Blog | Include.org

How has life changed for people with learning disabilities?

This month, between the Platinum Jubilee and Learning Disability Week 2022, our Champions Group has been reflecting on how life has changed for people with learning disabilities during the Queen’s reign.

We also talked about what was going on for the royal family in each decade, memorable moments like when people walked on the moon – and chose a favourite song from each decade (like Don’t Stop Me Now from the 1970s). So, we hope this Easy Read will inspire you in many ways.

Here is the link to our audio version https://soundcloud.com/user-683393051-385203358/platinum-jubilee-special?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

But it might shock you too.

It’s hard to believe that in the 1950s, when Queen Elizabeth II first came to the throne it was common for children with learning disabilities to leave their families to live in ‘long-stay hospitals’ and attending school was not an option.

The Include Champions believe that access to education for all is important. Philip said that it was down to going to school that he has been able to get a job. David said he learned to speak French at college and Hannah cooks her own meals having learned in education. Three great examples.

People Making Change Happen

We celebrated some of the people who really helped to turn the tide and change the way society looks at disability.

Some of the first research into what is actually best for children with Learning Disabilities didn’t happen until 1950s! Joss rightly found this surprising “Are you joking?! That was the first piece of research ever to have been done?!”

In 1958 Professor Jack Tizard published his findings – the headline – children with Learning Disabilities should not be taken away from their families and would live better lives in the community.  

Then in 1964, the Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities to live in his home rather than in a hospital – the first L’Arche Community home was set up in France. This paved the way for many more people with learning disabilities to return to the heart of their communities. Of Jean Vanier, Joss said “What a great bloke!”

Everyone Can Make A Change

We also talked about how in day-to-day life it’s sadly not just the people who do good things that we remember – we also often remember bad things that people say to us. The Champions Group started talking about how important it is to try to use words that are kind and respectful when talking about people, especially in the context of disability.

All that matters is that we are here and we are thinking about each other and we care.

Hannah summed the conversation up so well… “All people have different abilities anyway. We are all different. It doesn’t matter what we are, it doesn’t have to be perfect or anything, all that matters is that we are here and we are thinking about each other and we care and, plus we need to think about this really carefully.”

And that my friends, is inspiration for a future Easy Read about why words matter.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Something about The Include Choir

We have exciting developments here at Include.

This summer, very soon, we are launching a new choir!

We continue to build the original Include Choir (with rehearsals in Redhill), The Include Choir Online is still here too so people can join us on Zoom or Facebook live. If outdoors activity is more your thing, you can join our Stroll and Sign sessions…but right now we’re busy adding a new Include Choir group, which will rehearse in Epsom.

Both choirs will perform at community events and conferences in various locations across Surrey – and in other places like London. Not just in Redhill and Epsom.

You can find details of what is on and when on our website.

Easy Read – explaining about The Include Choir

As we start to introduce a whole new group of people to The Include Choir, we’ve been thinking about how we explain who we are and what we do to people who don’t know Include.org

To help with this, the Include Champions Group took a really close look at how we talk and write about Include. Even to the point of discussing if we use a capital G on the word group when we say Champion’s Group!

We double checked which of the accessible fonts is the most popular and we decided on Sofia Pro, because we like it and it is Dyslexia-friendly.

We also took great care to select the best photos and graphics to enhance our next FREE Easy Read which – you guessed it – is all about The Include Choir! An audio version will also be available.

The things that make a big difference

Some people might think we’re “just a choir” – BUT a lot more goes into championing inclusive communication than just getting together to sing.

The little details that enhance inclusion and participation matter as much as the big steps forward – like launching a new choir. And without volunteers, none of this can happen – the big or the small.

We want to once again congratulate and thank our amazing volunteers who have been recognised as some of the very best with the MBE for volunteer groups – the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service!

If you would like to join or volunteer or have any questions or suggestions about the new choir or anything else, please let us know by commenting below, via our social media or emailing info@include.org

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Not just a Choir

Include Choir member Joss shares his thoughts…

“I have been part of other choirs, and they tried and were nice – but it wasn’t like coming to Include. They weren’t doing anything particularly offensive, Include is just better!

