Monday, September 25, 2017

How a stage play with a cast of actors with intellectual disabilities made it to the silver screen.

Len Collin directing Kieran Coppinger
  • Sanctuary was a successful stage play with actors with disabilities
  • The story was about people with disabilities and relationships
  • There was a plan to make it into a film
  • Filming the story had lots of challenges and needed a lot of planning
  • Actors with disabilities don’t get the same opportunities as other actors
  • The play and film played a large part in changing an old-fashioned law.

I have great admiration for actors. I started my career as a thespian and know how tough and demanding it is to learn lines, remember blocking and handle props, without lapsing in concentration, losing your accent or dropping your character. Actors have to face a lot of rejection and disappointment; they have to handle adversity with a smile, and often they have to hold down jobs outside of the profession whilst they are resting. In my own time as a professional actor I cleaned toilets, worked in a dye factory, delivered Tupperware, laboured on building sites, I even stuffed envelopes for a charity organisation. Those cold calls you have from people selling insurance, double glazing or doing surveys, are probably actors between jobs. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be unemployed for any length of time, you have most probably stood next to a would-be actor in the queue. It’s a profession with far more downs than ups, and most actors know that the glam and glitz of Hollywood is a dream beyond their reach.

So why do they persist? Why do they put themselves through torture just for the chance of being somebody else up on the stage for two hours a night? Or for the fleeting few seconds they may be allotted on a film set? It’s because they love what they do. It’s because in that moment when the audience laughs, applauds, or cries… they are acknowledging you, your talent and even your very existence. Little wonder then that marginalised individuals, such as persons with intellectual disabilities, might find a sense of worth and achievement through the performing arts.

I first encountered the actors from Blue Teapot Theatre Company in 2011, when they auditioned me for a screenwriting commission as part of an Arts and Disability Ireland scheme. Perhaps using the word “audition” is a little strong, but that’s what it felt like. I was impressed by the confidence of the actors; this was not acting as therapy, this was not something to do in their spare time, this was an ensemble cast of professional actors who happened to have intellectual disabilities. This attitude is integral to artistic director Petal Pilley’s vision. “They’re professionals. Pure and simple.”  Initially I was only hired to write the short film script for the cast, but Petal asked if I would like to direct the performed reading of the script planned for Culture night at Druid Theatre. This was how I really got to know the actors well and what they were capable of. When Culture night came around we had a full house. Kieran was very chilled, Charlene very chatty, Frank nervous with Paul calming him down, it felt like any green room backstage I had ever been in. The only difference was the choice of pre-performance meal – Pizza. The performed reading was a huge success, I worked with the actors on stage, helping orchestrate the performances a little like a conductor. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

A year later I saw the cast perform in Sanctuary, at Blue Teapot’s studio theatre in Munster Avenue. Even though I knew the cast well, I was blown away by their performances, and charmed by the wit and intelligence of Christian O’Reilly’s script. However mostly I was appalled and angry about Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (1993).  I was not familiar with this law, which effectively makes it illegal for two people with intellectual disabilities to have sex unless they are married.

In the pub afterwards I proposed that Sanctuary should be a film, that this world had not been portrayed on the silver screen before, and that people needed to be made aware of the absurdity of the unjust law at the heart of it. I was impressed by the story, but also struck by the fact that the actors were very openly prompted on stage. The reason for the prompts was mostly to do with the gales of laughter that would interrupt the actor’s flow. On stage, an actor like Patrick Becker could turn this prompting into part of the performance – it became a contract between the audience and the actors, and added to the charm and involvement. Of course, on film we stop and start all the time and I had been working with the actors on camera technique, so it wasn’t a massive leap to make. Getting the film financed and made however would be another battle.

The issue, if you are an actor who happens to have Down’s syndrome or autism, is that there is very little space for you on screen. A role which may suit an actor with an intellectual disability, such as the character of Josey in Garage (Abrahamson 2007) or Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man (Levinson 1988), is usually taken by an actor who does not have a disability. This is known as “Cripping Up” and is often compared to actors “Blacking Up” in the past. It’s a phenomenon that anyone working in disability arts is well aware of, and thankfully is less prevalent in theatre due to the sterling work of companies like Blue Teapot in Ireland and Mind The Gap in the UK (to name but two). The situation in film and TV however, is that the sighting of any actors with disabilities is as rare as hen’s teeth. We needed a producer who was as passionate and tenacious as we were, we found her in Edwina Forkin of Zanzibar films. Thankfully, the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann, the BAI (Broadcasting Authority Ireland) and RTE backed our proposal, and in 2015 the cameras started rolling.

