Wednesday, 13 August 2014

FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT

Angie Smith, aet. 52

Meet Angie Smith

I first met Angie Smith at the great RACE* National Conference, at the then Leofric Hotel in the centre of Coventry. I was on the platform with Mária Hári, and Angie was sitting at the front of the large audience. When Mária finished speaking, unabashed by the situation and the eager attention of so many people, Angie was on of the first to ask a question. A few months later reporter Rose Shepherd  also met Angie, in Budapest, and a large (seven-page) feature article in the Sunday Times described what happened –
Also among the adults was... Angie Smith, a beautiful and humorous woman of 20, who had come with her helper, lecturer Janice Firminger, from Hereward College for dis­abled adults, where she had qualified for university.
At a RACE conference in Britain in the spring, Angie had put a question to Dr Hari. What, she asked disingenuously, were the institute's selection criteria for adults? Meaning of course, 'Can you help me? Will you help me?. Dr Hari looked at her, then suggested that she stay behind afterwards to discuss it fully.

So, before she went up to Essex Uni­versity, Angie was spending this month in Budapest. Angie was brain-damaged at birth, and though she had good physio, she still walks, talks and uses her hands only with difficulty. She doesn't expect a miracle, she knows it's too late for her (ideally, conductive education should start in a child's first year). But, she said laughing, she'd like to be a bit more handy, to be able to do her make-up.
When she was seven, after a tendon operation, she could walk quite well. But 10 years later the arch of the foot col­lapsed and she was once again in hospital. Since then, she hasn't got around so ably.

Part of the problem, she reckons, is the pressure to keep up. People haven't the patience to wait around for you, or to concentrate on your speech, when there are motorised chairs and micro-writers to do your walking and talking for you. 'And I find that people stare at me when I try to walk, which they don't when I'm in my chair.'
'Could I come to Budapest?' Angie had asked asked Maria, or some such words. 'You must come', Mária had replied, and Angie did. Annually.

And now, nearly thirty years later, she is unwilling to give this up.

Direct action

Angie was a great advocate for Conductive Education in the days when there was a vocal national campaign in the United Kingdom, appearing often in the London local press and on television. Not only was she articulate and highly personable but her very being made a vivid existential challenge to accepted wisdoms that one has to start CE early, and that Conductive Education is oppressive to disabled people.

Now, Angie is one of the UK's longer-standing CE-beneficiaries (I know a couple more, from a lot earlier, before the great Standing up for Joe furore, though there may of course be others), again living demonstration of an important principle, that over the long years of adult life occasional maintenance can be a welcome benefit – but this need not be full-time.

It does, however, require funding. Angie is now testing out in practice a very modern rhetoric, choice of services, whatever her public authorities say. This year, to achieve this she has had to apply an approach that RACE utilised so well – direct action. This is not covered in recent government guidelines on 'special educational needs' but it may be that parents of disabled children also find themselves brushing off its tactics and testing it out for themselves. Town-hall demos and occupations have figured well in the past as ways of attracting local media and political attention to Conductive Education (not just in the UK).

From yesterday's report in Angie's local newspaper she seems to be still acting firmly, positively and publicly to achieve what she wants: a contribution from public funding towards her annual top-up trip to the Pető Institute in Budapest. It looks like she might be getting it too:


References

Jobson, R. (2014) Disabled Wembley resident stages lone protest in Brent Civic Centre over funding request, Brent and Kilburn Times, 12 August

Shepherd, R. (1987) Walking against the odds: crippled British children find new hope in Budapest, Sunday Times Magazine, 18 October
This article is not on line but you can read the complete text as a PDF attached to Norman Perrin's blog:

Sutton, A. (2014) Spartacists, Conductive World, 9 April
_______
* RACE – Rapid Action for Conductive Education

No comments:

Post a Comment