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Access all Poetry

Access All Poetry

This post on Facebook by Stephen Lightbown made me think WOW!

Unbelievably excited about being accepted on to the first Zoeglossia retreat for writers with disabilities in May. Its in Texas which in itself is bonkers. Itinerary is now coming together well. Three days in Austin, then two days in San Antonio before four days on the retreat at Our Lady of the Lake University and then a quick sprint upto New York for two days there before flying home! Already sourced my open mic poetry night at the Bowery Poetry Studios in NYC to try and speak at. Hit me up with recommendations for Austin and San Antonio! And again huge thanks to the Arts Council as the Texas leg of this trip wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Developing Your Creative Practice grant.
(Stephen Lightbown)

That sounds an absolutely fantastic opportunity and, I’m assuming, since it is a retreat for writers with disabilities it will be adequately staffed with people that can offer any kind of support an attendee requires. Stephen, I know because I’m supporting him at his book launch in April (see my events page for info) has been paralysed since a sledging accident when he was sixteen years old. There is a potentially huge range of disabilities that attendees might have and it made me ponder how well equipped events, retreats and residencies are so that a disabled person has as good an experience as an able-bodied attendee. Let’s have a look at a few reports from the field.

“Don’t worry. It will get better.”

I read an article on the VIDA website about a year ago, March 21 2018.

VIDA is a non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape and to amplifying historically-marginalized voices, including people of color; writers with disabilities; and queer, trans and gender nonconforming individuals.
(from About VIDA(

The experiences of disabled writers highlighted by VIDA at this event send shudders down my spine. Bearing in mind that I lost my sight while I was living in America and found it a very accessible place to live — with all the buildings being far more recently built than ones in the UK they were, by design or by happenstance, designed much more with accessibility in mind. It is a sobering reminder though that making the building accessible is not where making an event accessible stops

This Report from the Field is a post by a collective of anonymous writers regarding the developing controversy concerning noted literary convention AWP. We are the Disabled and Deaf Uprising, an anonymous collective of writers. We have all kinds of disabilities. We sign. We speech read.
This past weekend we joined over 12,000 writers, editors and publishers in Tampa, Florida for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. This is the largest conference for creative writing in North America. Amazon, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation are major sponsors. Writers go to see and be seen; to schmooze and network; to give readings and present on panels.
[...
]
Karrie was supposed to be on two panels, but the airlines would have made it difficult. Could she Skype in?
The email from AWP discouraged it: “[attendees] feel more involved when it’s a person-to-person interaction without the layer of technology between them.”
This stung. Karrie didn’t come to Tampa, and she didn’t Skype in.
Do the conference organizers, who are also writers, not know that some of us depend on layers of technology in daily life? We use technology to breathe, to hear and to speak.
(from a report on how disability was handled at AWP in 2018)

The Home Front

The event I’m reading at with Stephen Lightbown and Donna Williams in Bristol on 11 April 2019 is a breath of fresh air on the poetry event circuit. The building is accessible and, with the event being signed it is accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. There is a quiet area which can be helpful for people with autism spectrum conditions or sensory processing differences. I hope as many poetry aficionados who live in, or within travelling distance of, the Spike Island centre in Bristol will come and support Stephen, Donna and myself, and show that these accessible venues really matter.

A Little Personal News

Welsh publisher, Seren Books, recently offered five two-week placements for students of the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University. I mentioned in Poet on the Page on the 3rd of March that I was pondering paying a CV-writing service to update mine. well, I did and the delivered it three days before the deadline for applying for one of these Seren positions. I gather around 100 applications were received and around 15 were invited to attend interview. I was one of the fortunate interviewees :)

Giles wearing light grey Versace suit, pale blue shirt and silvery blue Christian LaCroix tie

I decided it’d be daft not to go smart to a job interview, even if it was being conducted at the university by two members of the university employment team. Maybe that’d be the edge ... I imagine female students having something other than jeans and t-shirts with them, but male students ... maybe not! I figured that my work history as a transportation planner would cover any questions about ability to prioritise to hit deadlines, communicate with stakeholders and demonstrate being able to take the initiative, so I dressed smart and went to sit in the hot seat. Many thanks to Son I, my sighted guide who leads me to and from the poetry workshops each week, for the fantastic photo.