Up to this point everything was in theory only. The actors at Blue Teapot have a routine, a person with Down’s syndrome or autism is reliant upon routine… and the routine in place was a three-day week with five hours per working day interspersed with regular breaks. During performances, this five-hour working day would be shifted to accommodate evening performances. However, filming days are long, at least eleven-hour days on set with travelling, hair, make-up and wardrobe not included. So in reality fourteen-hour days, six days a week. Would the actors be able to manage such long hours? Would the nerves of working in front of a film crew of twenty plus people get to them? The lights? The sets? The long waits in between set-ups as lights and camera are moved? There were many imponderables.

The first scene we shot was Kieran’s character Larry changing from his work clothes into his going out clothes. We were on Location in Supermac’s on Cross Street. Kieran was clearly nervous, even though he said he was fine, I could tell that he was just a little edgy. The crew were all new to me and Kieran, there was tension on set for sure… and that was about to get worse. As the cameras started to roll the action was simple enough. Kieran had to unbutton his shirt. Kieran has big hands, with chunky fingers, this is often a characteristic of Down’s syndrome, and he was having trouble with the buttons, he was taking an age to get one button undone. The tension was building on set, how long was this shoot going to take? Here we were on Roll 1 Slate 1 Shot 1 Take 1 with hundreds of takes to come over the thirty day shoot, and time was passing very slowly. My instinct was to keep going; I had faith in Kieran, and I knew that the crew also needed to know what they were dealing with – then the button popped out of the hole of the shirt, one undone… a slight relaxation in the crew… but then Kieran’s fingers moved to the second button and tension doubled. Kieran then showed why he is a professional actor and justified my absolute faith in him, he improvised, he realised that the buttons were taking too long, he sensed the tension and he came up with the solution, he pulled the shirt over his head – He solved the problem and the crew fell in love with him from that very moment.

Over the course of the thirty days filming there were many moments that challenged us, and the actors were always equal to it. Yes, the days were long, but we scheduled the actors so that each individual worked no more than five days in any one week. We tried to engineer the days so that the hours were more manageable… but still the actors coped with those odd days that were fourteen hours long. They rose to every challenge they were given. Acting on film is much more technical than theatre acting as movements have to be precise and remembered. What hand did you have your cap in? Where exactly did you put down that phone? Notes can come from Director, Continuity, DoP, Camera Op, Sound, Props, Hair, Make-up, Wardrobe… There is a lot of information to digest between takes. At the start I would have all of this information filtered through me, but soon it was obvious that the actors were more than capable of absorbing all the instructions themselves. Occasionally something would be forgotten, or a line would cause issues… if you watch the film carefully you can spot a few of these moments… look out for “Sexy traffickers” or “The missing phone” – but overall the actors exceeded expectations.  The UK Department of Health partly describe Intellectual Disability / Learning Disability as – “A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills” In my opinion the making of Sanctuary has blown this definition out of the water. It is of course far more about reduced access, and less opportunities. It is the industry that needs to change, not the actors. We need more films like Sanctuary and greater representation on screen. We need to see an end to actors “Cripping Up” in the hope of garnering awards. Sanctuary has authentic performances from talented actors who deserve a platform.

Oh and what about Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (1993)? Well thanks to the sterling work of Inclusion Ireland, and other activists… and the fact that Sanctuary highlighted the issue… that law is no more. There is still a fight ahead of us to change people’s attitudes – it takes time to challenge ignorance, but we are getting there.

Author Bio

Len Collin directed ‘Sanctuary’, his first feature film, for which he has won Best Director at Newport Beach Film Festival and Best First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh.

In 2010 Len wrote, produced and directed the award winning online drama ‘Covies’, which won an Allianz Business to Arts Award for creativity. His short film ‘Bound’ (2014) has been seen around the world in Ireland, America, Germany and the UK. 

Len is best known as a screenwriter, and has written for a plethora of television series over the years. He has been responsible for over fifty episodes of the ‘The Bill’ was lead writer on ‘Ultimate Force’, ‘London’s Burning’ and ‘Holby City’. Len has written a number of episodes for ‘Soldier, Soldier’, ‘Casualty’ ‘Thief Takers’,’Eastenders’. ‘The Clinic’ and ‘The Chief’.

