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Sarah Alexander in black and white wearing glasses

An Introduction to Sarah.

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

Where should I start? I’m Sarah, I’m a Scouser living in Northamptonshire with my boyfriend and a broken body.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Fibromyalgia and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) – basically, I’m in a lot of pain. I dislocate, I’m knackered all the time and my heart races causing blackouts and dizzy/shaky spells – sounds marvellous doesn’t it?

There’s a lot more to it but I’m sure we can discuss that another time.

I heard about Enhance the UK on Twitter, they wanted stories from disabled people about their sex lives and relationships; I was totally up for that. I had a few men from hell that I could write about. I emailed Jenny as soon as I scoped out their website and had a look what they were all about.

I’m all about raising awareness; I work for the HMSA on the social media team and also run local group meetings for people with a hypermobility syndrome in the Northants area. I write fiction and a blog – I’m all about the words.

I’ll be appearing on Enhance’s blog every month so thought I’d share some random facts about me:

 I can’t usually do that serious thing. You know the deep and meaningful conversation? Yep, that and I don’t work well together; I end up making a really bad joke or staring at my phone.

 I have a Masters in English, *bows* thank you, thank you. My dissertation was on the commodification of the disabled body in the Victorian freak show. I was and still am very interested in that topic.

 As from my previous point – I like weird stuff.

 Crime fiction rocks my wheelchair. Crime novels, detective shows, crime thrillers, Criminal Minds, serial killer type things. I guess this leads back to my last two points.

I should probably branch out more.

 I have an unhealthy amount of makeup. I’ll say no more on this.

 Pyjamas are the way forward in life.

 Lists are good.

I’ll end it there, see you next time,

Sarah x

The author Holly Williams

Holly Williams on Disability and the Media

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

One of my favourite ways to chill out and relax in the evenings is to head online and listen to one of the many podcasts that pepper the internet. Fairly near the top of my list of ‘must catch’ shows is the one produced by the comedy website Cracked. They specialise in picking apart pop culture to find out why films, TV and music are a certain way and how that affects us as the audience. One of their latest episodes involved them turning their critical eye on the way Hollywood portrays certain groups, including the blind and physically disabled. Of course, we all know that characters with impairments are few and far between in the mass media and that there should be a lot more out there but it is quite interesting and enlightening to take a critical look at the characters that are out there.

Back when I was at college, I took A Level Media Studies, a large portion of which was learning about film making and the shorthand that directors use to tell an enjoyable story in a relatively short amount of time. Audiences need to be able to know who and what a character is, almost immediately, just by looking at them. So in the relatively rare cases of a film or series showing someone with, lets say, a visual impairment they are given recognisable indications to make this apparent – a white cane, a guide dog, dark glasses. But the fact is many blind people do not use these. This has lead, according to Cracked, to the bizarre phenomena of people meeting ‘real life’ blind people and thinking they’re ‘faking’ because they don’t ‘look’ blind.

It is a very strange situation to be in when people are questioning the authenticity of someone’s impairment, based on what they know about it from, not the actual person or even a medical expert but from what is shown to us in fiction. And yet it is something we all do, no matter how bright and accepting we are. We are bombarded by orchestrated images every day from the moment we enter the world, it’s impossible to ignore them. I’ve never met someone from Australia but if you ask me to describe a typical Aussie I might say no ­nonsense, friendly, out ­going surfer ­type who likes a beer. The weird thing is I know, as an intelligent person, that the description I gave is a stereotype; an unreal image I’ve built up because of what I’ve seen in the media but I can’t stop it colouring my expectations.

But where it gets really scary is when you start taking a look at the sort of plots and story­lines disabled characters feature in. Broadly, I think you can categorise these into two piles. Firstly, you get the ‘issue’ based programmes, where the disabled character is featured so that the able­ bodied protagonist can learn something about being a better person. A lot of such stories are really well-meaning, setting out to show that just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean that they’re not a normal person, but a lot of the time because the programme is focused on the issue of ‘disability’ the whole exercise under­mines itself. The able­ bodied protagonist’s prejudices are just a challenge that they have to overcome. Once they’ve done that, grown and become a ‘better person,’ what further purpose does the disabled character serve? They are just an avatar for a challenge in the main story.