Include people say “Hello” and treat me like my best friends treat me. We can be complete strangers – but when I’m around them, I feel I can walk.

I only get that feeling from my very, very, very close, and I mean very close friends.

Elsewhere, especially in the outside world, it’s not very like that. I just want to be with the Include guys every single day because they are accepting of me. Include are family to me.

Include is not just a choir – it’s not just saying right we are choir, join us, tick in the box and that’s it.

Include Choir and Alix decide day by day we’re actively going to include every single one of these people who are less included, and take the people who are totally on the margins of society and say look come and sing with us, you are not different in this room.

The D Word

I don’t look at myself as disabled.

Places like Include and people like Alix are just wonderful, they don’t see your disability. The Include Choir focus on the fact you can sing!

If you ask Alix about who Joss is she will say something like, “He is pretty good on a drum, he can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but I completely ignore the fact that he is disabled.”

I think about 90% of society you ask might say, “this kid is disabled” and only about 3% go “Actually he is a really nice guy,” and they don’t look at me as disabled.

Some people think that to understand me they have to put this costume or label on me, “This guy is disabled.” And it’s not until you throw it off yourself – you throw it off your body and you say look I am able – they have a moment when they just stop and they go, “Ah – he is a nice guy!” And that moment of realisation is the most beautiful thing, and I can see it happen all the time. From that day on they will never call me disabled again – which is really beautiful.

Teaching the World…

That fact that The Include Choir performs in public places is really something big.

By doing that we’re actively teaching the world that we are all the same, we are just made from slightly different clay – we are not really that different to each other – we all have faces, we all live on the same planet etc.

People at the college I go to know that just because you’re disabled it, doesn’t mean you can’t do X, Y and Z or you can’t live your life. But my college is in the middle of nowhere, so no one really knows about us and what we can do.

Include takes that one step further because it puts people like me in front of able-bodied people and goes, “Look this is what Joss can do,” and they go “Wow, he can do that, he is in a wheelchair.” And they put the two together and it changes their lives because they realise that, even though I’m ‘disabled’ I can do a whole load of things that they can do.

On My Terms

Someone at my college recently asked me “What do you think about the term disabled?”  I thought for a very long time and eventually I said, “It’s not me that gives me the term disabled, it’s society”. This resulted in an hour-long conversation about the term disability not being helpful. I would wipe that term out.

There are not many words that genuinely offend me, any swear word genuinely won’t offend me and won’t hurt me, but the term disabled does. It cuts me like a knife every time I hear it and it f***ing devastates me because it’s like, “stop putting me down, and raise me up”! 

So, I have stopped calling myself disabled and there are people where I live that might say differently-abled and I prefer that – it doesn’t chop off my legs. It says that your legs move in a slightly different way and let’s be open and accepting of that.

Bigger Than Acceptance

Include has really helped me because I have enormous amounts of frustration and incredible bouts of anger that seem to come out of nowhere because I have to have carers all of the time. At college I have about three carers.

At Include I have only really got one, Steven and that’s it. When Steven sits with the choir and joins in it feels like family and it feels like acceptance.

It’s almost bigger than acceptance – Include Choir feels rather more than a single person accepting my disability, it’s like getting a whole room of people to accept my disability all at once, all over the world and yet it’s in an hour-long choir session with an interval!

Sing it from the rooftops

People like me don’t have many chances to walk – but singing is like walking. I am very grateful.

Include songs are f***ing brilliant, genuine from the heart with powerful messages. “In My World” is so beautiful it really is, and every time I hear it, it elicits more of a response from me, I don’t know why and I don’t think I will ever know why! It’s a statement for mankind.

I also like “Kind Communication” – because it’s explaining what I have been talking about – I think people need to hear these songs in places other than YouTube. I think they should be on Spotify.