Len’s theatre plays include ‘Box’, ‘Terrible Beauty’ and ‘Soprano’s Last Supper’ [adaption of the Vegas show for Tivoli Theatre Dublin]

Len has also starred in many TV shows and films including ‘A Touch of Frost’, ‘Dot the I’, ‘An Exchange of Fire’ ‘Call Red’ and ‘High Heels and Low Lives’.

Len is also an educator and currently lectures in Screenwriting and Film Production at Northumbria University. He is in the middle of a PhD entitled The Representation of Intellectual Disability in Film and Television.

For Diarmuid O’Leary, performing is a key to feeling independent. He tells us all about a visit to tinsel town…

  • Travelling and seeing new things can promote confidence and independence
  • Visiting Hollywood was a dream come true for Diarmuid
  • The trip of a lifetime took in film sets, a tour of actors’ homes and Hollywood Boulevard.

I like to travel and I have been to lots of different places around the world. I have travelled to France, Italy, Spain, England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand my family. I also went to Greece in 2011, where I represented Ireland in Men’s Basketball at the World Special Olympic Games. We won a bronze medal. That was a really good trip, one of my favourites! I love going to London too, I’ve been there loads of times and visited theatres at the West End once with my friends at Cada Performing Arts. I like travelling a lot, I like flying and listening to my music and seeing new places and getting to know new people.

When I was growing up, I was always interested in films and DVDs. I like knowing all the actors and the roles they play. I know about directors and I enjoy writing my own scripts. I like horror films and supernatural stuff but I will watch anything. I have always wanted to see Hollywood to see all the cool stuff you see in the movies. In August I went with my Dad, Mum and sister for 12 days. When my parents told me we were going Dad showed me the tickets. I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true.

Diarmuid O'Leary at the Hollywood Sign)Diarmuid O’Leary at the Hollywood Sign

I really enjoyed our trip to Hollywood. The Hollywood sign is massive and it was good to see it in real life. I have a photo of the sign as the screensaver on my phone for a few years! We went to see some of the actors’ houses in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We saw the street where Cameron Diaz grew up. We saw some of the stars on the ground in the Hollywood walk of fame. I saw Alec Baldwin and Jason Bateman.

When we were walking along, we saw a real live film set. The street was all closed off. There were lots of cars from the 90’s parked by the footpath and a New York Police car. We talked to the crew and they told us they were filming American Crime Story – Season 2: The Versace Murder. It was so cool to see.

Diarmuid O'Leary on a Hollywood Set)Diarmuid O’Leary on a Hollywood Set

We went to visit Universal Studios. My favourite part was the special effects show. They set a man on fire for 19 seconds. They had an astronaut flying. We all laughed and clapped. I loved Harry Potter World too. I tasted butter beer and it was nice. I bought the Elder Wand, Professor Dumbledore’s wand and a Gryffindor tie. We did the studio tour too, it was terrifying we saw sets from Jaws, Jurassic Park, King Kong, Fast and Furious and Earthquake. Jaws jumped up at me and I screamed. The Fast and the Furious bit was my favourite.

Hollywood was really brilliant. I am so glad we went. I would recommend it to everyone!

Author Bio

Diarmuid O’ Leary is 28 years old and lives in Cork with his family. He has 2 brothers and a sister. Diarmuid’s passion is film and performing arts, and he is very involved in Suisha Inclusive Arts in Cork and Cada Performing Arts stage school. There he acts and dances, puts on plays and productions. Some of the participants have disabilities and some of them do not. According to Diarmuid, “When we work together we are all the same. Disability doesn’t matter. Performing makes me feel confident and independent and I really enjoy it a lot.”

a horse
  • Interaction with horses is recognised globally as a powerful and experiential tool that quickly breaks down barriers and changes behavioural patterns.
  • It’s a fun, interactive and highly-effective way to work on specific issues, experiences or challenges.
  • Eileen Bennett tells how horses connect people to their true value and full potential in a unique and powerful way.

Including one or more horses as part of a treatment team may seem very 21st century, but the concept has been around for a very long time. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’ spoke of the horse as a healer, and throughout history we find many references to the physical and emotional benefits of having horses in your life.

Therapeutic horse-riding has been around since the mid-19th century and is now widely accepted as a valuable means of providing a range of physical and other advantages. For example, a walking horse transfers 110 multidimensional swinging movements to the rider every minute, which naturally increases core strength, body control and balance.

