#ADisabilityPositive: Bilingualism and BSL

This post is in light of the amazing work done by Daniel Jillings and his family. Daniel is a 12 year old boy who is campaigning for a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL), which is his first language. This proposal, although initially rejected by MPs after the Education Minister stated that “not everything needs to be taught” (?!), is now potentially going to be considered by MPs before the next election. Firstly, congratulations to Daniel and his family, as this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and something that is definitely needed in the UK. It takes an incredible amount of determination to make people stand up and listen, so well done for making your voice heard!

The idea of BSL as a GCSE, although intended for those who are first language users, gave me a thought about how beneficial this would be for the everyone. Sign Language seems to be massively under-represented in the UK, despite being a language that thousands of people use daily. So why can’t teenagers learn how to communicate with their peers and other people around the country, in the same way that they’re taught French or German?

A spokesperson from the National Deaf Children’s Society said that up to 45,000 children who used BSL as their first language wanted a BSL GCSE. As there are over 4000 secondary schools in the UK (according to Google), that would very roughly suggest that are around 11 children in each school that use BSL. That means we have potentially 11 Language Champions in every school that can be proud of the language they speak, much like English as an Additional Language (EAL) students are currently.

But the benefit wouldn’t just be for BSL students. Let’s face it, who can actually remember every component of their GCSE language studies? It could be argued that the reason England is so pants at teaching languages in comparison to European countries is because  we don’t have the same opportunity to practice within the classroom setting, as well as not feeling the need to use it when we visit other countries. By teaching BSL as a GCSE, it could potentially mean that children become far more proficient, as they have more of a reason to use it in the UK.

If this was the case, and all children had the option to take a BSL GCSE and actually use the language they are taught, then there is nothing but positive benefits for them. Being bilingual means that you have a longer attention span and a better ability to multi-task than those who only use one language, as well as teaching the importance of inclusivity in the UK. There are also benefits in the work place, which would then have a knock on effect on the inclusion of BSL speakers in the work place.

As you can tell, I’m getting very excited about this prospect, and think it’s nothing but a clear benefit to include BSL in the curriculum. So #ADisabilityPositive for this week is not only the potential inclusion of thousands of BSL users in the curriculum, but the potential benefits to other children and then society as a whole. It’s campaigns like this that show what positive things can come from considering the attitudes of those with an additional need, which is exactly what we’re about.

(P.S. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-45043418 has the full story if you want to give it a read).

Painting the Smile on

This is a post for all the people surrounding those with any sort of additional need, whether it be a physical disability, mental health, or SEN. The immediate and extended family, the supportive friends and those who work in the profession. Even those strangers who help without realising.


This is something that is not said enough, or if it is said, it’s said without truly appreciating what you do. I think it’s fair enough to say that the support for all these people in the UK is not consistently available from government services, and so it is just down to you. It’s your patience, dedication and ability to see the positive in a whole lot of negative that makes you truly incredible, and a real asset to the lives of those you support.

Again, we have a bit of an annoying habit as a society where we don’t know what to say if a family, for example, is struggling with the care needs of someone they love, especially if they have additional needs. Because we don’t know what to say, we revert to the pity of the person with whatever need, saying things like “Aww, bless them!” when we’ve just been told a story from a parent about how their struggling with their disabled child. This immediately sends a tide of guilty feelings, as they’re made to feel horrendous for ever thinking negatively of the person they’re caring for. That also completely misses the point of the story.

This is not fair. If the person you care for in your family was typically developing, you would be able to express how they’ve really wound you up. It’s a fact of life – children can sometimes be irritating, siblings are expected to argue with each other, and parents sometimes get to the end of their tether with everyone. It’s a completely normal part of the family unit to wind each other up, say things you don’t mean and just get really frustrated. This should not change if the people involved have some sort of additional need. They have developed their own personality just like everyone else and this does mean they may develop traits that are unbelievably tiresome. It happens. You are allowed to point this out.

Instead of us pitying the individual, we should be praising the family/group of friends/support network even more highly. They have to work arguably twice as hard to ensure that the person they care for is happy and healthy, and do far more to ensure that they stay calm than they maybe would for someone who is typically developing. They appreciate all the extra steps they have to take to accommodate for whatever need the person may have, all whilst trying to maintain positive. It’s like being a member of staff at Disneyland, except from your only relief is when you’re asleep.

They’re work is relentless and often without thanks, and because they do it so well, it seems that external services don’t seem to recognise how tough it is. So I wanted to take the opportunity to thank all these people, because these carers are just incredible. Sometimes that smile of yours might not be truthful, but it shows how much work you put in and how well you’re coping, and you truly are doing an amazing job. Thank you.

#ADisabilityPositive: Honesty is the Best Policy

The big sticking point in why those with any sort of additional need are seen so differently is because any positive part is completely overlooked. When people don’t know much about a disability, it seems to be a default position to become sympathetic and say something like “that must be so hard”. I’m not denying that it is hard, as there are so many barriers to overcome, but why not talk about some of the positives? What’s wrong with admitting that there are some good sides to something seen to be so difficult? So, in the spirit of having the Friday Feeling, let’s talk about a positive that comes with having a language disorder: brutal honesty.

