Some reflective time

It has been a bit of a mixed few weeks, and although there have been a few challenging events, I am happy to be able to end this blog entry with some positive and uplifting activities.  We will get there in a moment!

In our final Women for Peace session, we threw a ball around the circle and remembered all the activities we have done throughout the ten weeks.  Then we were given post-it notes of the activities to lay out on the floor in the order that we completed them.  Following this, we spent time collaging, colouring or sculpting things whilst reflecting on what we will be taking away with us from the course.  For me, the most important lesson learned is to speak out at future events and make my access needs loud and clear from the beginning rather than sitting through what proved to be an inaccessible setting for weeks. Then we were asked the same questions from session 1, including how confident we feel in challenging someone with extremist views, and how much we feel we can increase cohesion in our community.  For this, we were invited to stand in a continuum line, which for me personally was disabling as I was not able to move around like the others and share my opinions with them.  It felt like my comments from the previous week hadn’t been taken on board.

Finally, we worked as a group to think about what we might like to do next.  Individually, we had to write a letter to ourselves to be sent off to us in six months’ time, not totally accessible exercise for someone with a visual impairment (both in terms of writing and reading it)! I was relieved that I had stuck it out for ten weeks, and this was the last one, given my growing feelings of exclusion.  However, to my delight, soon after the course one of the facilitators of Women for Peace arranged to meet me to go through the course.  As we reviewed each of the activities in turn, I informed her how it was or wasn’t inclusive for me and how it could be made inclusive. It was good to discuss my concerns and hopefully make the course more accessible for the future disabled participants, but I strongly feel that our expertise should be valued, and we – as disabled people – should be paid for sharing our knowledge.  Doing anything other than this feels like the organisations, who have excluded us in the first place, are using our marginalisation to their advantage and this does not feel fair. 

As well as the meeting with Women for Peace, I attended the Neurological Users and Carers Forum (NUCF) meeting, at the Leeds Teaching Hospital.  We used to have monthly meetings but due to the ‘cuts’, our meetings are now reduced to quarterly ones.  The group used to have a consultative position and inform service users’ views on the service received, however these days, even in these quarterly meetings, it feels that the staff running the group would much rather if we didn’t turn up and that it is a hassle for them to be present in the meetings.  Plus, as a relatively new member of the forum, the staff are still not used to having me in the group, and often refer to handouts or screen and say: ‘as you can see’.  I had to stop them and ask them to read out the content of the screen once or twice.  So, all in all, like the others, I don’t feel valued but am keen to continue attending the group, because I feel it is through participating in similar groups that we can help to improve the service.  In contrast to the NUCF meeting, in the evening of the same day, I went to the Community Committee meeting held in my Leeds council ward.  I really enjoy going to these, where the councillors address the concerns of community members.  I feel inspired every time I attend these meetings and always want to be involved more in my local community.  

Another positive meeting was held for employers of personal assistants.  A few of us meet up every so often in the Centre for Integrated Living to discuss any issues and PA-related experiences with each other and with a member of staff.  I explained how I did not find the First Aid course inclusive from a disabled person’s perspective.  I was pleased to present the case for needing a First Aid course for the employers as well as Mental Health First Aid course for both employers and employees.  The group agreed with me and the CIL is going to look for trainers for delivering these courses. 

It’s good to have meetings and gatherings that uplift me.  We attended an Armenian Easter-Party for the Armenian community in Leeds and surrounding areas.  It was so lovely to see some old friends and meet new ones, a real taste of home!  For the three hours that we were there, I felt part of a loving, supportive and accepting community and it was beautiful. 

Culturally, I’ve seen a few films lately too.  We went to see Sweet Country, an Australian western, set after the First World War, about an aboriginal man accused of murder.  I found it thought provoking and there were some striking and disturbing parallels with today’s society, as well as it not having a typical Hollywood ending.  A few of us also went to see Lady Bird.  None of us had read about the film and were disappointed to find out it was a film about a teenager.  I didn’t really enjoy the film at all, it’s not my kind of thing.  I could see why there was an Oscar win for supporting actress, but I could have waited to see it on Netflix, rather than having spent money to see it!