Speaking of avatars moves me on to the second problem writers and directors seem to have with disabled characters. The disturbing assumption that if you are disabled (particularly if you acquire your disability) your life is not worth living in that body. Films like Avatar, Million Dollar Baby, Inside I’m Dancing and Simon Birch all seem to believe that disabled people find life so unbearably hard that they would be better off dead (or, in the case of Avatar, an 8 foot tall blue cat/alien). Look, I’m the first to admit living with a physical impairment is an emotional struggle and bloody hard at times but should we really be showing death, and in a lot of cases suicide, as a viable, even noble option. The fact is the majority of disabled people live fulfilling, enjoyable lives.

A survey of people with acquired disabilities showed that after the initial stages of shock and grief their overall level of happiness returns to the same level it was before. So why does Hollywood love showing disability as a problem only answerable by death? Is it because movies and movie stars worship the cult of outward physical perfection? Maybe, but I have another theory. Movies, the best movies, are successful because they tap into our basest feelings and emotions; joy, fear, sadness. Most people have an unconscious fear of their own mortality; the fragility of this bag of flesh, bones and nerves that carries us around every day. Seeing disabled people is a reminder that the human body can stop working properly in a million ways. It makes us ask ‘how would I cope if I lose my sight/speech/use of my legs?’ Most people don’t know the answer to that question. Better to portray disabled people as a removed subsection of society, safe behind a barrier of wheelchairs, white sticks and social oddities than show them as ‘normal’ people. Or better yet, let their story­lines end in an honourable demise that solves all their problems.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Now and again, you turn on TV and see something that gives you hope. Case and point, the recent police drama Vera on ITV which featured a physically disabled actress as one of the officers assisting with the murder investigations. The character was shown as a competent member of the team, capable at her job but regularly badgered by the world ­weary detective, just like the rest of the team. Nothing about the role said ‘disability’ apart from the fact the actress in it just happened to have an impairment, showing that disabled characters can be included in a way that is neither patronising, tokenistic or pitying.


A Culture of Low Expectation – My Experiences as a Parent of a Deaf Child

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My son Terry (names have been changed) is 8 years old. He is profoundly deaf and wears a cochlear implant. He attends a mainstream school with a Hearing Impaired Unit. He is educated for core subjects including English and Maths in his mainstream class with the support of an Educational Communicator.

I have had concerns about my son’s progress for quite some time now. When speaking to his class teacher I was reassured that he was doing well academically and progressing well. This has been a pattern that has been repeated at every parents’ evening since he started school with various teachers. At no point has a teacher looked me in the face and been upfront and transparent with me. Looking back through his school reports I am aware that this is not the case.

He has not progressed academically as would be expected and his attainment is quite a way below the national average. I think that it is disgusting that I can be mislead in this way. My son is not doing well in school and their expectations of him are low. Had I not known a little about this from experience of previously working in a school, I would have taken them on face value. This suggests to me that there are other parents out there who believe their child is doing well when this isn’t true.

It was only when I had an independent assessment done that I realised how far behind Terry actually is. He is approximately three years behind his peers. The attitude that I have had from the school including the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator and the Teacher of the Deaf is that this is perfectly normal for a deaf child and not to worry. I find this astonishing. Deafness is not a learning difficulty. There is no reason, with the right support and attitude, that my son should not achieve academically. The support from the school has been inconsistent at best. Input from a speech and language therapist and a qualified Teacher of the Deaf has been patchy.

I am now in the process of fighting the Local Authority so that my son can go to a specialist school. It’s a very stressful time and really emotional. All I want for my child is what every parent wants – the right for their child to have a good education and to be supported in an appropriate way so that they can achieve their full potential. Trying to remove my son from mainstream teaching is not something that I ever thought I would do, however whilst this culture of low expectation remains in mainstream provision, I feel that I have no choice. I wholeheartedly support the Close the Gap campaign that has been lead by the National Deaf Children’s Society and urge other parents not to take reports of good progress at face value.


