Monthly Archives: September 2018

We can! By Robert Wood

We can! Robert Wood interviews Jenny Sealey MBE

Young Ambassador Robert Wood interviews Jenny Sealey MBE, CEO/Artistic Director at Graeae Theatre

original post on the victa.org.uk website

PART ONE

I think we need to remember that we as deaf, blind, disabled people, we need to be masters and mistresses of our own destiny… it’s great that non-disabled people want to direct us, but we want to direct, we want the big jobs, we want to smash that glass ceiling, we want to have the big opportunities as well. So that we are directing non-disabled people as well as disabled people; so, we want to take over actually.

– Jenny Sealey MBE

Jenny Sealey MBE,
Jenny Sealey MBE, image credit graeae.org

My aim in interviewing Jenny Sealey was to encourage VICTA members, who, like me, have a love of, and aspire to a career in, the Performing Arts; who, hopefully on reading this interview, will be inspired, and realise that while resilience is needed, the doors are opening to them.

Jenny Sealey has been the artistic director of the Graeae Theatre in London since 1997.

For 20 years now, she has been at the forefront of fighting for the equal treatment of disabled people seeking careers in the Performing Arts. She is both an advocate and an activist, directing a continuous programme of fully inclusive performances, writing books and speaking publicly both nationally and internationally, about the need for change and an accessible ethos throughout the industry, from auditioning through to a complete range of careers in the performing arts. Her ability to dispel stigma and bring recognition to the successes of the disabled community within mainstream creative industries is eroding barriers. The adjustments and strategies she has developed are being adopted more and more widely, opening the doors to a full and equal inclusion for the disabled.

What inspired you to be involved in an inclusive Theatre Company?

JS: Well I’m deaf. I became deaf when I was seven and there were no role models or anything like that out there.

After doing performing arts at Middlesex Poly I discovered Graeae… and Graeae Theatre was and still is the UK’s prominent disability-lead, deaf and disabled theatre company. So it was a place where I auditioned, and where I met many, many, deaf and disabled women for the first time; it was then an all-women project.

Shortly after arriving, it felt like I had come home and knew I’d found where I belonged! It’s been my home ever since really and, although I’ve had other acting jobs, I’ve always come back to Graeae. To cut a long story short, I came back to Graeae as Artistic Director, 21 years ago. I’ve always been involved in disability arts, that’s the nature of being a disabled theatre practitioner.

How did you determine your approach to begin adapting such a timeless art form? How did you come up with a way to adapt scripts and deliver ideas through performances so that they could be understood and taken forward by people with a variety of different disabilities?

JS: With any production a director has to be really inspired by the play and the next, best bit, is to cast it. I always have big, workshop auditions and never cattle markets where it’s one in, say your lines, and you’re out. So, we do a workshop around the theme for the play because it is all about getting a team together, as well as getting the best people for the best cast. Whatever impairments that cast has informs the next layer of how we start to translate the play as it were. So with deaf performers, the process is to translate it into British sign language.

Focusing on visually impaired actors, what changes do you make to scripts to make them fully accessible? Could you give me some examples of the types of adaptations e.g. to the stage, that you commonly have to make?

JS: Well with a script I don’t change anything. A script stands, it stays. With actors, like the late Tim Gebbels, who was my Alsemero in The Changeling, we didn’t change any of the script. We worked very carefully with the designer considering the layout and the texture of the floor and the layout of lighting, and any other verbal cues, so that Tim then had complete free range to march around the set as he wanted, with no one guiding him. There was a moment with actress Beatrice Joanna, who is also visually impaired, where she grabbed him and there was a fantastic moment in rehearsal where they went to kiss and completely missed each other. You had to be there, they laughed and we laughed, it was brilliant.

A long time ago we did ‘A Lucky Sunday for Creve Coeur’ by Tennessee Williams and a blind woman called Elsa Farey was cast as Helena. From memory I asked her if she was going to play Helena blind, and she said “well I am blind Jenny.” I asked if Helena the character is blind? “No of course she’s not blind, there’s nothing in the script Jenny that says she is blind, but what I will bring to it is my blind sensibility and how I move around the set. I can’t change it, that is me and that is how I will be.” Elsa knew it was eight steps to the settee, four steps left, four steps right, she knew her layout and stage management. If they got that settee one centimetre out, she’d say “excuse me, can this be re-set?” She was on it. What she brought to the role was a stillness and quality of listening that she had and that started to become embodied within the character. So, we don’t change things, but as we engage with the character and the manifestation, the changes happen automatically.

I can relate to what you say about adapting the stage more than the script because in a production of Oliver at a mainstream school, I played Mr Bumble who runs the orphanage and the director had never worked with anyone with a visual impairment. So, as well as counting steps, he also gave Mr Bumble a ‘fag’, a small boy who took notes for him, and looked as though he was taking notes for me, but was actually making sure I didn’t fall over props.