Eventually, I hope that there will be an Include Choir in every country because its attitude is so welcoming. If there were other Include Choirs it would be a better place, more peaceful with less segregation.

I don’t like segregation or war; I am a peaceful man. We need an Include Choir everywhere we can get one because it brings peace to the world.”

The good news Joss, is that this summer we will be starting up another Include Choir…watch this space.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Bumper Easter Easy Read

Our Include Champions were so inspired by spring and Easter, that the group’s ideas and have resulted in a whole pack of Free Easy Read resources, including a quiz!

Download the Easy Reads below and find the audio versions too. If you want to really test yourself look at the quiz first and the other things after!

Click to listen to the Quiz Questions and Answers

Click to listen to the Easter Story

Click to listen to the Fun Facts

From hot cross buns and the clocks changing, to Jesus’ disciples and daffodils…Ellie, Simon, Philip and Josh cover lots of themes that are relevant at this time of year!

Plus, our first ever Easy Read resource, which launched our free series last year, is all about Ramadan – so also very relevant this month.

Our Champions have plans to share these resources with their own networks, from support staff and friends, to arts and social groups.

Who could you share these Free Easy Read resources with?

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Mindfulness

January can feel like a long month for many reasons.

January 2021 was a lockdown month, and so for some people, it felt even longer. When we were in lockdown, Include produced extra newsletters and ran more Zoom sessions. We tried to make the content helpful – things to help keep people included and happy – one of those things was mindfulness. Protecting our mental wellbeing is still very important.

This January, in our first Champions session of 2022, we talked about mindfulness again.

Our Champions sessions are where Include members get together on Zoom to discuss and share ideas about important topics like The Mental Capacity Act, or in this case Mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about taking the time to notice how you are. To connect your body, mind and senses. Sarah sums it up well;

“It’s ideas about how to help your moods. What to do if you feel low, stressed, or if you have anxiety or depression”.

Sarah also pointed out that the information that she has found about mindfulness is not always very easy to read. So that made it clear that a FREE Easy Read about Mindfulness is a good idea.

Do I need to try mindfulness?

We talked about how to tell if you might be stressed and need to take a bit of time to practice some mindfulness. When we are busy with life, we might not notice that we have become tense. The Champions came up with a list of indicators that may mean you need to slow down:

  • Muscles tight
  • Headache
  • Feeling anxious
  • Tummy ache
  • Panic attack
  • Shoulders up by your ears

Hannah said;

“Take time and listen to your body. You can do mindfulness every day, wherever you are. And it can help you to get a good night’s sleep.”

Ways to be mindful

In our session the Champions tried out a few mindfulness techniques such as taking a big yawn and stretch. And we were all silent of 30 seconds and took care to notice any sounds around us.

Philip and Simon noticed the sound of a plane flying nearby and their washing machine going. Josh noticed a train going past and Ellie heard her tap.

But practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to be still and quiet – doing things like colouring, sewing, blowing bubbles or Lego are also good ways to be calm and focussed.

Listening to music can be good too – you might like to see our B is for bubbles song on YouTube combining music and bubbles!?

Our Champions have some brilliant suggestion for apps that can also help with mindfulness – Headspace was recommended by Sarah, and Happy Colours by Philip. There is more information inside the FREE Easy Read resource.

FREE Audio version

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Feeling Thankful

To help express our gratitude for the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2021 donations to include.org we’ve dedicated our next Free Easy Read resource to the theme of festive thankfulness.

A Big, Big Give Thank you

We’re celebrating the fantastic response to our Big Give Christmas Challenge fundraiser! We managed to raise over £20,000! What an incredible act of collective kindness this is, despite the ongoing challenges of Covid, and other pressures at this time of year.

SO much kindness. We’re blown away! This funding will enable Include to do so much more. Wishes can come true!

Free Easy Read

To help express our gratitude we’ve dedicated our next Free Easy Read resource to the theme of thankfulness.

An audio / sensory version will be shared here too very soon (sorry for the slight delay)

The download includes interesting facts, ideas and templates to create a thankfulness themed Christmas tree (or decorated plant!).

Did you know that research says that people who show gratitude are often healthier – both physically and mentally? And they even sleep better!

Things we’re thankful for

We asked some of our Include members, staff and volunteers what they are thankful for. Here is a taster of what we found…

Simon said he is thankful for his new baby nephew, friends and family. He and Philip also shared something they are both thankful for – the enjoyment of singing and dance. You can see them perform together here: https://youtu.be/hnv6rFGLsDw

Philip said that being thankful makes you feel happy; “it feels good in your mind”. Philip also said “I am grateful for my best friends and Include – the whole group – it means a lot to me and Simon”…”and I am also thankful for the birth of Jesus”.

Ellie said that she is thankful for her nephew, her family and another of her groups – Bloomin’ Arts https://bloominarts.org.uk/ where she performs in various shows.

She is grateful for her Complete Shakespeare book. Ellie also loves birthdays and her advent calendar!

The whole group had a shared thankfulness for good food. Penny is happy she has found some really good gluten-free mince pies.

Simon loves a roast. Ellie is looking forward to treating herself to some nice foods on her birthday.

Alix said that she is thankful for friends – old and new, as well as enjoying books and seeing festive lights.

Alix and Penny agreed they are both very thankful to all the wonderful volunteers who help Include all year round.

Jen said that she is grateful for friends, Include Choir, her parents and her plants. She has even decorated some of her plants!

We were all thankful for our Christmas decorations too. Josh did a great paper tree…

We talked about the fact that not everyone finds it easy to feel positive at Christmas time. Some people might miss loved ones or may not have a home. We are grateful if we can see loved ones and have a place to call home.

No matter who we are, or how we communicate we are often grateful for similar things.

Once again, from all of us here at Include, we want to say a great BIG thank you to everyone who supports us. The Big Give Christmas Challenge success in particular, will help us continue to build a more inclusive community in 2022.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Friends United

Philip and Simon have done quite a few things together over the years.

“We met at a college where we were supported to learn independence, shopping, cooking and budgeting.” They still live together today…

They are based a long way from Include’s HQ in Surrey…but have become a big part of the Include family. In fact, they’ve inspired a plan to combine Zoom sessions with Live sessions.

Included since Lockdown

Philip says; “Without Include the last year would have been boring – we love the whole group since we joined in lockdown….

We join in on my ipad through Zoom and Facebook two or three times a week. I even joined two of the Friday sessions from my Dad’s car when I was on my way home for the weekend! When we see Alix, it always makes me smile.”

Simon agrees; “We love singing and seeing everyone…my favourite is the Bumble Bee song – it makes me happy, and seeing Alix’s cat! We’d be sad without Include.”

In My World

Philip’s favourite song is In My World, which was written by choir member Louise.

“I sang In My World at my Nan’s big family 90th Birthday party – everyone came and when I sang my Nan cried happy tears,” says Philip.

Silver Linings

Alix Lewer, Include CEO adds; “Philip and Simon (among others) joining The Include Choir Online has been one of the great silver linings of the pandemic.

I can’t now imagine Facebook Live sessions without their supportive and positive input in the chat (and of course – the requests for the Chicken Curry Warm Up, In My World & Dancing Queen).

The Zoom sessions would not be the same without their enthusiasm, excellent signing and huge smiles (they really do put the smile in our Sing Sign and Smile Sessions).

And they have even recently joined our Include Champions Group – helping us learn about people’s rights under the Mental Capacity Act and review and develop training materials. They are always both excellent listeners as well as contributing greatly to the discussions, with much insight and sensitivity. 

Remote members like Philip and Simon bring so much to Include and are one of the reasons that we are determined to keep offering both local and online services, so we can continue to include and connect people far and wide.” 

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Shared Lives – Singing and Signing together

Mandy and Michelle are members of The Include Choir.

Mandy is Michelle’s Shared Lives carer. The Shared Lives scheme matches adults who need care with someone who can provide support. Family and community life are a shared experience for both.