Deciding to have a Cochlear Implant as an Adult

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Deciding to have a cochlear implant as an adult has been to date the hardest decision of my life and one I didn’t take lightly. You may think ‘wow it will make you hear again, surely it’s a no brainer’ but it’s exactly this attitude which made it so much more difficult for me.

You see, a huge part of my self identity is my deafness. It took me many years to get to this point but I was and still am proud to be Deaf. My life experiences, character traits and attitudes have been shaped by being Deaf and they are an integral part of who I am. I am part of a Deaf community, I have lots of friends who are Deaf, attend social events for Deaf people and work with Deaf people. We have a rich culture and heritage and a beautiful language – British Sign Language (BSL). At no point in the process did I ever want to be ‘hearing’.

So why go ahead and have a cochlear implant I hear you ask. For me, having been born profoundly deaf in one ear and severely deaf in the other (although I was profoundly deaf in both ears by my early teens) I used a hearing aid and relied upon it especially to help me with lip-reading. It was only when as an adult I lost the residual hearing in my left ear that I could no longer use hearing aids.

Life for me became so much harder. It wasn’t what I was used to and I found it difficult to adapt. I struggled to communicate with my ‘hearing’ friends and most importantly to me I missed the sound of my son’s voice and music. Previously I had existed happily in both worlds, the ‘hearing’ world and the ‘Deaf’ world. I found myself avoiding situations with hearing people as much as possible, instead choosing to spend time with BSL users where I felt comfortable, safe and included and still do.

After some time, though, I realised that I missed the ‘hearing’ world. This environment that I was distancing myself from was one that I had grown up in and was also part of my identity. A cochlear implant had been suggested to me many times before but I had always thought it wasn’t for me. It was only after much soul searching that I agreed to go for an assessment. Throughout this process I learnt about the operation required, the risks involved and spoke to others who had already had cochlear implants. It was a really difficult and emotional journey for me.

Finally, I decided that to me if I could still take the implant off then I was still Deaf and that only I have control over my self identity. I know several people who did and still do disagree with this idea. Cochlear Implants have always been an incredibly emotive subject in the Deaf community. I was petrified that I would lose friends because of my decision. I have been lucky enough that this has not been the case. I fully respect everyone’s opinion on implants and can only say that I believe that I have made the right decision for me. I would never suggest anyone else has one as I believe that it really a personal choice. I went into hospital for the operation with very low expectations.

So how did it work out? Well, I can hear better than I have ever before. I love music again and can cope in most situations. At times I wish I couldn’t hear my son’s voice as he’s now a teenager! I had underestimated the time, effort and perseverance it would take to be able to use my implant effectively. It’s important to stress that I cannot hear like a ‘hearing’ person would. I still struggle with some sounds, find noisy environments really difficult to cope with and still rely on lip-reading too. I don’t listen naturally and it takes concentration. If I am not focusing on listening I often miss things. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting home and taking my implant off, and I definitely can’t cope with putting it on first thing in the morning as I get sensory overload. I get incredibly frustrated with implants being seen as ‘miracles’ and what I see as misleading media stories which are inaccurate and dangerous as they promote unrealistic expectations. I am also aware that I am one of the lucky ones. I know people that have decided to have a cochlear implant (wiping out their natural residual hearing in the process) and have then hated them or they have not been very successful.


Lateef’s Story – Born with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

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My son Lateef was born 12 weeks early weighing just 2 lb 8 ozs. He spent the first two months of his life in the neonatal unit. Lateef passed the initial screening test before we went home. It wasn’t long after being home that I realised that Lateef wasn’t responding to sound. He only reacted to toys with lights and never responded to the door slamming or sounds like that. I was so worried that one night I hammered a saucepan with a spoon right beside his cot. He didn’t respond at all. It was then I knew for certain that there was something not right with his hearing.

