Hi! My name is Danni, and I’m a volunteer for The Include Choir. The first time I came to the Include Choir, however, wasn’t as a volunteer but as a support worker. 

I’d been allocated to support a lady one afternoon, and this included taking her to a new activity. I didn’t know much about it; only that it was a choir, which I thought could be fun. My client, like most people, loves music. I myself enjoy a bit of singing. So, although I was coming towards the end of a long shift and was quite tired, I was looking forward to it.

By the end of the evening, my tiredness had vanished, and I was elated. The Include Choir was a revelation in how a truly inclusive approach can benefit people with learning disabilities, and I came away feeling as though I’d been given a glimpse into a better world – one where people with different communication needs are valued, respected, and able to find their voices. 

I came to support work with a dream of helping people with learning disabilities to achieve their full potential, and to lead the most fulfilling and happy lives possible. As an inexperienced young carer, I didn’t know exactly how to go about this, but I figured I would pick it up along the way. And while this is somewhat true, The Include Choir showed me things which I might never have learned on my own or in another setting…

I learned about objects of reference, and how useful they can be for people who may struggle to think in abstracts. I saw how much more easily some people understood information when it was presented pictorially, instead of just spoken aloud. I realised just how many ways there are to make sure a person with sensory impairments feels just as included and engaged as their peers.

Learning some Makaton was a bonus, and I was pleased to expand on my knowledge of signs; however, my initial thought was that this was a skill I’d sadly never use in my current care home. The clients at my home didn’t sign, and so there was no point in confusing them by introducing Makaton. Or so I thought! Despite having had Makaton training in the past, it was at the Choir that I learned that SPEAKING as you sign is an absolute necessity. Finally, it clicked that Makaton added additional context for the words being spoken – designed not to replace speech, but to help those who process differently to pick up on the key points of a sentence which might otherwise have been lost.

Watching the choir make music together has been incredible. Everyone’s contributions are encouraged and valued, and it’s wonderful to see how positive people feel when they attend – whether they have learning disabilities or not. I feel this is because of the respectful approach, and the efforts made to make sure every choir member is heard, and is able to connect.

Original songs tackle complex subjects like the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) in easy to understand language.  Hearing this song always brings a tear to my eye – it’s wonderful to see a room full of people who are directly impacted by the MCA not only understanding the complex subject matter, but feeling empowered to use that knowledge to make choices about their lives! On a personal note, I can also honestly say that I understand the Act better now than I did before I began coming to the choir, and am far more confident in the many different approaches that can be taken in assessing capacity. Imagine if all support workers could hum this little song whenever they were unsure! The world would be a less restrictive place for the people we support, I think. 

It’s no secret that The Include Choir does wonders for their members. But as a resource for support workers to learn about inclusivity, communication, and learning disability rights, it is hugely overlooked. I have learned new ways of communication that I would never have thought of using before, and I’ve seen them actually work. I have learned hundreds of Makaton signs, and the repetition of weekly choir practice has them firmly lodged in my brain. I feel empowered to go to my work each day, and find out what is needed to meet the people I care for on their own level, and that brings me great joy. 

I would encourage every support worker who is able to attend The Include Choir to make the most of it. If you came to care work because you want to make a difference in the lives of people with learning disabilities, inclusive communication is really the only place to start.

To experience The Include Choir Online (while we can’t meet physically due to Covid19) check out our Facebook page. We also have volunteering opportunities during lockdown, lockdown easing and beyond.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Communications and Partnerships Manager