Image of the delegates standing up in the hall and waving towards the camera.

Positive Approaches, Practical Outcomes Conference

About Visual Impairment

Thanks Gwyn McCormack of Positive Eye and Susan Cook for inviting me to the wonderful Positive Approaches – Practical Outcomes Conference that I attended two weeks ago in Liverpool.

I knew there would be people working with blind children, but didn’t know much more. It was another opportunity for Access2books, and a kind invitation from Gwyn, to promote our books.

Image of Gwyn standing in front of the projector screen, dressed in a black cardigan and green dress, addressing delegates at the conference in Liverpool.

Gwyn addressing delegates at the Positive Approaches – Practical Outcomes Conference in Liverpool.

What a joyful and motivated conference this was. It started with Sue managing order and Gwyn managing ‘positive bringing together’ in her usual naturally inviting way.

Martin and Judith were back up – making sure everything was working for everyone – and they did.

Well if you want to be stimulated and learn a lot of practice from those that DO then I recommend the Positive Approaches, Practical Outcomes Conference.

RNIB‘s [Royal National Institute of Blind People] Manager, Julie Jennings, talked us through latest legislation ‘Adopting a Key Working Approach through the Children and Families Act’.

Image of Julie Jennings, dressed in a black sleeveless top and floral skirt, standing to the left of the projector screen, and addressing delegates at the conference.

Julie Jennings delivering her keynote speech ‘Adopting a Key Working Approach through the Children and Families Act’.

For me, the emphasis on handling change in work practice, and an increased focus on emotional well-being and challenges and clarity of new practice caught my attention.

She gave me and our books some time and after a glance at A Squash and Squeeze by Julia Donaldson, she was generous enough to agree to help me understand new pathways for these books after the conference.  Result!

Front cover of the accessible version of A Squash and a Squeeze which was written and illustrated by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and produced by Access2books in Giant Print and Braille. In the picture, the little old lady is wearing a blue dress which is covered by a white apron. She is surrounded by her hen, goat, pig and black and white cow.

I also met Charlotte Mellor from Through Scarlet’s Eyes: it is a website serving as a family support network for visually disabled children.

Charlotte is calm, modest and a quiet but high achiever. She is fortunate enough to make a balance of family and work life.

She created Through Scarlet’s Eyes website when Scarlet was born, a baby with no sight so far.

Charlotte has a quiet but noticeable attraction and has made a great place for parents to share and talk and has achieved fame in this world of visually impaired people’s services and support.

We will work together, maybe a competition for parents with book prizes, or her members may want to join in our project to distribute more books to visually impaired children and parents, and link them up to places they can get more titles.

To my great benefit I’ve got Charlotte in my network – lucky me.

Karen Newell who is involved in popular and powerful Facebook campaigns like #toylikeme and Playful Explorations for Children with Visual Impairments was dynamite.

Image of Karen Newell dressed in a sleeveless blue floral dress  and addressing delegates at the conference. On the white projector screen is projected a slide which reads  - Karen Newell a.k.a. Fred's Mum.

Karen Newell also known as Fred’s Mum presenting her keynote speech and acquainting the audience with the aims, objectives and the nucleus of her work.

She is a woman who demands we are included in the mainstream. Her mission started after she found out her baby was blind.

She is fearless and abounds energy. Her platforms are for parents with disabled children and has specialised in creating fun and joy through things like production of toys that show disabled people ‘in the world’.

She had a dolly girl (a white stick user) on display and showed us a book her son, who is definitely into tactile access, created with friends and  published Off to the Park – illustrated by Stephen Cheetham, and published by Child’s Play.

A hall full of delegates, standing up and holding up placards written #Toylikeme

Karen goes for the big stuff corporate toy makers, stars to sponsor her. She is a woman who is easily inspiring.

I am looking forward to networking with Karen. I hope some of her phenomenal energy seeps through to me.

Dr Gail Bailey spoke about ‘Parental Partnership and an Introduction to emotional support for families’.

Gail is an Educational Psychologist for disabled children and their services.

I was captivated listening to her experience and advice to VI teachers and key workers about the psychological and consequent development themes to address emotional and psychological well-being for the children and their families.

I learnt more about parenting than I ever knew – shame I could have done with that.

The information was so useful to all parents and I recommend hearing what Gail has to say, if the chance is there.

And, to top it all she is a woman who uses our books to read to her grandson – high five!

Image of Eileen chatting with Teresa Dominic and a colleague about her books.

I attended Gwyn’s workshop, ’Developing Visual Skills’. She also had loads of toys that all the children in my family and myself would love: sparkling, squeaking, doing the splits, rubbery, floating, moving….

Image of Eileen Finch from Access2books and Gwyn sharing the stage and addressing the delegates.

Eileen Finch from Access2books sharing the stage with Gwyn from Positive Eye.

I didn’t want to give them back.  Alongside a really clear, simple 5 step process and activities for the work of measuring sensory capacity. Thank you Gwyneth, I loved it.

I have extended my network, made new friends and colleagues, made new clients, gained insight into the VI children’s development world, and most importantly everyone there was definitely something of interest and benefit to everyone else.

It did make me think about my experience and raise questions for blind parents and guardians for me….

When I found out I had a progressive eye condition in the 1980’s, there was no support offered to work with my non-disabled children aged 6, 2 and a baby.

I acquired this condition mid having 3 children: I know the oldest got more from me than the youngest.

Image of Eileen Finch addressing delegates at the conference while they look on.

Eileen Finch from Access2books acquaints the delegates with her project Access2books which produces accessible books in giant print and Braille mainly for people with visual impairments and others.

Development and education involve simple activities, sharing reading, writing, drawing, etc.

I remember as my sight got worse reading with a magnifier was such a drag and not a lot of pleasure any more.

So things are hard to do when your sight deteriorates and when you’re inexperienced at being disabled you don’t know what to do: you learn about access and networks and that you can be yourself, not the stereotype.

I’ve not heard too much about supporting disabled parents of non-disabled children or disabled children – the work is that I know about so far is definitely focused on the disabled child.

Fascinatingly, I got loads of support to continue my job – RNIB Employment Services did me proud and consequently I have been working all my life since then.

Image of the delegates standing up in the hall and waving towards the camera.

So Gwyneth and Sue – what a great conference at St Vincent’s School for Blind and Partially Sighted Children, a most suitable venue and very welcoming people.

Many thanks and look forward to the next one.