Charlotte Pearson talks to a charity aims to make you rethink how you see people with disabilities.
Challenging and changing perceptions is at the heart of what JustDifferent aims to do.
Set up in 2008 by Toby Hewson, the Walberton charity provides workshops in schools to talk to primary-age children and teenagers about disability, prejudice and the importance of inclusion.
It also provides employment opportunities for those with disabilities who may struggle to find a job elsewhere.
The idea was born after Toby, who has cerebral palsy, entered the world of work where he was faced with obstacles and decided something needed to change.
Over eight years the charity has carried out more than 5,000 workshops and talked to more than 170,000 young people and children.
Toby gets to travel all over the country to deliver these workshops and motivational talks, with many of the schools being based in the South East, South West, and London.
“When the children come in they have their heads down and you can tell they feel anxious or nervous,” explains Karen McLachlan, fund-raiser at JustDifferent. “They aren’t sure where to look.”
“The children are given a chance to have a go in a wheelchair,” says Toby. “And use a voice synthesizer which I use to talk. They find out how it works so it becomes more familiar to them.
“I love it when I see their faces change after the session.
“We always have a Q&A section where they can ask any questions and the presenter will answer frankly.”
Both Toby and Karen explain how these vary depending on the age group.
“I overheard a group of teenage girls wondering if Toby had a girlfriend,” reveals Karen. “I said for them to ask him, but they were nervous so I did it for them.
“There seems to be this preconception that people with disabilities can’t have boyfriends or girlfriends, get married or have children.”
Whereas the questions the younger children ask are entirely different.
“They ask what my favourite colour is, or my favourite food,” explains Toby.
Initially set up with Toby’s own money with four friends, the charity now costs £200,000 a year to run which is fund-raised and achieved through applying for grants.
The workshops cost £400 a day and the presenters, of which they currently have four, are employed by JustDifferent and receive a wage.
“We give them confidence and skills for employment,” reveals Karen. “But that then means they usually leave to get a job elsewhere which is great for them.”
Over the course of a day the team will run as many workshops as they can, with key stage one and two having half an hour sessions and key stage three and four having hour long sessions.
“If we can change their attitudes when they are young it can lead to better tolerance as they get older,” says Karen.
“It is about showing children that everybody is different if they have a disability or not, it is what keeps us all interesting.”
Toby is also keen that the workshops are fun and engaging, with trust exercises such as children feeding each other yoghurt.
By the feedback and the amount of children the charity has reached it seems that Toby and team are making a difference one workshop at a time.
– To make an early and positive impact on the education of children in disability and difference.
– Deliver interesting, informative and eye opening workshops on disability and difference to children and young people aged four to 18 years old.
– Provide training and employment opportunities for disabled people.
– Educate parents and teachers regarding disability and difference.
What participants have said…
“When I was little, I was scared of people with disabilities. But now that you have shown me that you are the same, just different, you’ve changed me.”
Year 6 pupil participant
“The workshop was a real learning experience for me and the children and they are the best way to gain an understanding for children and adults alike.”
“Outstanding presentation, very informative and engaging for all pupils. There was excellent adaption for different age groups. Very appropriately pitched and totally changed the views of the pupils. Thank you so much for an inspirational and informative day.”
Year 7 teacher
“We had a workshop at my previous school and it was brilliant; really raised children’s awareness and understanding and totally changed their perceptions. I am looking forward to JustDifferent visiting our school to enable them to have a similar opportunity.”
For more information, visit justdifferent.org
October 9, 2015 Culture and Events