However, the ways in which horses can enhance our lives is not limited to sitting on their backs. Equine-assisted Learning (EAL) is a ground-based method of utilising horses as a catalyst for positive change. It is a powerful and fun way to nurture life skills, and develop social and emotional core competencies. The aim is to promote self-awareness and development through specific interactions, activities and games with horses, under the guidance of a trained Equine-Assisted Learning facilitator.

another horseFor the EAGALA model of Equine-Assisted Learning, the treatment team always includes a Mental Health Professional, an Equine Specialist and one or more horses. EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) is a non-profit professional organisation with over 4,500 members in 50 countries. EAGALA sets the standard of professional excellence in how horses and people work together to improve the quality of life and mental health of individuals, families and groups worldwide.

Horses are particularly suited to EAL work because they are prey animals; hard-wired for millennia to tune in to anything that could pose a threat. Their very survival depended on knowing whether that predator in the bushes was sleeping or eyeing them up for lunch.

Because of this, horses live only in the present moment. What happened 5 minutes ago or what might happen tomorrow is never in their consciousness. So, when you are with a horse, the horse is not seeing a person with a disability, or a child with a problem. The horse is just seeing – and reacting to – a person.

Horses are mostly non-verbal. They communicate with each other by means of a highly sophisticated language of subtle body movements. The flick of an ear or the swish of a tail is sending a message to the rest of the herd. Most of us are unaware of the messages we are sending out through our bodies, but the horses are reading them loud and clear! Horses reveal their thoughts and feelings with their body language and behaviour. They do not ask, demand, or expect anything from us. They simply want to feel safe, comfortable, and to get along.

EAL sessions can be run for individuals or groups. A typical individual session lasts an hour, and a group session is 90 minutes. Sessions are always tailored to the needs of the participants, so no two will ever be the same.

EALThe very nature of a horse means that EAL work is a perfect fit for improving the social and emotional core competencies of Self-awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationships skills and Responsible decision-making. The horses respond to each individual in the present moment, just as they are.

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) is a unique way of enabling people to learn a wide range of skills through interaction with horses on the ground. It works on many levels and can be adapted to meet the needs of an individual or group. When a person can understand and be understood by a large animal, communication with people becomes easier and more rewarding, and the horse becomes a tool for emotional growth and learning.

In collaboration with other professionals (e.g. Physiotherapist, O.T. or S.L.T) EAL sessions can also be adapted to help with Literacy and Numeracy, social or verbal skills, Executive Functioning and much more.

Interacting with horses is a rewarding experience that can help develop a sense of responsibility, feelings of love and nurturing, and better coping strategies.

Author Bio

09 - Eileen BennettEileen Bennett is co-founder and CEO of Horses Connect Enterprises, a social firm based in Galway designing and deliver equine-assisted programs.

As well as an experienced horse-person and coach, she is also qualified as a Therapeutic Horse-riding Coach, Equine-assisted Learning Facilitator and an EAGALA certified Equine Specialist. She holds qualifications in Mindfulness, Leadership and e-Business and helps run the Horses Connect Special Olympics Equestrian Club.

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Con Lucey of CoAction West Cork is an avid road-bowling enthusiast, and gives us a flavour of this fast-paced and exciting sport that is peculiar to parts of Ireland.

  • Road Bowling is a rural sport where people throw bowls along roads.
  • Coaction is situated right where they hold the bowling games.  There is lots of fun to be had.

Road bowling is an Irish sport, in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads. The sport is mainly played in the Counties of Armagh and Cork, although there are other small strongholds in Mayo (Aughagower) & parts of Louth.

CoAction West Cork is situated right in the middle of Road bowling territory and are the founding members of the first Unlimited Road bowling club in Ireland back in 2002 which was quickly joined by the Borders bowling club (Monaghan, Armagh) and members from Mayo and Mid Cork.

Bol Chumann Na-hÉireann helped organize the 1st All-Ireland Unlimited Road Bowling Championships which are now held annually in either Bantry, Westport or Armagh/Monaghan.

Every September a team of Competitors & supporters from CoAction attend the event. Even though it is a sporting event, there are also opportunities for ‘relaxing & pampering’ for the lads and other leisure activities.  The delegation checks into a ‘fancy’ hotel for the week of the Championships and enjoys all that the Hotel has to offer in the way of food, drink, luxury, swimming pool & sauna, steam room, bar music etc.

