As an ex-teacher, I’ve always been passionate about allowing the voices of young people to be heard, rather than assumptions be made about their desires, by the adults involved their lives. Too often the young have choices made for them without any consultation, despite being able to make rational decisions about their lives. That is a common problem in society in general, but when it comes to young people who have Special Educational Needs and/ or Disabilities (SEND), that becomes even more the case.
SENDCode is all about empowering young people with SEND, and particularly those who are autistic and socially anxious, and their families, to realise their potential with the opportunities that are available in and around Greater Manchester in the Digital Economy. As you’ll see from the image below, we aim to not only offer direct support for those struggling to engage with education and employment, but also to promote the digital talents of young people we have supported. One of the barriers for many young people is that they feel the education system or recruitment process can seem to focus on finding out what they can't do rather than what they can do, which is why our tagline is Be good at what you're good at!
Most commonly it is the public servants and other professionals who need to be reminded to consider things from a young person’s perspective, but sometimes even parents, who have often battled tirelessly to get the support their children need, have to be encouraged to take a step back and allow their child’s voice to be heard.
Recently I’ve been project managing a video (click here) and social media campaign on behalf of the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium (GMAC) and the GM Learning Disability Delivery Group, to promote positive stories about real people who were succeeding in work, because of the right sort of support being available. In the UK, according to BASE only 5.9% of people with a learning disability (LD) are in employment and only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment, despite between 70 and 80% of both categories wanting to be able to work. No matter how confident a mathematician you are, those numbers just don’t add up, and so our campaign is all about promoting the good practice that is going on around Greater Manchester.
The only way to achieve that was to hear the voices of the people involved, rather than reading lots of statistics and recording heavily polished and rehearsed interviews from those high up in large organisations. Crucially, the thing that was most important to me was that the people making the videos and delivering the social media campaign should have lived experience of what we were trying to achieve. So at the start of the campaign I asked a young freelance content creator, Renardo Jones, whom I’ve been working with for 18 months if he’d be involved in the campaign. He agreed and his video is above, which demonstrates not only his talent, but also his resilience in seeking employment.
As he says in the video, he has recently set up as a Freelance Content Creator in a very competitive sector here in Manchester, so we’ve been working to help him raise funds for the relevant equipment he needs (number one being a new laptop/ Macbook to speed up his editing and avoid the numerous hardware crashes he currently has!). Despite the difficulties encountered during the Covid 19 lockdown and the difficulties with his somewhat underpowered laptop, Renardo has shown tenacity and resilience in ensuring all the videos in the campaign are completed on time. He has a recently launched a GoFundMe campaign for a new laptop to help him level the playing field with his competitors, which you can support here.
We also worked with Ben Simpson a local videographer in an advisory capacity. He produced the videos about SENDCode and travel training on our website and is also autistic. As you will see from his website, he is an accomplished public speaker, sharing his story with parents, young people and professionals. He is also currently considering joining our Board of Directors, giving us an embedded neurodiverse perspective in all we do. The last piece of our jigsaw was Beck who is working with Digital Advantage on an extended work placement from high school. His blog speaks for itself.
Once I’d recruited the three of them I instantly had the voices of young people from Manchester who have been through the education system and were now thinking about employment or already seeking it. They could give me a different perspective to my own, which is something that is crucial for authenticity. The team did, however, present me with a problem - being all male, but as you'll see if you watch the videos we've had input from women such as the amazing Leena from BBC Cape, Janet the mother of Mohamed, Rose the CEO of SharpFutures, Penny and Lisa at ABL Health who have supported many LD and ASC colleagues, and most recently, the inspirational Sarah (below) from Think Musique.
During The Campaign
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced whilst managing this campaign has been the technical aspects of conducting the filming of interviews, some of them remotely. I’ve previously appeared in front of the camera but stepping behind it has been quite eye opening and to be honest, much easier! I’ve had to adapt my teaching skills to be able to coach interviewees, in order for them to be able to communicate their views and opinions to camera. It has opened my eyes to how many of us are confident in communicating and expressing ourselves in everyday life, but in front of a camera that confidence can disappear instantly, as we play over in our head how we’re going to come across. Thankfully with a little bit of reassurance and planning, the nerves soon subside and the real person comes through.
What I’ve enjoyed most about this campaign has been the reaction of people to the videos. With the release of each video we generate some social media buzz and further raise awareness of how many inspirational disabled people are out there with skills capable of enriching any company. It’s always good to hear the reactions from the people involved in the interviews, their shock at how well they come across but also how proud they are to be involved in the campaign which seeks to open up employment pipelines for people with disabilities.
I'm looking forward like everybody else, to a post CV 19 lockdown, and in particular to a time when GMAC can launch the Employers Forum, hosted by Christos Tsaprounis (his interview below) and Autotrader, to develop a coherent strategy for increasing the number of LD and autistic people employed across Greater Manchester.
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