It was at this point my fight to get a diagnosis and to the root of the difficulty started. I telephoned the hospital and asked for an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Test. This tests the brain’s response to sound. I had been doing my homework by this point and knew that this was the next test that needed to be done. I was refused this test as Lateef had passed the newborn screening test. I took him to the doctors several times but was simply ignored. A nurse even said to me that she understood that he was my first born and that I was bound to worry more. I was really upset and at my wits end as I simply didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t until I moved house and saw a different doctor that I was finally taken seriously and Lateef was referred for further testing.

Lateef had the ABR test when he was about 12 months old. I was told there and then that he was profoundly deaf. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. I was at the hospital by myself and devastated. I felt numb. When asking what was next I was simply told a letter would be sent. I was not offered anyone to talk to or given any information. I left the hospital in a daze. I walked in the wrong direction for over an hour before I realised I lived in the opposite direction! When I finally got home I called my mum and that’s when I started to cry. I remember saying that he would never be able to tell me he loved me. I literally didn’t know what to expect or who to turn to. I had so many questions, for example how would he ever communicate? What would his future look like? I had only ever met one deaf person before who always communicated by writing things down.

The journey to a full diagnosis was far from over and incredibly rocky because Lateef’s ear was working ok but his brain wasn’t responding to the sounds. He was eventually referred to see a specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and had to undergo lots of different tests often under general anaesthetic. This was a very scary and stressful time for us. Lateef was fitted with hearing aids but hated them and refused to keep them in. In fact the amplified sound was too loud and damaged his cochlear. His behaviour was terrible at this time. He was very aggressive and would throw terrible tantrums. He had no real communication method and was so frustrated. Lateef couldn’t communicate with others at nursery so didn’t make friends and people I knew simply didn’t understand our situation. They would be very sympathetic but this wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted Lateef to be treated normally but with understanding.

It took until Lateef was three and a half for him to be diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder. As explained before this means that the cochlear was working ok but the hearing nerve itself wasn’t processing the noise correctly. This means that Lateef’s hearing was literally cutting in and out, at times he could hear and other times he couldn’t. To be honest by this point I was simply relieved to have a diagnosis.

It wasn’t until we had a diagnosis that I received any kind of support or advice or input from a Teacher of the Deaf. It was then that I started to learn basic sign language to help Lateef communicate. I decided that Lateef should have a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted electronic device which gives a sense of sound). This was not an easy decision to make but one in which I felt was for the best. Since his implant, Lateef’s language has come along leaps and bounds. In fact one of the first things he said to me was that he loved me, which was really emotional. He loves wearing his implant and has always kept it on. I also noticed a change in his behaviour for the better almost straight away. We didn’t meet any other deaf children until he started school. It was through meeting other parents and also my local deaf children’s society that I have met other parents and people who fully understand and are able to provide me with advice and support. More importantly Lateef has met other children who are deaf like him.

My view of Lateef’s deafness has changed over the years. I am incredibly proud of my son for who he is and wouldn’t change him for the world. His deafness has opened up a whole new life for us that I simply didn’t know existed. I feel very positive about the future and know that will achieve what he wants in life. My advice to parents is that you know your child best. Always trust your instincts regardless of what you are lead to believe. I also recommend anyone that has a child who has been newly diagnosed as deaf to research local groups and support as it really does make such a difference.

The author Liane

Being Diagnosed with Hearing Loss as an Adult

By Disability, Lifestyle, My story One Comment

My name is Liane and I would like to share my story and experiences with you. I was diagnosed with my hearing loss in the Summer of 2014. I first noticed I was having issues with my hearing at work. I was working as a trainee sign language interpreter at the time and discovered I was misinterpreting in some situations, luckily for my clients and myself I did not misinterpret anything of a critical nature!

If I’m honest I was in denial for a while about my hearing loss, but due to my job it was imperative for me to get my hearing checked. It came as no great surprise when I was told I had a mild hearing loss and needed hearing aids. I felt it was a little ironic considering what my day job was, but it also meant I had to make a crucial decision, continue with my training to become a fully qualified interpreter or change career paths. I had to weigh up the cost of my training and if the work I would be able to cope with warranted completing my training. I decided to put training on hold.