Speaking of Netflix, I have been watching programs on energy healing, positive thinking and its links to happiness as well as a series on the nature of God, miracles and death in different religions.  These documentaries have been interesting, and I feel so privileged and grateful to be on the path of working with the healing power of energies.  In our healer Student Development group, we were taught about the basics of mindfulness and practised some guided meditations.  The techniques the workshop leader guided us through managed to completely calm and ground me and leave me in the present.  It was serene.   

Continuing that theme, today we went to the Left Bank Centre for an afternoon of reflection.  The meditation was based around an exhibition on the life cycle that was on for the Easter week in the centre, so we meditated on poems and pieces of literature about birth, youth, maturity and dying.  Having had friends and acquaintances pass away over the last few months, this meditation felt timely for me.  Going through the exhibition and the reflective space, it was good to reaffirm that death and birth are only a breath away and dying leads to rebirth and new possibilities – just as letting go of challenges and discrimination I faced earlier on lead me to more reflective and tranquil time, opening to new opportunities. 

Feeling responsible

We started the previous week’s Women for Peace session by playing a game, where in two teams we were trying to grab the pen first, by passing a message down the line.  Following the game, we discussed how easy it was to pass a message along, but we felt responsible when we had to retract a false message.  Since my hands sometimes jerk uncontrollably, I felt pressured and responsible for our group, luckily our group won! We then talked through two methods of holding difficult conversations with another person – the Dialogue Model, and I Statements.  

The Dialogue model is a useful way to address a comment that a person has made that we don’t feel comfortable with like a disablist comment/opinion. The model follows four stages of ignore, postpone, refer or dialogue in order to take us through a constructive dialogue about a topic.  The ‘I’ Statements, on the other hand, are based on a non-judgemental model, where the person simply expresses how a certain conflict has made her feel and invites the other person to have a constructive discussion.  I preferred the latter as it’s more about owning up to how one feels and taking responsibility for it instead of blaming the other.  Following this, we came up with some conflict scenarios from personal experience in small groups.  We then sat in two lines to do role plays with those topics, using our new dialogue models as tools to resolve the conflicts.  I chose to use the statement ‘You don’t look blind’ for my scenario, which is often expressed in a complimentary way, however this is not received in the same way, at least by me.  While the person role playing my scenario did not appear to realise the importance of ‘blind’ identity to my personhood, when acting out, I think the group understood the message.

In our penultimate Women for Peace session this week, we individually had to come up with four words that define peace, then as a group work together to narrow it down to only four in total.  This resulted in really interesting discussions about how we work together in an environment, which is in principle based on ‘equality’, and how we can apply the lessons learned to our everyday life.  As an ice breaker, we started this session with a game, where one person in the middle said a statement and those who identified with her should have stood up, looking for another chair to sit on.  This game clearly excluded me.  Since playing not fully inclusive games has been the norm almost every session, I was really upset that even after nine sessions things haven’t changed to become more inclusive.  I burst into tears and had to take time out.  I shared my concerns with one of the facilitators and followed it up with writing a feedback email.  While on one hand I feel it shouldn’t be down to me to educate people having felt marginalised already, on the other hand I feel responsible for making people more aware.  I am continuously surprised that most equality trainings are about race, ethnic background and religious beliefs with little attention given to disability.  I wish I wasn’t so accepting and that I was more vocal through the course; perhaps people would have then understood my views better and wouldn’t have accepted some of the non-inclusive practices that have been going on.  Being a minority even in a women’s only group, which is formed around promoting peace is not without its challenges.  I’ll be talking more about this with the facilitators at the next, and last, session.

Outside the course, I participated in a focus group with some other equality hub members about how to make Leeds city centre more accessible.  We had interesting ideas about the things we liked about Leeds and the things we didn’t like. From my perspective, I like open spaces such as Briggate and its pedestrian zone, and what I don’t like is the narrow pavements, especially when people leave their black, green and brown bins blocking the path. We also spoke of an ideal Leeds and what we would like to see.  Recommendations included more lighting and safe spaces, audio signs and information (including bus/train timetables) and wider pavements.  All in all it was a productive session for us, but much depends on how much is taken on board by the council when planning a more accessible Leeds.

