved, but it is certainly the case that special schools are taking on more and more kids with more and more severe conditions; and this will have a knock-on effect on the way kids are taught at such schools.

I’m therefore finding my voluntary work at school really is opening my eyes; it is, if you’ll forgive the pun, quite an education.

the irishman

We had quite an interesting evening in the pub last night. We went in about 7, sat down and were just about to order a drink when an Irish guy at the bar offered to buy it for us. We accepted his kindness – free drinks are free drinks; it is slightly patronising, but sometimes random people buy us drinks just for being us.

Pretty soon, though, thee dude came over. He explained that he was buying everyone drinks, and it wasn’t because we were disabled – he’d won at the horses. He seemed a decent chap, and we let him sit down. However, for some reason he ‘twigged’ about Lyn’s lightwriter, but not mine, so he talked to Lyn but thought I couldn’t communicate. This meant he was speaking to Lyn and john and referring to me as if I was stupid. This irritated me greatly; in fact the guy irritated all three of us. At one point I began to wonder if I could beat him in a fight (by then I’d had a couple). However, my eagerness to utter the immortal line ‘step outside’ subsided when he heard that this guy had had to flee Ireland in the seventies because of something to do with the IRA. In the end, though, the guy grew less irritating and more interesting, and the rest of the evening passed peacefully. He eventually realised I had a lightwriter too.

It is interesting to reflect on the diverse array of people I meet, almost daily. I wonder if this is because I have CP.

observations about education

I have been volunteering at the local special school for a while now, and I’ve noticed something interesting: there is a much higher proportion of kids with learning disabilities and behavioural problems at our local special school than there was at the one I attended as a kid. I guess well over 90% of the kids at the school round the corner must have a learning disability, compared to, as a rough estimate, 40% to 60% at mine. I think there are more kids just with learning disabilities at the local school too, and fewer wheelchair users. Of course, this can be explained in a number of ways, most simply by pure chance: that’s just the way the statistics fell. Yet I suspect there are other factors involved. Bear in mind that I was at school just under 10 years ago, having left in 2001, and much would have happened since.

I think that this may be an effect of inclusion. More and more kids with less complex physical disabilities are being put into mainstream education. I guess that the needs of physically disabled kids are much simpler to meet than those of kids with learning disabilities: often we just need stuff like ramps, large-print books and communication aids, and we’re good to go. The needs of those with learning disabilities – especially complex ones – are harder to resolve. And there are children with some very complex LD at the school I volunteer at. Of course I’m overgeneralising here, as all children need a lot of care and support no matter what kind of disability they have.

As a result, the ratio of kids with LD and BED to those with PD has shot up. Of course, you could argue that these kids should be in mainstream too, and they should be, but I now think it’s just not that simple. My friend charlotte has told me how rough it can get in mainstream school, and how hard it is for her, as a teacher, to control the kids sometimes. It can be very violent, and rather brutal. It is hard to see how the type of kids I have encountered at the local special school could survive, let alone get anything out of, such a setting. There are kids who are physically able but simply could not mentally handle being in a class of twenty to thirty rambunctious adolescents; and if they said anything their peers would simply rip them apart.

Yet this results in a school like the school I’m volunteering at, with hundreds of students, each with very complex needs. Staff there do their best to teach, and I try to help however I can, but the situation is often so complex that progress becomes very slow indeed. I’m now seeing how very difficult this situation is: as inclusion proceeds, special schools are left with higher and higher concentrations of kids with more and more complex conditions, and the result is that education in such places gets harder and harder. This is nit to say that it’s impossible to educate in such places, but I guess inclusion has meant it has become much more difficult since I left school.

Spastic ballet chopped

It has been a long day. I just got in from a late session at school, doing long exposure photography – which I’ll probably tell you about tomorrow – and Lyn showed me this. it appears as if we might just have started our very own internet meme! How cool is that? Needless to say, Lyn and I both find it highly amusing.

Charity is a good thing, but…

We were watching The Secret Millionaire on TV last night, and it got me thinking about charity. I know I’ve criticised certain charities in the past, here and elsewhere, but, in and of itself, charity must be a good thing. It’s all about giving for no reward, caring about others, and selflessness. I have been the recipient of such kindness in the past, and I know it is something special to be praised.

