By Maureen Phillip- PAMIS Family Support and Development Director
It’s the end of the Edinburgh International Book Festival but for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (pmld) it’s the beginning of a new journey with the festival. It’s a journey that has for the last two years expanded horizons and opened up new and exciting opportunities for people with pmld to be fully included and involved in the festival. Over the last two years PAMIS and ARC Scotland have worked with the book festival in Edinburgh to support them to become a fully inclusive festival that engages and connects with everyone. A fully accessible changing places toilet is in place and this year a disability team were on hand to offer help, advice and assistance if required.
This year the author Philip Ardagh was supported by PAMIS to help people with pmld to enjoy one of his books. Working with authors to support them to design, develop and create a meaningful multi-sensory experience, where everyone engages and interacts with the narrative is rewarding. It’s a wonderful moment to watch people with pmld engage with literature in their own way at an event such as the book festival. It’s also wonderful to watch them teach others how to engage with them.
The lives of people with pmld is limited so much by the unintentional restrictions placed on them by society, and it’s wonderful to see what can be achieved when they are offered the opportunity to experience an event such as the book festival.
Here people can connect with the atmosphere of the festival, safe in the knowledge that their physical needs are met by the provision of a fully accessible changing places toilet, a quiet space if they need it and a disability team who are understanding, flexible and on hand should they require assistance.
With all that in place everyone can then, for 45 mins, connect in their own way, with the literature being presented. For families it is an opportunity to watch their child or young person have the same opportunities to access literature as everyone else. It’s also a chance for them to connect with other families. For the teachers that come along with children with pmld it’s also an opportunity to connect with the schools programme along with everyone else.
Then there’s the hidden personal challenges that each person might be battling. For the child who feels insecure and afraid of busy environments, who struggles to engage, who is afraid to try new experiences, the book festival is a safe environment that offers the opportunity to expand their world and help them overcome those challenges to make the experience something magical and personal to them. A trip to the book festival offers connection to so many people on so many levels and these opportunities are rare for people with pmld.
So as the Edinburgh International Book Festival ends for this year can I say thank you to everyone involved and to everyone who attended and here’s to more events at the festival next year so the connection can continue to expand and grow as the journey continues.
Wigtown Book Festival in September is the next phase of the literary festival journey so look out for the next update then!
Ola Wojtkiewicz, Creative Learning Manager, Edinburgh International Book Festival:
‘It has been inspiring to work with colleagues from PAMIS both in the run up to the 2019 Edinburgh International Book Festival and during the Festival itself. We worked closely with PAMIS on shaping events for people with additional needs, enabling us to cater for all our audiences and fulfil our ongoing ambition to be an inclusive festival. Having enjoyed hands-on help from PAMIS during specially curated activities for people from the PLMD community we became more aware of how much events like these are needed and appreciated. We received overwhelmingly encouraging feedback from those in attendance and look forward to building on this years’ success in the future.’
Author Philip Ardagh:
‘The Edinburgh Book Festival is always a great opportunity for me to connect with the public, and the special events for people with severe learning disabilities was a new and exciting departure for me. Working with the PAMIS team before and during the events, to offer sessions tailor-made for those specific needs was challenging, extremely rewarding, and FUN. This was my 22nd year at the book festival and one which has led me to take away some wonderful memories. I really hope to do more events at Edinburgh, in conjunction with PAMIS, in the future. Thank you. Maureen, Pat and the team!’
Jill Richardson, Oaklands School:
‘Pine Class at Oaklands School were delighted to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival PMLD Sensory Story presentation with Philip Ardach and Elissa Elwick, who showcased their book, Stick and Fetch Investigate The Wrong End of the Stick. Mr Ardagh told his story with great relish and Ms Elwick drew alongside him (and the story attendees were given copies of the live illustrations)!
It was wonderful to watch the reactions of the learners. Each one had the opportunity to experience the story at their own level – sometimes listening and looking, and sometimes one or the other. One pupil began the show with ear defenders and watched the telling of the story, and another pupil who has a visual impairment, just listened… and giggled.
Each member of the class was carried away in their own way by the telling of the story.
It was also delightful to watch them engage with the props, some overcoming a level of tactile defensiveness to do so. Doing this is beneficial to their health and wellbeing and to their social development.
And one learner passed an important milestone in her development when attending the session. Sometimes she attends our school assemblies; sometimes with ear defenders, and sometimes not, as she finds busy environments difficult to manage. But as she was taking part in the story, we managed to take her ear defenders off! She sat and enjoyed the story, and we were able to photograph her exploring the props and she was named Star of the Week for our class.’