A couple of weeks ago Community Catalysts launched the People doing it for themselves report, easyread version together with an appendix of stories detailing the experience of 19 amazing people and groups. The 7-month development project on which the reports are based was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It focussed on people who need care or support to live their lives who are also leaders, agents for change or entrepreneurs. The main project finding was that nearly everyone we met had followed a similar pathway to success that looks a bit like this:
Over the next few weeks we plan to focus on this path, pulling out some of the stories of the people we met to show what it looks like for real people.
People like Stephanie a blind woman from the West Midlands who worked as a computer programmer for 20 years before training as a rehabilitation worker for newly blinded adults. Through her work she found herself sharing information about the technology she used with other people. When she was made redundant, she decided to take her skills and knowledge and use it to help others.
I wanted to help blind people and wanting blindness to be an asset rather than a hinderance….bit by bit I discovered using my strengths, rather than looking at my weaknesses, using what I can do, rather than what I can’t do, has made a huge difference to me.
Stephanie established a Community Interest Company (CIC) and teaches blind people how to use technology to improve their life and give them skills to do what they want to do. She helps people access technology such as talking computers and phones that speak. She also leads the development of new equipment and software and explores ways to use existing technology in different ways. For example, ‘talking beacons’ which use a phone app to inform blind people which shop or building they are about to enter. Stephanie advises on information and accessibility, helping organisations who want to ensure their website is accessible and creating braille or tactile information for councils.
Stephanie also does a lot of work to open opportunities to blind people who live in Zambia, with an orphanage, school and group of blind adults.
I’d always wanted to go to Africa for ages and I thought…because of being blind I would be more trouble than I was worth, but now that I have found blind people that really need my help, and the effect of having me over there… I don’t have to say anything, just by standing there, I’m proving that a blind person can do things, it gives them hope, it’s quite dramatic.
I found them portable solar powered bibles in their own language, and they were over the moon… I learnt so much by going over there, because most of the equipment that we have won’t work over there, because they’ve got nobody to repair it, they’ve got no electricity to run it…so to have solar powered was just what they needed.
Stephanie has been challenged by the low expectations of others.
I think sighted people had low expectations of blind people, and of disabled people generally, and I’d been discouraged
Starting her own enterprise and working to help others has had a hugely positive impact on her personally.
It’s made me easier to live with, you know when you are comfortable with yourself, and you don’t feel the need to prove that you can do it, and you’re not fighting people all the time.
Stephanie is now leading a project on the development of the User Interface Braille Kindle, the Canute from Bristol Braille Technology. She has taken it to schools and to groups of blind individuals all over the country and found 50 potential customers for a project that will shortly be available for public sale.
People will be able to read thousands of braille books in one machine rather than having piles of books all around the house…I’ve been instrumental in developing the user interface and designing how the user can operate it…