JS: I think as blind or visually impaired people, I think your sense of space on the stage can be greater than sighted people. We had a guy named James O’Driscoll in our play ‘Whiter than Snow’ and the set was quite a high-up round structure which came apart in different formations. Nails were hammered in around the edges so James could feel where the edge was but he knew his way around that stage better than any of us. He knew, he remembered it all, and we’d all go “oh, thank God for you James”.

I think you have to be able to quickly get a sense of your surroundings, your parameters and then give yourself the permission to be free within that. Sometimes I think fully sighted people don’t see the parameters and therefore get lost, and they don’t stay focused. There’s something about how we learn from each other with our different sensory impairments; every person with their own impairment has a perspective of seeing the world, of entering theatre – it is a fascinating process.

Read more from my interview with Jenny and how the Graeae Theatre is promoting inclusion in the theatrical arts in Issue 2 of STRiVE.

Written by Robert Wood

About Robert

Photo of Robert Wood

Photo of Robert WoodRobert is 20 years old and after spending the first five years of his life in Kent, he moved to the island of Borneo where he lived for 14 years. In Brunei, Robert attended an international school and was the youngest lead role in a school play, at the age of 6. Performing Arts has remained his passion to this day. When he lost his sight due to a hypothalamic brain tumour, Robert had to develop his own methods in order to pursue his passion for acting, writing and singing. Working with directors, he was able to play parts that were adjusted to fit his visual needs.

Subsequently, Robert trained to run acting workshops for visually impaired actors and those with additional needs. This resulted in a great deal of self growth as he had to be flexible and adapt the way that he taught in order to engage the VI students and successfully enable them to overcome any feelings of inadequacy, and build their self-esteem and technical skills.

As a VICTA Young Ambassador, Robert intends to research and publicise accessible opportunities for young VI people. His aim is for everyone to be supported to achieve their full potential and ensure that no one is side-lined due to impairments; for the world to embrace young VI people and optimise their opportunities to smile and to shine.

Read the full issue one STRiVE E-Magazine:  http://bit.ly/StriveIssue1

 

 

Aquabats Autumn Programme

Aquabats Autumn Programme

Aquabats Sports and Social Club for the Blind

Registered Charity: 1076921

Aquabats is a mixed ability club meeting in and around London for a variety of sports and social events.

Website: http://www.aquabats-social.org/

Aquabats Sports and Social Club has published their programme up to December and it runs as follows:

4 Oct – Quiz at the Lucas Arms, 245A Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross,  London WC1X 8QY.  Event starts at 7.00pm in the upstairs function room.  You can bring along your own questions.  We will be eating beforehand at 5.00pm downstairs.

25 Oct – Ten Pin bowling at Queensway.  Please meet at Queensway on the Central Line at 6.30pm leaving at 6.45pm.

1 Nov –  Event at the Comedy Club in Angel.  Please meet at Angel at 6.30pm leaving at 6.45pm.

8 Nov –  Swimming at Stratford.  Please meet at Stratford at the end of the Jubilee Line. Platforms 14 and 15 on the concourse at 6.30pm, leaving at 6.45pm.

22 Nov – Ten Pin bowling at Lewisham.  Please meet at Lewisham D.L.R at 6.30pm leaving at 6.45pm.

6 Dec –  Swimming at Stratford, details as above.

Sat 15 Dec – Christmas Meal at the Change of Horses, 87 Farnborough High Street, Farnborough, Kent BR6 7BB

Tel:  01689 852949. Details of how to register will be sent once the menu comes out in October.  All you will need to do is to register your choice of menu and you will be told what to do.

Contact Aquabats: online form link here:  http://www.aquabats-social.org/contact

Join the Aquabats,  London’s vision impaired social club

If you are visually impaired and you live in London or the south east and you have an interest in sport and other social activities then you might like to join the aquabats sports and social club for blind people. In the summer time, our sporting activities include, rowing, dragon boating, canoeing and out door swimming. Social activities include narrow boat trips and barbecues. During autumn and winter, we have climbing, abseiling and 10 pin bowling Also when it is possible, we go to the Gym in Holloway prison.

For more information, call Aquabats on 07990695755, or email Keith de Jersey.

 

Extant’s Opens Doors Project!

Extant's Opens Doors Project!

Extant Opens Doors to Opportunities in the Arts

The Open Door Project funded by Greater London Fund for the Blind is the first step on the ladder of arts opportunities, delivered by Extant for individuals with a visual impairment living within London.

The project aims to provide a concrete series of experiences in different art forms and contribute to relevant information on how to forge a potential career within the industry.

It is envisaged that once motivation and engagement are embedded within individuals, they’ll continue to be connected with Extant while having direct access to information on internal and external arts opportunities.

Since July 2018, Extant has forged a partnership with the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) to support the Open Door Project. The highly scintillating Comedy Workshop delivered by professional artists Georgie Morell and Tom Skelton gave 10 visually impaired young people the chance to laugh, improvise, devise and understand the skills and talent required for this area of the arts.

The Open Door Project has two upcoming workshops delivered in partnership with RSBC

  1. Knowledge and Understanding of Podcasting and YouTube/Vlogging with Georgie Morell on Saturday, 13th October from 11 am – 4 pm
  2.  Motivational Speaker Workshop delivered by 4 exceptional professional Visually Impaired artists, including Extant’s own Artistic Director Maria Oshodi. Wednesday, 24th October from 10.30 am – 1.30 pm

If you are an individual or organisation and are interested in the above information, including attending the workshops, please contact Extant’s Participation Programme Manager Jodie Stus. Either via email jodie@extant.org.uk or via phone 02078203737.

© Extant Theatre Company, 28 August 2018

 

Help Improve AD in Museums!

Help Improve Audio Description in Museums

Are you a blind or partially sighted person who would like to help make museums and galleries more accessible? If so, we would love to hear from you!

What is the study about ?

A museum audio descriptive (AD) guide combines a description of an art work or object with factual background information. Although it is offered in many museums and galleries, very little research has looked at people’s experience of audio description. Researchers from the University of Westminster are looking at experiences of recorded AD for a series of photos, taken from the collections of the Museum of London.

We are looking for people with a visual impairment to take part. We are interested in all perspectives – whether you visit museums often or never ; whether or not you frequently experience AD or have never heard AD.  Your participation will contribute to the development of important understanding about what makes successful AD, and about its potential for use more widely across the museum sector.

What will I need to do?

We will ask you to listen to descriptions of 8 photographs through headphones. Afterwards, we will ask you some questions about your experience and what you thought of it. This stage should take around 1 hour.

One month later, we will ask you to complete a follow up questionnaire (which you can do at home), again asking about your thoughts and experiences. This questionnaire should take about 30 minutes or so.

We will offer you a range of options to complete the questionnaire to ensure that it is fully accessible.

Where and when is the study?

The first part of the study will take place in central London. Travel expenses can be covered – please contact the researcher, Rachel Hutchinson, to discuss further. The second part will be emailed (or can be carried out by telephone). We are looking for people to take part starting in September and dates are available to reserve now.

Rachel will also be running the study at Venue:  Pocklington Hub , Entrance D Tavistock House South, Tavistock Square, Kings Cross, London WC1H 9LG  on Monday October 1st and Monday October 29th.

How do I sign up?

Please contact the researcher, Rachel Hutchinson, on rachelsarahhutchinson@gmail.com or on 07816244469

We are also recruiting sighted participants for this study, so if you have friends or family who may be interested then they are very welcome to get in touch too.

As a thank you for your participation, we would like to offer all participants a £15 shopping voucher.

The University of Westminster is working in collaboration with the Thomas Pocklington Trust and VocalEyes for this study.

 

Getting a job’ by Michael Alford

Getting a Job by Michael Alford

“Getting a job,” you say, “That seems an awful long way away for me; I’m still in education.”

original post on the victa.org.uk website

This may be true for many of the teenagers and young adults using VICTA’s services, but it comes on faster than you think. Starting your first job hunt can be a harsh jolt as reality sets in. Employers, just like employees, have their own interests and expectations, and convincing them that you have all the skills to succeed, not just the academic skills, can be a real challenge at the best of times. And having a visual impairment doesn’t make things any easier.

Michael on his way to his job in Bristol
Michael on his way to his job in Bristol

Many people don’t know what it is like to work with a VI person and much less in the workplace. In addition to the obvious question, ‘can this person do the job to the required standards?’ other questions will be asked. Can this person do the job at all? What support will they need? How much will it cost to make the necessary adjustments? How should I treat them?

Such questions won’t always be asked outright. The VI job seeker needs to know and be able to answer them without being asked. A clear plan of action is needed to convince both employer and even the VI employee that they can succeed in the workplace. This article aims to get blind and partially sighted young people started on planning their workplace accessibility strategies, and also demonstrate to both VI and non-VI alike that visual impairment needn’t be a barrier to a successful career.

Getting Support

Getting support

While many blind and partially sighted people of working age reportedly linger on unemployment lists, many successfully gain and retain employment, even with deteriorating sight levels. The difference lies mainly in the amount of support made available. Arguably, there are very few jobs that the visually impaired cannot do and these are mainly those requiring medical examinations, such as driving or heavy manual labour.

A glance through the RNIB Report entitled The Jobs Blind and Partially Sighted People Dopublished in 2015, reveals some surprising facts about the range of roles and sectors available to the visually impaired. Assisted by ever sophisticated technology and support services, it is not uncommon to find the visually impaired working in the scientific field, as healthcare professionals, within IT and finance as well as the more expected administrative and clerical roles.