We have had another lot of snow this weekend, which restricted my mobility once again.  This meant my plans to walk to the Carriageworks  Theatre to see a play had to be cancelled.  It was difficult enough to go to the relatively nearby Hyde Park Picture House to see ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, a beautiful film depicting a woman’s trauma after losing her daughter, and her fight for justice despite being patronised and discriminated against by her own community.

For the second time, David and I went to the historical talks held in Left Bank Centre.  While the first one we went to was about the Leeds Zoo located on Cardigan Road around 1848, this one was about the Adelphi and Garden Gate pubs, located in Hunslet.  I find the talks really fascinating, shedding a wonderful light on some of the treasures in Leeds, both from Architectural and social historical perspectives.  I’m so looking forward to going to the next one.

Another busy week

At last week’s Women for Peace course, we explored the multiple story narrative.  We started by sitting in four groups of four, all of us writing a fact about ourselves.  Then we had to guess which fact belonged to which person.  When we had more information about another person, it was easier to guess the fact about them, while others were not as easy.  I chose to disclose some information about my spirit animal to show a different narrative to my identity.  I was not sure how the group would react to my fact or if indeed they would take it to be a fact.  Everyone was very matter of fact about it! I wish I had been able to talk about more facts about my life!  I am sure there will be more opportunities for this in the coming weeks.  Then we used a ball of wool to demonstrate how connected we all are, this was done through learning more about each other’s multiple narratives and connecting our feet together. Women for Peace 'ball of string' exercise

Following this, we created a character called Anna and we gave her many different identities/labels.  The idea was to show how a person can have multiple, yet contradictory facets to them, which interact together and shape who they are.  This full information, therefore informs their multiple narratives.  I did not quite enjoy this exercise as it was less structured and the aims of the activity were not clear from the outset.  It was interesting that no one in the group thought about the ‘disabled’ label for Anna (in terms of physical or sensory impairments), and when I suggested Anna having mobility impairment, the group then considered different access barriers and became aware of a new set of dynamics and inequalities. 

Returning to academia, I worked on the second draft for the ‘current issue’ of Disability and Society journal about my experiences of my recent academic trip to Armenia.  While I wanted to write about the disadvantages I faced as an independent researcher during this trip, the editor was more interested in the parallels and contrasts between the Armenian and British education system and recommended some changes accordingly.  Since submitting the first draft I have come across another platform where I can write more fully about my experiences of being an independent academic. Therefore, I decided to dedicate the entire short article for the ‘current issue’ to the exploration of differences and similarities observed in the two countries.  I felt comfortable with this decision knowing that my firsthand experience will be dealt with in more detail in another publication.

On Thursday we were suppose to see a throat singing band from Mongolia in the Harold Assembly Rooms, called Huun Huur Tu.  I was so looking forward to seeing this as we have seen some really good world music gigs in this venue.  Sadly we were informed on the Thursday morning that the concert was cancelled. I was gutted. I love going to the Howard Assembly Room, it is such an incredible venue, it’s hard to believe there are often big musicals going on in the Grand Theatre across the hall! Such a contrast. I have met some wonderful new friends by going to these kind of events. Music can really bring us together, and this was demonstrated even more as part of my healing work.

The healing centre was busy on Friday and we were short of staff.  I do not know where the time went as apart from a 20 minutes break, I was giving healing all afternoon.  I felt confident and happy to make a difference in people’s lives, such a privilege.   Last Saturday I met some students and some full healers for a few hours of healing.  We listened to some healing music from across the globe followed by some time to chat and support.  I felt encouraged and sustained talking to friends.

We finished watching the Human Planet series, truly an amazing and a very interesting program.  It has made me think though whether if we are ever able to live ethically without exploiting or harming our planet or other living creatures including humans? I will certainly live even more mindfully. We also went to see ‘The Post’ last Sunday followed by a Q and A with Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom at the Hyde Park Picture House.  The film highlighted important points about ‘good’ journalism including the publication of the truth and the goals of journalism, which are pertinent to today’s media obsessed world.

I spent the rest of the weekend seeing some old friends, whom I haven’t seen for a very long time.  I wish time and energy weren’t such big barriers in my life, preventing me from doing what I enjoy.