Alexandra Strick Consultancy

A summer of signings 

I have spent much of Summer/Autumn 2013 enjoying the company of Max as he visited schools and festivals.  

 


Signing off Max the Champion - Winter 2012

Sean and I finally signed off the proofs for our inclusive picture book illustrated by the amazing Ros Asquith.  See you in June 2013, Max the Champion....



Visiting a VI college - June 2012

There's nothing like meeting with children/young people for helping to remind you what your priorities are.  I've just spent an incredible day consulting visually impaired students and their staff at New College Worcester.  The students helped me learn a huge amount about visual impairment, what sorts of books they need, how to write and read braille, the need for more unabridged audio books, how to improve tactile books for very young children....and much more.  I'm looking forward to putting much of my learning into practice on a range of projects over the next few months.  Huge thanks to Cathy Wright and her students.  I've sent them a Braille thank you card and a copy of the brilliant 'Very Busy Spider' (by Eric Carle) with its embossed thread which builds up page by page into a full tactile spider's web at the end.



Happy 20th Birthday Bookstart - June 2012

I was very proud to be a part of the Bookstart 20 celebrations this year.  Bookstart of course gives children a vital early introduction to books, through a pack of baby books and resources.  Based on a very simple but effective idea, Bookstart is now a widely recognised initiative, replicated all around the world.  Although still partially funded by the government, Bookstart needs more support to ensure it continues to go from strength to strength.  I have a huge soft spot for the programme, having been very actively involved since the early(ish) days, when I headed up children's literature and Bookstart work at Booktrust.  We secured funding to develop the pilot scheme into a fully-fledged national programme with support from people like the Basic Skills Agency and Sainsbury's.  Now, many years on, I still work with the Bookstart team as a consultant, particularly on Booktouch (for visually impaired children) and Bookshine (for deaf children).  Bookstart celebrated its birthday with a party at Kensington Roof Gardens this month.  I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time talking to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall about our work and the needs of children with sensory impairment.  Here's to the next 20 years, Bookstart!


Disability in the media - February 2012

All too often I find myself cringing at the way disabled people are portrayed in books - but also on television and in films.  However, even I must admit that there might just have been a few real breakthroughs recently.  The BBC Three documentary about deaf teenagers (Deaf Teens: Hearing World) earlier this month was fascinating - a really well-rounded picture showing families with very different opinions and attitudes to deafness.  My friend Beth Cox has also just drawn my attention to news of a forthcoming 'disability season' from the BBC. Great to see that there are some programmes which are starting to genuinely explore disability in an in-depth way, as opposed to resorting to cheap tokenisim or sensationalism. 


Life with a disabled child - January 2012

I spent a little too much time this morning (considering I am trying to complete a piece of overdue work and write two plans for conference presentations) trying to decide exactly what I felt about an article in today's Daily Mail.  I am still not one hundred percent sure.
 
In the piece, three sets of parents share their experience of discovering that one of their children was going to be disabled and talk about how their lives have been since then.  

On the one hand, the article provides a powerful (and often moving) snapshot of the reality of parenting a disabled child.  It starts with the moment they realised their child might have difficulties, through the periods of denial and 'mourning' to the many demands, challenges and battles they face in everyday life, and (thankfully) some of the joy that the children bring.  

However, on the other hand, I have this uneasy feeling that some of it here and there might inadvertently simply reinforce many people's views - and fears - about disability.  One of the mothers, for example, almost seems to imply that she was somehow 'deceived', as her antenatal tests had suggested that there was no chance at all of her unborn baby having Down's Syndrome.  She tells us how her husband ran out of the room in horror when they found that the child had abnormalities. how their marriage suffered and how she spent the whole of a subsequent pregnancy desperately praying that her next children (twins) would not be disabled - and goes on to say that "luckily they are a bundle of joy".  

The article starts by telling us that the number of children born with some sort of birth defect is currently estimated at 1 in 50. This is a pretty high statistic.  So surely, although we need to be honest and realistic about the challenges involved in bringing up a disabled child, we also need to ensure we do all we can to reduce the fear, stigma, scaremongering and stereotypes associated with it.  Does this article do that?  I am still not convinced. 

Help disabled people fight the welfare reform bill - December 2011

The welfare reform bill is at the report stage in the Lords and there are still several things you can do to influence it.  There are so many things that could be done this festive season in the fight against the welfare reform bill, I thought I'd collate all the actions in one place.

The most important thing to do is to sign Pat's Petition to get the bill paused for reflection. Please sign and share this.