A number of charities and organisations provide advice and support to the visually impaired about getting into work. They range from charities catering for all disabilities such as Scope, to those catering specifically for those with sight loss, for example RNIB and even a few focusing on disabilities in the workplace (Blind in Business).

A few of the more important things to know are listed below.

  • All employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. This covers a wide variety of support including basic specialist equipment such as assistive software, large print keyboards and magnification and/or lighting equipment. However, this obligation is only valid if they are informed of any disabilities that might require reasonable adjustments before the employment contract is signed.
  • For requirements beyond reasonable adjustments, the UK government offers an ‘Access to Work’ scheme, which provides finance for those adjustments which are not considered reasonable, such as a sighted assistant, or transport to and from work if public transport is impractical or impossible (the recipient would have to pay a contribution towards this).
  • RNIB offers a VI specific Work Place Assessment. This is an assessment of the workplace and requirements of the role by a support professional, who can recommend equipment and support services based on the nature and level of the employee’s sight.
  • Advice and support on job searching, applications, CVs and interviews is provided by a number of organisations. I believe such support is invaluable without even considering the impact of a visual impairment.

The User Experience

The ‘user experience’

So, what is it like at ground level for those with sight loss navigating the many challenges of a career? A recent desktop survey conducted for the purpose of this article identified a wide variety of strategies used by VI employees to cope and succeed in the workplace. As a cautionary note, responses have been limited to those in contact with either VICTA or those involved in its work, so are not necessarily indicative of the wider UK VI population, but it is hoped that they give a good idea of the topic in question.

In terms of support at work, given the wide range of support that reasonable adjustmentscovers, many of those VI employees surveyed reported that they have managed to cope on the support offered by their employer alone. Having said that, Access to Work does have a significant role to play in providing support beyond what is expected of employers, especially around travel. In addition, a few respondents commented on the need for creativity and flexibility when accessing jobs that might otherwise seem impossible for those with sight loss.

Many visually impaired people find themselves working in the public or non-profit sectors. This might be explained by the fact that these sectors are more focused on delivering value to society and are thus more accommodating of those with specific needs. For those within the private sector, larger organisations offer the best technical support, as arguably they have more resources to make the necessary adjustments. Smaller organisations came out top for emotional support.

While it would be fair to conclude that there are opportunities for visually impaired workers in all sectors, a number of respondents stressed the importance of discussing a visual impairment early in the recruitment process. They suggest that this helps with interview arrangements and ensures that the expectation of reasonable adjustments is fixed before any contract is signed. However, this is a highly contentious issue, with some arguing that such a declaration can introduce an element of bias during the recruitment process.

As with many aspects of life, a career is what you make of it. While many people don’t always know the appropriate way to work with a VI person, most are willing to help. Having the confidence to ask for what is needed is vital. This applies both to the professional and social side of working life. Most survey respondents said that they received satisfactory support from their employers and were able to engage effectively, albeit with some assistance from colleagues, in the social side of work life.

Conclusion

Conclusion

The challenges of finding employment as a visually impaired person may never go away completely but with the right support the opportunities are almost as numerous as those for fully sighted people. When searching for work, I found the advice of specialist services invaluable. Especially those who understood the recruitment process and could advise me on how best to present and discuss my disability. And I would argue that those who refuse employment on the grounds of disability, or don’t make adjustments during the recruitment process, might not be the best employers to work for anyway. Do not let your visual impairment be a barrier and don’t be afraid to tell a prospective employer that you have ambition.

Do these findings reflect your own journey into to employment? We would love to hear your comments or any further advice you can share in the comments at the end of this article.

Written by Michael Alford

About Michael

Michael was born and raised in South Africa, where he was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia. He moved to the UK with family three and a half years ago and here continued his education, completing his A-levels last year. He enjoys music and is an enthusiastic drummer/percussionist and organist and has played a significant part in his school’s cultural life.

When Michael joined VICTA as an ambassador he was looking for an accounting apprenticeship and has since secured a post as a Business Administration Apprentice at Bristol City Council. Michael ultimately hopes to run his own business. Michael applied to join the VICTA Young Ambassador programme as he felt it would be an exciting opportunity to take on a different challenge and learn some new skills other than those acquired during his formal education. He hopes this will be a valuable addition to his CV and support him towards finding the right job. It also presented an opportunity for him to make his contribution to improving understanding and opportunities for the visually impaired in the workplace.

Michael hopes that his education and previous experiences will allow him to be an effective contributor to this exciting venture, and moreover, looks forward to the experience he will gain from being part of it.

Visit Michael’s LinkedIn profile here >

Read the full issue one STRiVE E-Magazine:  http://bit.ly/StriveIssue1