I currently work as a Communication Support Worker at a college. As I work within a small class, and sit at the front near the tutor, I manage most of the time. However, if students start talking across each other, again, I am in a situation where I am unable to hear effectively and have to ask the tutor to ask the students to speak one at a time. I also work as a Community Support Worker to Deaf adults within the community, as well as run a part-time business, but I still have not made a decision long term on my career path. This will depend on if my hearing deteriorates or remains the same.

I was given my hearing aids at the end of November 2014. When the audiologist switched them on, she asked if I noticed the difference (we were in a sound proof room with just four people). I said no, but then she switched them off and WOW yes, I noticed the difference!

It was very uncomfortable at first, not only having the tube inside my ear but also having the aid over my ear. For the first couple of weeks my ears were very sore and I was glad to take them out at the end of the day. I was told that it would take me approximately eight weeks to really get used to them. I suffered with bad headaches for the first few weeks as the amplified sounds became too much at times. I would often take my aids out as soon as I got home, after all, having four kids amplified was too much after a day at work! The most irritating sound that took me a while to get used to was my hearing my hair! Sounds bizarre I know, but my hair brushing against my coat was so loud and really took some getting used to!

It has taken time to get used to having hearing aids, not only for me but also for my children. My eldest daughter said to me, please don’t wear your hearing aids when you take me to school, I don’t want people knowing you’re deaf. I found her comment a little upsetting but more so surprising, as through my work and social life I have met and made friends with many deaf people. In fact, one of my best friends is deaf and my children have been around deaf people for many years. Her comment was a bit of a shock.

My children, even though they are deaf aware, have struggled to cope with my hearing loss as I often ask them to repeat things and they get frustrated with me, or vice versa. One common difficulty is in the evening if we are watching TV, the kids quite often talk to one another and I will miss things that have been said in the programme. I have now taken to watching TV with subtitles. We are all slowly getting used to it and are adapting, after all we have to.

IMG-20150505-WA0001 Even with hearing aids, I still struggle in lots of ways. If the environment is noisy I  cannot hear properly and sometimes it all becomes a bit too much and gives me a  headache. I also really find it difficult to listen to voicemail messages, especially  names, as these are not as clear as when speaking to someone face to face or directly  on the phone when you can ask them to repeat something if you haven’t heard it  properly. Although I can still hear on the phone, it has to be in a quiet environment  and hands free in my car is an issue. In fact a funny thing happened just a couple of  weeks ago when using this. I was on my way to my brothers, he rung me and asked  me to get him some Sudacream, however when I arrived at his and handed it to him,  he looked confused and said “What do I want that for?” I said “You asked for it!” he s  said “No I asked for Superglue!!” We all then had a good laugh about it!


One final thing that I am struggling to deal with is how I am seen as a person. I work within the Deaf community and Deaf BSL users are proud to be Deaf as they are part of a community and have their own culture. So when I meet new Deaf people, I sometimes get asked, are you Deaf or hearing? Well, I’m not Deaf in the sense they are, but I’m no longer fully hearing, so I guess to put a “label” on me I am hard of hearing. Also the other thing is filling in forms, quite often they have a question that says, “Are you or do you see yourself as disabled?” Personally, no I don’t but I do struggle in certain situations, so my question would be, “Do you see me as disabled?”

Claire Holland Head of Training

Claire Holland on… ETUK at the Specialist Skills Network

By Business, Disability No Comments

This week I was very pleased to be invited to talk at the Specialist Skills Network which has been set up by the National Gallery and the Museum of London. On the day, a number of professionals from different galleries and museums situated around London came together to share experiences and expertises regarding planning events for children with Special Educational Needs.

The planned activities already being held sounded wonderful and the enthusiasm in the room for ensuring that disabled children and those with additional needs were able to access and experience the exhibitions fully was inspiring. I was there to fully support the scheme but also to add a note of caution as requested by Orlagh from the National Gallery.