I guess the thing about charity is that it isn’t forced – it’s entirely voluntary. That’s why it’s special, but it’s also it’s flaw. Right-wingers want charity to be used as an alternative to the wealth fare state, but that relies on people being personally altruistic, which I can’t see happening enough. in a way, the wealth fare state is similarly altruistic, but on a social rather than personal level. As I see it, it is based on the communal consensus that we should help others, rather than a personal ethic. It is therefore more effective. There is also less of an obligation to feel grateful for it – being the recipient of charity carries with it overtones of inadequacy and failure, which is why I and most disabled people object so strongly to it.

I suppose it’s a complex issue, and one I need to think through. Charity is a good thing, but if we care about all people in our community, we must care for them as a community rather than as individuals.

america gets proper healthcare

There are a couple of things I could blog about today: the issue of disability hate crime was in the news this morning, with more instances of it being recorded; also, this morning I had an awesome idea to write to google to ask them if they could make a map of middle-earth – I’m still rather excited about street view. But I instead want to use this blog to congratulate Obama and the Americans on the passing off their new healthcare bill. This historic bill will improve the lives of millions – it might not be the NHS exactly, but it is still great news. I know the republicans will undo this huge step forward next time they are in power, narrow-minded halfwits that they are, but for now millions will benefit. The republicans say they can’t afford it, and they probably have a point, though I suspect they’re just using that as a front for their loathing for anything liberal, left-wing or broad-minded. Nevertheless, I think it’s still a great day for our transatlantic cousins.

It will certainly be interesting to see the reaction in the blogsphere though.

I still don’t know how I got to bed on Friday night.

Yesterday was a slow, lazy type of day. Friday night had been rather mad: our neighbours decided that we needed to celebrate my birthday, so we all went down the pub. By all, of course, I mean myself, Lyn, Paula, Dan, and an indeterminate number of children. You know, I can never tell how many children they have between them; it seems to vary. Anyhow we went to the pub, where everyone bought me drinks. At one stage I sat at the bar, on a bar stool, which for me was quite novel. After the pub, we came home via the shop, having decided to carry on drinking here. Needless to say, I still don’t know how I got to bed on Friday night.

Yesterday, then, was spent lying on the sofa, watching TV. All this alcohol is not good fir me, and it’s time to cut back. I know that sounds familiar, but now I’m 27 I’m getting on a bit!

what a day

Yesterday was odd – cool, but odd. It was my birthday, but it was also quite a busy day. In the morning, I had a meeting about direct payments; then I had school; then, in the evening I had my opticians appointment (my current glasses being on their last legs). In between all this I managed to catch the end of an IPL match on t.v – it was odd to see cricket with cheer leaders! I was pretty knackered by the end of it all, and rather stressed after the opticians, so I was very grateful for a latenight phone call to my parents and a few beers. What a day.

as beautiful as any other landscape

It occurred to me, as we walked home this evening, how alien this landscape sometimes seems. We had been to the Royal standard, where Lyn had visited her bank, and then to a caf we know there. Dan took us a different route home, through a great expanse of tower blocks. I had never seen such a place – there seemed to be hundreds of apartment blocks, each with hundreds of flats. Thousands of people must live there, from all over the earth and each with a different story. I felt, in a way, both amazed and intimidated: its not as if the flats were run down; there was no graffiti or anything. It just occurred to me how far this landscape was from the detached suburban house I grew up in. Of course, I knew such places existed, and I know never to judge people by where they live, but in that moment I realised how very different London is.

We walked on. It was getting dark. The road we were on ran roughly west-east, and was on a bluff so that to the north the land dropped off sharply. Suddenly, looking through the gap between two blocks, I caught sight of the glistening lights of the city: canary wharf, the gurkin, and it was utterly beautiful. This landscape may still sometimes seem alien to me, throbbing at a pace I’m unused to, yet it has a beauty that I’m just beginning to discover. I suppose Walter Benjamin was right when he wrote of cities being a maelstrom; like the flaneur, I now find myself botanising on the asphalt, trying to make sense out of the chaos, and in doing so I realise what an amazing place this really is.