The irony of inclusive conferences and junior league difficulties.


Today I got to go to TEDxNorwichED – second year running too. I have to say, it was generally a lot better than last year, but again like last year, I left before the last group of speakers came on. Like last year, I faced the same barriers which led to my leaving early too.


Last year I felt the speakers were, in the main, ableist. We did have 2-3 speakers actively advocating for the education of all like Alison Peacock, but for others, it seemed that the fact that some learners need things that are different from, or in addition to, their peers seemed to not register. It wasn’t just me feeling this way, it was also noticed by other inclusionists. This year we not only had speakers who have cerebral palsy (Joan Latta) and autism (Callum Brazzo), but we also had an extremely moving and harrowing account of childhood abuse by Jaz Ampaw-Farr, and Natalie Scott’s impassioned speech for all children to be educated – even if it meant she had to walk in human shit (literally, as a teacher in a refugee camp with no facilities). True determination against dreadful hardships.


We had neuro-diverse, socially diverse, colour diverse, age diverse and specialism (or otherwise) diverse speakers this year. The whole thing was filmed and can be viewed online. I did not agree with it all. There was a sprinkling of pseudo-science, you know the type where it starts with some researched facts, but also includes large dollops of anecdotal nonsense/urban myth. There was also the performance so rehearsed you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an actor delivering a monologue in EastEnders. I can’t criticise as it may be that’s the only way the person can give their performance. Like all the speakers, how ‘good’ they are comes from your own viewpoint and personality. I should have asked Natalie and Amjad for a selfie – or at least took a picture of Natalie’s killer heels!


Like last year though, I found it ironic that I should be attending a conference dedicated to education, to inspiring others, to inclusion and yet I sat there excluded. I have no idea how many people were there, a few hundred at least. I believe the venue takes up to 500 and there weren’t many empty spaces – but yet I was again excluded for exactly the same reasons as last year. It’s a lonely place to be, surrounded by people. Being dairy-free, is, apparently, tough. In terms of disability and exclusion, it’s pretty much junior-league stuff but no less annoying. What the caterers had done was to throw a load of junk in a bowl (salad and cold veg), shoved on a dressing of some kind and decided that would do for ‘the others’, all of them, no matter their need. Everyone else dined on appetising, chunky goodie-filled ciabatta. Not just one type of sandwich/roll, not one choice of filling, but many choices. All that bread, but NONE without filling, not one solitary slice. How hard would that have been? Cake and tarts were served later – but not for ‘the others’. For us, no choice. Fruit or nothing. Breakfast was barely any better. At least I got bacon, no bread, of course. Hungry, I stood outside. Excluded. Sulking too. Unhappy.


Callum talked about being autistic and standing up and making a fuss. Yet, my fuss fell on deaf ears. No food means no painkillers. No painkillers meant I had to leave.


We talk of learning difficulties, learning differences, disability, colour, gender, glass ceilings, inspiring and improving lives, but the basic need for food? Should I have bought my own? Should a person in a wheelchair bring their own ramp? How about the person with autism, should they be given a choice of seats or told to sit in ‘the special area’? Should the person with learning difficulties be assigned to trolley collection when they want to work the tills? Should I have brought my own packed lunch when everyone else gets choice?


If you watch the event online, listen to the speakers talk, the irony of my situation will not go unnoticed. Junior league, yes. But for a great many of us junior-leaguers, it’s those tiny little adjustments that can have the biggest effects.



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