As I am sure you are all aware, Enhance the UK is a charity which very much focuses on the perception of disability. Now the perception in the room was very positive as I had expected it to be. Those attending the network are there because they are already engaging with disabled children and young people. I wanted to stress the importance of ensuring that all staff working in a venue who interact with the public having Disability and Communication awareness. To do this I was able to highlight several times I have been unable to fully access museums and other heritage sites, simply because the frontline staff were unaware of what they have to offer. I have lost count the number of times I have been told that a loop system is not available for audio tours to find out at the end that this wasn’t true.

Worse still are the staff who won’t listen to my needs and insist they know better. I have frequently been told to try in the ear headphones as they are very loud, after I have told them I wear a cochlear implant and have no natural hearing and cannot use headphones. When I refuse this opportunity I am then given a look as if to say, ‘oh dear she’s trouble.’ Taking a hearing dog into a museum can also be a stressful experience. Constantly having to repeat that she is an assistance dog and is therefore allowed in becomes tiring after a while. As is the attitude of some staff who have to repeat themselves as you miss what they say when they are not looking at you. All the examples I have given are hearing related simply because these are my experiences, however I know from talking to other people that regardless of the disability there are barriers that need to be overcome.

If I am sounding very negative about staff then I must stress that I don’t mean to be. The majority of staff who work in museums and galleries are very helpful and will do everything they can to ensure that you can fully access the exhibitions. I believe that those staff that I have spoken about already who aren’t helpful are only like this because they do not have an understanding of disability and therefore simply do not know how to react.

Unfortunately negative experiences are likely to put people off attending heritage sites and that is a real shame. I was delighted to see that a key objective of the Specialist Skills Network was how to ensure that disability awareness and the good practices already developed are spread throughout all teams at the museums and galleries. This to me is a very positive step in the right direction.

Claire Holland Head of Training

10 Reasons you should book Enhance the UK’s Disability and Communication Awareness Training

By Business, Disability No Comments

I was recently asked why service providers and businesses should book training with us and what sets us apart from other organisations offering training. I thought I would share my response with you.

1. Increased Confidence – Ask a disabled person about a ‘rabbit in a headlight’ moment and they can always recount several experiences when customer facing staff have not known what to say or do when realising the customer is disabled. Sometimes it’s funny, other times offensive, but either way it’s never good for business. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I haven’t had to pay for things or queue simply because the employer doesn’t know what to say or how to behave when finding out I am profoundly deaf. A memorable one was when I lost my car park ticket. After realising I was deaf the car park attendant rather than try and communicate with me, simply turned round to his colleague and said, ‘Do you know how to explain to her that she needs to pay for a full day parking? No me neither!’ Before proceeding to give me an exit ticket free of charge! Think of the lost revenue. Incidences like that simply wouldn’t happen if staff had received our training. On our feedback forms we are proud that we always have 100% agreement that the training gives increased confidence with interacting with disabled people.

2. Tips and Strategies – it’s all very well your staff having information about disabilities but unless this is applicable to everyday practice in your business it’s useless. We at Enhance the UK always offer tips and strategies to help your staff better engage with disabled people.

3. Fun and engaging sessions – There is nothing worse than being forced to sit through long boring training sessions. I myself have been to a few. Eventually you switch off and retain very little. This to me is a complete waste of your money. You obviously want your employees to retain information and utilise their knowledge. Training with Enhance the UK is fully interactive and PowerPoint presentations are banned! Attendees have fun and as a consequence remember what they learnt. Please see our testimonials!

4. Develop an understanding of barriers – It’s always better to pre-empt possible barriers that disabled people may face when accessing your venue/ service. It really doesn’t reflect well on you as a business when after being asked if the venue is accessible and a member of staff informs the customer it is to then find out it isn’t. This happened to a colleague of mine recently. We attended a venue together whilst working for Enhance the UK, having been told it was accessible to find out it really wasn’t. This resulted in my colleague having to crawl on her hands and knees into the toilet as it simply wasn’t big enough for her wheelchair. I am quite sure this is not an experience she is keen to repeat and was embarrassing to all concerned including the manager. Barriers aren’t simply physical barriers, I have lost count the number of times I have said that I am profoundly deaf to then be told to ring an accessibility line, err hello? Really?