Michelle and Mandy joined The Include Choir over two years ago. Before the pandemic.

Mandy says, “When we could return to choir in person earlier this year, I was unsure about how Michelle would react.

I told her just before we were to leave. She leapt from her seat shouting “choir!” She then sang the Include Choir welcome song at the top of her voice before rushing to get her coat and shoes.

She was beyond happy to return and so pleased to see everyone.

She loves to perform and being part of include provides her with a safe, friendly space to do this.

The use of inclusive communication, structure and positivity make include choir a place she can make sense of which in turn gives her confidence and comfort. 

Include has really helped Michelle and myself to remember to use our Makaton and props to communicate with each other. It has given her such a great outlet to perform and feel successful.

The structure of sessions and inclusive communication has definitely improved her listening skills too. 

Small charities like Include.org are the heart of the disabled community. They provide a positive, happy, inclusive place for people to be.

The work that Include does to promote rights, understanding and inclusion is something that is amazing to be a part of.

To see people’s smiles when they see the choir perform is so moving and making people with disabilities visible in such a positive and empowering way is just what society needs. “

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

Welcome to our World

For World Kindness Day 2021 (13th November) we’re doing 5 things!

1)   Thanking our amazingly kind volunteers and supporters.

2)  Giving away a FREE Easy Read resource that explains how to be a Kind (Inclusive) Communicator:

3)   Showcasing The Include Choir’s special song In My World, and telling the touching story behind it (below).

4)   Streaming songs with messages about Kind Communication at #KindFest2021 – the world’s largest online festival of kindness.

5)   Sharing the first of Include’s organisational values – decided through coproduction workshops earlier this year… Can you guess what it is?!

In My World…

From the depths of lockdown came a beautifully unifying and uplifting song. It will be showcased at KindFest2021 on World Kindness Day.

We spoke to the three main creators…

“I actually love the song. It makes me feel good and calm. I like singing it and it’s good when the choir sing it,” says Louise.

“My Mum taught me how to play piano and at college I had singing and piano lessons. I have done (Makaton) signing all my lifetime since nursery and school – it helped me lots with learning and communication”.

All of these skills come together when Louise helps The Include Choir.

The inspiration for her song started when the Makaton sign of the week word was Colours. At this time, Include was delivering many services online (not just singing) and offering self-care tips to help people feel okay during lockdown. Louise shared her top tip, which was that coloring helps her to calm. And she has a special book called Keep Calm and Color Unicorns!

But Louise’s all-time favorite phenomenon is the rainbow.

And this is at the heart of the song. She says; “I love colours – they make me feel good – all except black and grey – even though I’m wearing a black T-shirt today! Ha!”

Sue, Include’s resident accompanist (and Louise’s Mum) helped write the song and compose the music.

Sue says; “I asked Louise to think of beautiful things to do with colour. Her input is there throughout; sunsets over a calming sea and the hazy blue of the sky.”

Sue credits her then fiancé, (now husband) Paul, with one of the lyrics “the blushing pink of the roses” because he bought and named a rose for her “The blushing pink”. But says Sue; “Without Louise, there would probably be no song – she is the true inspiration.”

Sue is keen to point out that the song can still feel relevant to people with visual impairments “that’s what colour mean to me” can refer to how people imagine colour.

A stunning animated video featuring The Include Choir and many members of the community singing and signing the song was created by fabulous volunteer Xinning.

“I was living with my boyfriend in a flat in Manchester when I joined this project. Because of the lockdown, we spent all day in the living room working together. But I didn’t meet anyone or make any friends during the lockdown.

I sense the message from the song is that no matter how many difficulties we are facing, always remember to find the existence of beautiful things in our world. I really enjoy the song because gives me the power to get over a hard time and find people who are caring for each other.

I use the simplest way of making animation, which is to draw frame by frame on a computer I believe this is the strongest way to express emotion. I choose to use simple shapes to animate. It is concise and lets people easily understand the meaning which the song wants to convey.