Some context. My sister has a language disorder as part of her condition, meaning that she struggles a little bit with all the complex bits of language. This is the sort of stuff like understanding additional meaning, following conversation and all the social conventions that the rest of us find a gigantic pain (such as asking someone you don’t particularly like how they are because you “have to”). This does make a lot of things difficult for her, especially as language disorders are an invisible disability, so a lot of people assume she understands more than she does and she can sometimes get a bit stuck, BUT it’s phenomenally helpful in a variety of situations. For example, saving yourself a bit of cash and managing relationships without the faffing about.

A couple of Christmases ago, we were all opening presents and she opens an absolutely gigantic box of really fancy smellies, as well as a huge box of chocolates. She showed us the tag, and it turned out they were from her boyfriend. We all said how lovely that was, and how she had been spoilt, and then I asked her what she bought him.

Her reply? “Nothing. I didn’t want to get him anything.”

I immediately burst out laughing at this point. As she doesn’t understand the social convention of buying presents for other people if they’ve bought you something, especially a boyfriend, she genuinely did not feel the need to buy him anything. Yes okay, it’s a tad harsh, but whereas the rest of us would be wracked with guilt, she was perfectly content with getting lots of lovely presents without reciprocating. She saved herself some cash and didn’t panic herself about what to get him, instead focusing on her family and other closer friends. Personally, I wish I could get away with doing something like this, especially when it comes to people like work colleagues and in-laws, so her ability to take the stress out of Christmas seems to be a bit of a win.

Her attitude to relationships in general is also quite enviable. She once told me on FaceTime that she might dump someone because “they’re a bit boring”. Why not! As good of a reason as any! Whereas I spent over a month in turmoil feeling horrendous at the thought of dumping my ex-boyfriend, trying to think of lots of valid reasons to try and ease being broken up with, she simply understood that she wasn’t happy and did something about it. Her language disorder means that cause and consequence are very tricky, but this ensures her own happiness and means she doesn’t over-complicate things like the majority of adults do. Again, it means that she can be a brutal and won’t “soften the blow”, but it means that she knows her own mind and is able to communicate her needs in a simple, unambiguous way. Brilliant.

Having a language disorder means that, although she can’t follow any sort of complex conversation, my sister is able to do things that make her happy and enjoy the company of others without having all the social conventions of what to say and what not to say. #ADisabilityPositive for her, therefore, is that she only spends time with people she likes, does things that she wants to do and doesn’t worry herself with having to conform to social rules that can really irritate other people.

(P.S. A little tip if you’re ever in the company of someone with a language disorder, don’t be polite and ask “does anyone want the last biscuit” when you really want it. If they want it, they will have it. Why wouldn’t they? You’ve asked if anyone wants it, it’s your fault for not being blunt.)

Sharing is Caring

Have you ever had the experience that you’ve tried to say something, but no matter how hard you try, people just don’t seem to be listening? Maybe it’s been when you’ve been in a business meeting and that irritating colleague won’t stop talking over you. Maybe it’s been when you’ve had a difficult conversation with a partner and they’re just ignoring your point of view. Maybe it’s been with your parents, and as hard as you try they just don’t seem to understand you.

Or maybe it’s because you have a Special Educational Need.

This is one that doesn’t seem to spring to people’s mind. A recent statistic said that 1 in 8 people globally had some form of SEN, but when was the last time you spoke to someone with one? I suppose you never really know when you have or haven’t, as with many things, but I’m sure if you think about it, you may struggle. Those with SEN, unfortunately, seem to fade into the background beyond childhood, when they stop being in mainstream education and make their way into adulthood on a completely different path to your own. And yes alright, we all have those school friends we haven’t kept up with as they have done the same thing, but surely an entire community cannot go unnoticed by the general population?

So this is what I’m here to do. I am somebody whose family member has moderate special needs, and through the experience of living with them has come to learn how truly disenfranchised they are. Having shared their story with friends and colleagues over the years, I have realised how a lot of people don’t understand what has happened or what is happening in the world of Disability Rights in the UK because they don’t know about it. Not their fault, but still not right.

This is not to say that those with SEN are fundamentally voiceless. They aren’t at all; in fact, they have some of the most beautiful voices to be heard, and often the most shockingly honest. In writing this, and encouraging others to share their views, I hope to show how extraordinary these people are to more than those in their immediate social and family social. If just one person goes away knowing something new, or considering an opinion that they did not think they would, then that’s absolutely fine by me.

So, in light of this, sharing is truly caring, so if you ever stumble across this and have a story to share then please do so! If not, and you’ve never stopped to consider the view of someone with a SEN before, then please have a little read. You might surprise yourself in that you consider an opinion that you never thought you would. Treat yourself, it’s quite a fun thing to do.