5. Disabled trainers – Would you want your employees to learn about living in Paris from a person who has never lived in Paris? I suspect the answer is probably not. All of our trainers are disabled themselves and are therefore able to share their experiences with your staff. They are also all very welcoming of questions and provide honest and open responses.

6. Tailored training – we do not provide ‘cookie cutter’ training. We always ensure that we tailor our sessions as much as possible to the requirements of your business. This results in your employees benefiting more from the session and ultimately you as a business.

7. Show you’re a business that cares – Advertising that your staff have Disability and Awareness communication training just highlights that you are interested in more than simply turning a profit and hitting targets. This can be no bad thing for any business/ service.

8. We don’t hit you over the head – A friend who has her own business explained that at times she has been told what she must do in order to ensure that she provides an accessible service without any consideration of the feasibility of such things. This has put her off any further training. We at Enhance always offer advice in ways to ensure your business is accessible but not in a ‘bullying’ way.

9. Team building – Our training is so interactive that not only do participants walk away more confident and knowledgeable about disability but also they have also spent the day together in interactive situations having fun. This is always good for staff morale.

10. Learn about another language – We always ensure that we include a very basic British Sign Language session within our day.

Claire Holland Head of Training

Claire Holland on Deafness and Dementia

By Disability No Comments

One of the many things I love about being involved with Enhance the UK is no two weeks are the same. This week we were privileged to be asked to attend a roundtable event organised by the Mental Health Foundation entitled Rights, Dementia and the Social Model of Disability: A New Direction for Policy and Practice. You might ask why would we be invited along to an event about dementia. For those of you who don’t know, we at Enhance the UK have developed a Deaf and dementia course.

The need for this was highlighted when the director and founder of Enhance the UK, Jennie Williams, met Lily and her daughter Dee. Lily was an older woman living in sheltered accommodation. She had dementia and was also a Deaf, British Sign Language user. Dee was concerned that care staff were not able to communicate effectively with Lily because of her dementia and were also not able to converse with her in her first language, BSL. She feared that this was leading to Lily’s basic daily needs being ignored and that she was completed isolated in her own home. After further investigation we found that the University of Manchester had highlighted that ‘very few support services were accessible or appropriate for Deaf people with dementia.’

Furthermore it is not only Deaf, BSL users who are finding it difficult to access appropriate support. Since the majority of dementia patients are elderly, hearing loss is also common among them. It is our belief that it is essential that anyone involved with supporting people with dementia also have a good understanding of deafness and hearing loss in order to be able to communicate effectively with and appropriately support the individual. We secured a contract with Hackney council and were able to deliver the Deaf and dementia training to various care professionals. The feedback from this course was very positive.

So, back to the roundtable event. Overall it was a fascinating event, one in which I feel was very worthwhile us as a charity attending. From my perspective, it really is shocking how the treatment and attitude towards people with dementia is firmly rooted in the medical perspective. Discussions on the day centred around how the social model of disability could be applied to improve things. For those of you who don’t know, the social model of disability states that how society is organised disables people rather than their impairment or difference. It focuses on removing barriers and encouraging society to become more inclusive. I could go on all day about this but for me personally a few things on the day hit home.

Early on in the day we had the pleasure of meeting Peter who is a wheelchair user. We had quite an in depth discussion regarding Enhance the UK and the attitude that we aim to perpetuate. We all sat down and I gave it no further thought. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I realised that Peter was one on the guest speakers who has dementia himself. This really should not have shocked me as I have a hidden disability myself, but it did. It really powerfully illustrated in my mind why people with hidden impairments find it so much more difficult in everyday life. There is a choice of either not disclosing the impairment, in which case should you need any support or adaption then you are unlikely to receive it, or having to tell everyone you meet what your impairment is which isn’t the best at times.

