I learned stories from my two grandfathers, one of which was a professor of English, who developed my taste for leather-bound volumes on damp shelves of old bookshops; the other a merchant seaman, and captain of one of the last sailing ships, told me yarns of his adventures.
Having started life as an English teacher, I turned into a speech and language therapist, working with children and adults who have severe communication difficulties- using sign language and gesture, voice output communication aids, and now legends and personal storytelling for empowerment and inclusion.
I began using poetry and story in special schools in the 1980s, and worked with teachers and other Speech and Language therapists to explore strategies for making literature accessible. Ways into Literature, won the NASEN/TES award in 1999
After doctoral research into sign language acquisition by children with learning disabilities, I worked at the London Institute of Education, then City University, leaving to direct a project in community storytelling which is now an award winning charity – Openstorytellers.
My international work has includes conferences, keynotes, training and performance in Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, Malta and South Africa.
What keeps me going…
I believe passionately in the value of the lives of all individuals, linked to each other through our shared stories. My main teachers have been the people I have met who are labelled as different because of their apparent disabilities.
Tamara taught me how to analyse the use of sign - and the meaning of grammar
Jonathan taught me that everyone has the potential to use communication creatively
Mandisa taught me how to stay in the moment
Kim and Dan taught me to use anger as a campaigning tool
Sayaka taught me how to use silence in storytelling
Brian is still teaching me how to accept failure and criticism with humility and a sense of humour (I’m a slow learner…)
Francois and his mum taught me to keep hope going beyond the confines of this world
I work as a storyteller, trainer and researcher in disability education, health and social care and the arts, specializing in narrative and story, communication, oracy in the curriculum and disability issues. I’m an honorary Senior Lecturer at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent.