We are the Sharing Our Voices project team: Emily Farmer, Jackie Reeve, and Bill Bayley. Emily and Jackie worked as Project Co-ordinators. Bill worked as Assistant Project Co-ordinator. This post is about what they did.
We have learnt a lot of things working on our project. In March 2020, we were ready to run some in-person history training sessions in a few weeks. That was when Covid-19 came to the UK, and the lockdown was imposed. The lockdown was difficult for everyone. It was difficult for our project too. For the first few months of the pandemic, we created case studies from the Grace Eyre Foundation’s archive. We hoped that the pandemic would stop soon. Grace Eyre has many records of people with learning disabilities who have used their services. Some of these records are from the 1920s! Some of our case studies are on the website.
As summer came nearer, the lockdown carried on. We could not train people in person. We ran some Zoom sessions with people. These people were booked onto the training before the lockdown. Some people with learning disabilities adapted to Zoom very quickly. They enjoyed the training. These people helped with our interviews and our website. Other people found the training hard. These people found Zoom hard. Some people were Deaf or hard of hearing. They found it difficult to hear over Zoom. Other people found it hard to understand the information. Some training was more difficult over Zoom. For example, we tried to run a history quiz over Zoom, but people found it difficult. People found it easier to talk about a person’s story from history together. We changed our training to talk more about people’s stories together.
We also supported some people to attend the Zoom sessions in person. I supported deaf people with the Zoom sessions in person. I had to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Some people had support workers or carers helping them. Good support helped people with learning disabilities to understand the training. Sadly, some support workers gave people a tablet, then left them on their own. This made it very difficult for people who could not hear well. Because of the pandemic, some care homes did not want me to support their service users in a socially distanced way.
Some people were not able to attend the training when it changed from in-person to online. One carer did not want to help the person they cared for to use technology. Sadly, there are many people who do not have technology. This meant they have been isolated from their friends and from services during the pandemic. Some people’s internet connection was not good enough for Zoom to work on their computers. Sadly, we could not support these people to take part. Hopefully one day a decent internet connection will be seen as a basic right. This would mean people were less isolated.
After the training, we interviewed some carers and staff members. We also interviewed Shared Lives users over Zoom. Interviewing people with learning disabilities over Zoom has been harder. Some people found the idea of an interview about your life difficult. They didn’t understand why someone might want to hear about their lives. We had to build up trust with these people over a few sessions. Over time, this helped people to talk more about their experiences. The lockdown ended, and this helped us to interview more people with learning disabilities in person. Interviewing in person helped us to have good quality interviews.
We chose quotes to use on the website from the interviews. We created subtitles. We edited audio and video clips together. This took us a lot of time. We did this because people with learning disabilities asked for this. This has made our website more accessible.
Some people we trained joined our website group. They gave feedback on our website. Some members have written blog posts for us. Other members were interviewed. Feedback from the website group, as well as Grace Eyre’s easyread group, has been largely positive. They felt the website is easy to understand and the layout is accessible. Our website designer suggested a computerized voice reading out the website, that was accessible for people using screen readers. However, many people with learning disabilities find reading hard, but do not use screen readers. The website group wanted to hear a human voice reading the content. One member with a visual impairment helped make the audio button more visible. We are happy to have the resources to do this. We hope to see other learning disability websites record audio guides too.
We also ran history film training sessions. We trained people in history skills and film-making. Most volunteers are from the Grace Eyre Friendship Group. This is an online social group for people with learning disabilities. This meant most people were able to use Zoom easily. The sessions are going well so far. People related history content to their own personal lives. People talked about attitudes and barriers that still need to change. People wanted the film to be about disabled people today. You can read about the film here.
We have met up with some film volunteers in person. However, this has not included most of the group. The transition from training online to in person has been difficult so far. We also plan to travel to nearby areas like Worthing. This would mean we can film people who live in the surrounding areas but don’t feel ready to travel to Brighton yet. You can watch our film trailer here.