I was running an Easy Read training day earlier this month to a group of people from the Council. I had introduced myself as a person who started out as a support worker, moving swiftly into Self-Advocacy for over a decade, and more recently onto Advocacy and business management. We were halfway around the room, doing “introductions”, and someone piped up;
“So, what qualifies you to teach us this?”
I was a bit surprised at the direct and ever-so-slightly confrontational comment. But if a busy person is giving up half of their day to be taught a new skill, they need to know that they have come to the right place. Fair enough. This was my answer:
There is no qualification in “Easy Read”. You cannot learn it quickly and there are no short cuts. I learned gradually; I spent over 10 years working with people who have learning disabilities, developing self-advocacy. I quickly realised that self-advocacy cannot exist without access to information. Without information you are a passive recipient of services. You do not know your rights. You cannot learn from others’ experience. You cannot come together as a powerful voice to change the world.
I got good enough to teach Easy Read by getting it wrong. A lot. But how did I know when I got it wrong? Feedback. And working in a self-advocacy charity was the perfect place to learn from members and colleagues about how to do it right. Every leaflet, every poster, every consultation activity. One document at a time, we got better at it.
I remember making a booklet about Direct Payments. I learned all about the subject, made a very nice booklet, and presented it proudly to a group of people with learning disabilities to get their seal of approval. We read it through together, and at the end I said: “So what do you think this leaflet is trying to tell you?”. Blank looks. Uncomfortable silence. I had failed.
We ditched the booklet and had an animated discussion about Direct Payments instead. I had to take their feedback on the chin and start again. This time, involving the group in planning and designing the booklet from the start. The end result was far better, and we had all learned a lot along the way.
So, back to the original question; what qualifies me to teach Easy Read, when I am not a graphic designer, a writer or even a teacher?
Inviting feedback frequently and acting on it
Being clear about why Easy Read is so important (maybe that’s another blog!)
A passion for simplicity; clear language, uncluttered design
Experience of working for a very wide range of customers/commissioners, on an even wider range of topics
Sheer volume of documents produced; practice makes perfect
Recognition that when you have a useful skill, it is good to share it around!