The verdict came the following afternoon .... drum roll please ... I have been offered one of the five placements! I’m over the moon! The last job I did was on a call centre staffed almost entirely by blind and visually impaired people so this will actually be the first time I’ve worked as a blind person amongst sighted colleagues. I have met or interacted with a few of the Seren team in the last five years, so I’m really looking forward to joining them at the literary coal face :)

#Disability #Poetry #Interview #Placement #SerenBooks @spokeandpencil @DeafFirefly @spikeislandcafe @SerenBooks

Published inblindnesscompetitions and submissionseducationPoetrytechnology

5 Comments

  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Onwards and upwards, Giles, you’re doing great things. Tell that guy Austin & San Antonio are two fabulous American cities. Very European, maybe that’s why, and very artistic. The Alamo is a great place to visit and LBJ library. Hopefully, Giles, you’ll get to go on one of these retreats someday! Keep applying, for everything, I say!

  2. Susan Susan

    If you want to pass this along to your friend, two things: 1) Most native Texans don’t call it San Antonio. They call it San Antone – sort of running it all together – you probably already knew that.

    2) The River Walk, if he can manage that, is a wonderful experience in sight and sound. If he’s sighted, he wants to be near the bridge when the bats fly out near sunset. He could also take a riverboat down the river lock system (or maybe it’s up – I get mixed up!) Riverwalk.

    I’m excited you were chosen for the two-week position. I’m wondering if this is there way of seeing how well disabled people might fit into their work force. You look quite professional in the picture – love that tie!

  3. Congratulations on the job placement, Giles! As regards the Skype issue. Of course the organisers should have been mindful that some individuals are particularly reliant on the use of technology. Both you and I use screen readers and I, for one could not be typing this now without the assistance of Job Access with Speech or JAWS software. I am not clear from the extract you post whether the event’s organisers where aware as to why the writer wished to use Skype. If they were aware (and still discouraged its use) this is wholly wrong and incomprehensible to me. I can, however understand why they said that face-to-face tends to work better. In my experience of attending work meetings etc communication is (for most but not all people) easier in face-to-face situations. Sensativity is required but (if people are not familiar with the special requirements of disabled individuals) they may (wholly unintentionally) make crass or ill-informed decisions. Best – Kevin

  4. Giles Giles

    thanks, Susan, I’ll pass the info on to Stephen. I am the only blind person reading in Bristol … Stephen is paralysed but sighted, and Donna is sighted but deaf 🙂

    I am sure Seren are not specifically focussed on adding a disabled member of staff to their team … it is a small company (around 10 people as far as I’m aware) and the decisions were made by the university (though I’m sure they shared their recommendations with Seren before letting the interviewees know).

    In terms of tick boxes though, every business should offer a work placement to at least one person each year to make sure they understand how disabled people use their service 🙂 xx

  5. Giles Giles

    I think the difficulty people were having at the writers’ conference was the access difficulty … I would have exactly the same difficulty unless I had a sighted guide. I expect you would too becuase your dog doesn’t have an inbuilt GPS system that means it knows where each event room is or where each exhibitor’s table is set up. JAWS (or NVDA as I use) is fantastic … but you really need to be sat down in order to be able to type and, in a work type environment like you work in, or the class workshops I am in, it can be very difficult to listen to what the screen reader is saying while trying to hear the continuing discussions around the desk. I take my tablet so I can type in the writing segments, but I do not write notes during the discussions … I record the whole 3-hour workshop so I can go back and listen to it and make any notes I need once it is finished.

    Skype would probably make the task a lot easier because you can be sitting at the computer and can ask the other person to pause while you make note of something.

    I got the impression from that article that these issues have been raised with the AWP conference numerous times and they are not willing to make such accommodations.

    I always find this a very interesting topic and, like my blog post says, too often organisations think that if their building is accessible then that’s all they need to do 🙂 xx

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