Louise suggested a great idea which was to add butterflies in the animation. She also provided illustrations of butterflies from members of the choir.

I animated it in a rigging animation software.

It makes the video lively.

It feels great to hear people’s feedback on my animation. Sometimes I feel doubtful of my animation but once people told me that my animation is good, I feel everything is worth doing.”

In My World highlights the benefits of being willing to join other people “in their world”. That’s what we mean by Inclusive or Kind Communication. Being willing to adjust ourselves in order to properly connect with someone else.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager

What is Racism?

Our volunteers Hannah (below) and Sofia worked together to create an Easy Read resource about racism.

Earlier this month we were able to share this Easy Read resource about racism with John Barnes! “Wow!” says Hannah, “Who knew at the beginning of making this resource that John Barnes would be holding it?”

John Barnes is also keen to ensure that this important topic is made accessible to all. His new book The Uncomfortable Truth about Racism is available as an audio book here: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Uncomfortable-Truth-About-Racism-Audiobook/1472290410

Our own FREE resource about racism is also available here in audio format via the include.org soundcloud

We asked Hannah to share some more of her thoughts:

Why did you decide to create the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Easy Read Resource?

“George Floyd’s brutal murder last year led to this huge international conversation being had about race relations. As a result, lots of information and resources were shared in the mainstream media and online about the variety of ways people can get involved and engaged with the movement for racial equality. However…

…I had noticed this information was not being conveyed in an accessible format and with the assumption that everyone has pre-existing knowledge on the origins of the BLM movement.

Therefore, in line with our principles as inclusive communicators, we wanted to create a resource breaking down key concepts related to the BLM movement which everybody could understand.”

Why should people with communication needs have access to information about the Black Lives Matter movement and Black history in general?

“There are many parallels in the daily experiences of the Black community and people with communication disabilities.

These two groups face significant prejudice in today’s society, which has led to both groups facing similar educational, employment and mental health outcomes. We also know that a significant number of people are disabled and from the Black community.

For example, “In the year to March 2020, almost 4,200 people per 100,000 in the population of England used secondary mental health, learning disabilities and autism services and out of all 16 ethnic groups (excluding groups labelled ‘Other’), Black Caribbean people were most likely to use the services”.

(source: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/health/mental-health/adults-using-nhs-funded-mental-health-and-learning-disability-services/latest)

It is important that people with communication needs can become more informed about their rights and the rights of others, and share their own experiences and insights.

They are part of the community and part of belonging is having ways to unite and engage with topics like Black Lives Matter.  

By providing access to alternative formats like easy read and audio information, we can empower people to be part of the BLM movement and work towards reversing these current outcomes.”

How we can improve and promote Diversity and Inclusion at Include.org?

“It is important that we listen to existing BAME members and give them the space and time to talk about their experiences of existing within the intersection of being a person of colour with a communication disability.

In addition, I think that it is important that when it comes to engaging in conversation with people of colour, Include.org does not assume that everybody shares a similar experience.

Listening to individual experiences is key. This is the same standard that is applied in terms of people with communication needs – don’t assume someone’s abilities – take the time to get to know them.

Overall, all Include.org members regardless of race and disability should be encouraged to be aware of the Equality Act 2010 which protects everyone and was designed to empower those most vulnerable and marginalised in society.”

Helpful Resources

Easy Read Equality Act: https://www.mencap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-02/Equality%20Act%20-%20Easy%20Read.pdf

Black Lives Matter resources, including activists telling their stories: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

An article on the experience of being black and having a learning disability: https://www.mencap.org.uk/blog/black-history-month-chriss-story

John Barnes’ book The Uncomfortable Truth about Racism is also available as an audio book here: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Uncomfortable-Truth-About-Racism-Audiobook/1472290410

And of course Hannah and Sofia’s Include Easy Read about Racism: https://include.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/What-is-Racism-Include.org-Easy-Read.pdf also available as audio here: on the include.org soundcloud

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Inclusive Communications Manager
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