During the course of the discussions the dementia friendly community programme created by the Alzheimer’s Society was raised. This worthwhile scheme is firmly based in the social model of disability and is aiming to encourage communities to be inclusive of people with dementia in all aspects including attitude and physical environments which are easy to navigate. One of the delegates raised that currently dementia is ‘sexy’. The government is keen to support people with dementia and there is a lot of focus on this at present. However, it was agreed that this will not always be the case. It more than likely won’t be long before the focus moves away onto something else and funding and support will be harder to come by. It was suggested that rather than focusing on dementia friendly communities we should be focusing on inclusive communities. This to me hit a chord. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all disability organisations worked together to aim to create inclusive communities which are accessible to all. Currently, for a number of reasons this is a pipe dream but one in which I like to indulge in.

The Undressing Disability shoot 2013 in front of Big Ben, London

Charity Projects at Enhance the UK by The Learning People

By Business, Disability No Comments

How do you deal with disability in the workplace? That’s a question asked by awareness charity, Enhance the UK.

Jennie Williams, founder and project manager of Enhance the UK, offers awareness training designed to combat prejudices against disability in the workplace and schools in a fun, interactive and engaging fashion.


“Part of the reason I started Enhance the UK was because I am a hearing aid user.

“This has given me greater empathy, understanding and passion to support people who have physical and sensory impairments.

“It is important to me that these people have a voice, so that’s why being user led is imperative to the success and integrity of the charity.”



“Like with anything you set out to do, you will have some amazingly supportive people and then people who completely do not get it.

“We sell disability awareness training to promote equality in the workplace but some businesses simply do not see why they might need it, which can be frustrating.

“More specifically, one of our most challenging but rewarding projects has been the 2014 calendar for our ‘Undressing Disability’ campaign, which featured disabled models in their underwear in public places.

“One of our shoots took place on a boat on the Thames so we had to make sure we were organised – taking enough photos with limited time.

“When the first round of calendars was delivered we were dismayed to find the watermarks hadn’t been removed.

“This was stressful as we couldn’t afford to buy hundreds more of the calendars, but fortunately the calendar company were sympathetic and replaced our order free of charge.

“Finally, we had the calendars but no real platform to sell them on a large scale, however, we did have social media and we also sent press releases to major publications.

“These proved fruitful and we were featured in large international publications such as The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post, ending up selling all of our calendars worldwide.”


“Communication is key to ensuring everything gets done in the different projects we work on.

“Myself and my staff are in constant – several times daily – communication through every given medium, even WhatsApp.

“We regularly stay on top of emails and have a group Google Drive folder which contains spreadsheets for fundraising trusts we approach, which is updated weekly.

“We have a big, face to face meeting every three months, while myself and my core staff will typically have strategy meetings every couple of months.

“Skype is also useful for speaking to potential volunteers or trainers around the country.”


“Many disabled people are fiercely independent and want to get that across by offering us their opinions.

“Others may be more reserved and not used to having their voices heard so you have to try and gain their trust – it’s all about working with what individuals need.

“When it comes to sensory impairments, more technical issues surrounding communication arise, so we make our website – and ourselves – as accessible as possible.

“This will include subtitling our videos, as well as using a BSL interpreter in them and adhering to the correct guidelines for blind people.”


“While setting up our crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign for our teaching children about disabilities book, The Secret Sign, we were required to offer our contributors/stakeholders rewards for their donations.

“We meet these expectations by offering perks such as personalised thank you notes, copies of the book, voice recordings and artwork – all things we can offer while keeping our costs low.

“The estimated arrival time for the product is three months, which we will strictly adhere to, but which also gives us plenty of time to custom print the books so our stakeholders are not let down.”


“A new survey by Scope shows us that only 5% of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out a disabled person.

“I hope in the future that this drastically changes, to the point where disability is not an issue for people in any setting.

“If disability awareness training, much like the programme we offer, is implemented in more schools I would hope we would see a much more natural and empathetic approach to disability.”