My Middle East Experience - September 2011

I've recently returned from Amman, Jordan, where I was asked to design and deliver a training programme for publishers on my pet subject of making children's books accessible and inclusive.  

When I first received the invitation, I feared it was one of those spam emails, offering a life-changing opportunity in return for bank details and a small deposit.... it really did seem too good to be true, as this is a subject so close to my heart and it can feel like a bit of an uphill struggle getting an audience of more than five minutes with some UK publishers.

So I was delighted when the trip came to fruition, and was overwhelmed that so many publishers from across the Middle East and North Africa were willing to invest three solid days of their valuable time on a training programme on this subject.  

My hosts were the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation (Margo and Susanne from the foundation can be seen in some of the pictures above) and the workshop was part of their Arab Children's Literature Regional Programme, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency.  They kindly gave me the support of a brilliant gem of an assistant trainer in the form of Mayda Freije Makdessi from Beirut.  

Delegates came from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. They included publishers, writers and organisations, so it was a fascinating mix of skills and experience that we had in the room.   The three-day training workshop we designed covered material on disability equality, different forms of disability, before progressing onto the 'main meal' of how books can be made appropriate to different audiences and more inclusive in their imagery/storylines.  In smaller groups, delegates had the opportunity to explore titles from the Arab world and from the UK/US, drawing examples of good practice and ideas for the future.  We collated numerous ideas and action points, which I hope will help shape future books in the Arab world - and back here in the UK, too (if I have anything to do with it!)

Mayda and I wanted to ensure we really made the most of the opportunity to share expertise from different sources, and were delighted that we managed to arrange a live (Skype) link-up with the head librarian of the Al Hadi School for blind and deaf children in Beirut, so that delegates were able to pick her (most substantial) brains.  

Although I was the trainer, I often felt I was learning as much as the delegates!  There were some awe-inspiring levels of knowledge about publishing and/or disability issues.  For example, meeting the likes of Rawan Barakat was unforgettable.  Rawan runs the Raneen Foundation, dedicated to encouraging a love of books amongst children, particularly those who are visually impaired.  To this end, she's currently working to create the largest Arab Audio Library in Jordan, and subsequently the Arab world.  

Another highlight was having the opportunity to visit the inspirational Majdalawi Masterpieces, a bookstore and distributor of quality Arabic children's books. The owner of this family run business are incredibly dedicated and knowledgable, and it was such a pleasure to browse the shelves for treasures.  

As is the way with business trips, I spent most of the five days at the hotel/conference centre, but I was taken to an incredible restaurant one night (Beit Shocair), with stunning views of the city of Amman.  Amman is a very cosmopolitan city in some ways, with a lovely blend of old and new, and a real melting pot of cultures.  I wish I could have seen more - including the famous Petra, of course.  We did manage to escape one evening for long enough to potter around the streets of Amman and buy plenty of the delicious Turkish coffee (infused with spices) and Zatar (the herb which seemed to adorn every delicious meal I had). 

 I could write about my Jordanian experience for hours, but suffice to say, it has left a permanent impression on me, and gives me faith that there are other people around the world with a very real commitment to improving disabled children's access to and inclusion in books.  And what is more - I have no doubt that they actually WILL.  More photos of my workshop, colleagues and of course  food (unfortunately taken with a rather basic 'point and shoot' camera) at: 

https://picasaweb.google.com/100270370289666272791/JordanTripSeptember2011


Saying no to abusive language

I was really pleased to read that the disability campaigner Nicola Clark has launched a new project ('People Not Punchlines'), following the success of her existing 'Pay Me, Don't Play Me' campaign. A parent of two disabled children, Nicola is campaigning to have disability hate speech recognised under law in line with current legislation and protection.  Currently, as the law stands, it is illegal to communicate in a manner which is threatening abusive or insulting and intended to harass alarm or distress someone on the grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.  Disability remains exempt from this list and therefore disabled people are routinely harassed with no right of redress under law. Nicky is joining the likes of Mencap and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (see other post below) in raising awareness of the need for change.  Nicky is calling on MP’s to amend the existing hate speech law and ensure that disabled people are rightfully included in this vital legislation. 

For more information about Nicky and her work, see her blog or contact her on peoplenotpunchlines@gmail.com


Tackling disability harassment

This month (Sept 2011) the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced the results of their inquiry into the ways in which disabled people are experiencing harassment.  'Hidden in Plain Sight' is well worth the read.   It joins Mencap's 'Stand By Me' campaign in trying to address the long-overdue problem of disability hate crime and harassment. 

 

You may also want to read my disability blog on Booktrust's website every month: 

www.booktrust.org.uk/Booktrust-blogs/Booktrust-blog