The lads who are on the committee help to plan the trip from the beginning, and this would involve research on the ‘places of interest’ and local amenities and obviously the best shopping locations. Local cafés & pubs are frequented in the evening time and short walks organised (for instance, in the foothills of Croagh Patrick, or a stroll through Monaghan town).

It is a great opportunity to meet up with friends from other clubs and also to meet new people.

The week away, although expensive, is looked forward to for months beforehand and you are assured that everybody who attends have fun and crack and good humour throughout.

Author Bio

Con Lucey works in CoAction West Cork.

Kevin Murphy illustrates how he managed to broaden his horizons, meet new people and travel – and all for his love of West Ham Football Club.

  • Kevin has been a West Ham supporter since 1974
  • He has found a supporters club that have accepted him as a member
  • He has travelled many times with them to Upton Park to watch his favourite team
  • He has gained massive independence and confidence and joy from this group he is a part of and made to feel welcome
  • He looks forward to West Ham’s move to their new stadium in 2016

I have been a part of WALK since 2002. Sport is a huge part of my life, particularly football. I enjoy watching football – both through going to games or watching on TV- and talking about the highs and lows the next morning with friends in work. I live in Inchicore in Dublin and regularly take trips on the LUAS to Tallaght to watch Shamrock Rovers, but my club is West Ham United.

I’ve been supporting West Ham since 1974. I’ve been asked ‘’Why West Ham!?’’, but I always enjoyed the style of football they played, particularly under the manager John Lyall. West Ham were relatively successful at the time. They won the FA Cup in 1975 and the following year they got to the European Cup Winner’s Cup Final, although we were beaten by Anderlecht. My father followed Aston Villa, so it was a claret & blue house!

Although I’d been following West Ham for a long time, I never really met other West Ham fans in Dublin. I discussed this with my keyworker at one of my planning meetings in the Summer of 2012.  I thought it would be great to find like-minded fans to meet up and watch West Ham games. A quick Google search later, and The Dublin Hammers turned up!

The Dublin Hammers are a West Ham Supporters Club based in Dublin. They meet up regularly in Branningan’s Bar on Cathedral Street in Dublin City Centre to watch West Ham games. This sounded perfect.

Jimmy Conway was the contact in the club. We contacted Jimmy to get more information about the Supporter’s Club and to express an interest in becoming a member. Jimmy was extremely helpful and said I would be more than welcome to join the Supporters Club.

As the season in England was coming to an end, and wasn’t due to start again until the end of August, I had a bit of time to work on becoming familiar with Brannigan’s Bar and importantly, how to travel there from my house. Over the next couple of months, I worked on figuring out the route and becoming comfortable with travelling it.  This involved getting the Luas from BlackHorse to Abbey Street and identifying landmarks, which would help me find Brannigan’s Bar. I also took the time to get comfortable using my mobile phone in case I needed it.

On 23rd August 2012 – two days before the first meeting of the Supporters Club in Brannigan’s Bar, I travelled independently from Inchicore to Brannigan’s Bar.  I agreed that a staff member would also do the journey, but they would do it a half an hour after I left.  I got the Luas from Blackhorse. I got off at Abbey Street and began looking for the landmarks. The Spire. Check. Burger King. Check. Spar. Check. And there was Brannigan’s. The staff member arrived shortly after. I told them how comfortable I was doing the journey independently, and was looking forward to travelling independently on Saturday and meeting Jimmy and the other Supporter’s Club members.

A couple of months passed and I was regularly travelling into Dublin City Centre to meet up with the Club. I looked forward to the meetings. It was a great atmosphere in the Bar. Cheering every Hammers’ goal and bemoaning every goal against. It was great experiencing these moments with my fellow supporters.

I was turning 60 in May 2013, and I was planning on having a party in the Red Cow. I had invited Jimmy from the Supporter’s Club and I was delighted he was able to make it. It was a fantastic night spent with many of my friends, with the occasional glass of red wine and Neil Diamond sing-along!

That night, Jimmy had mentioned that the Supporter’s Club were running an overnight trip to Cork in July to see West Ham play a pre-season game v Cork City, and asked would I be interested in going. It’s not everyday West Ham come to Ireland, so I was excited about this opportunity and expressed my interest in going on the trip. Jimmy passed on the details and over the next couple of weeks I worked on making the relevant bookings (train tickets, match ticket and a room in The Metropole Hotel in Cork – a beautiful hotel). I intended to travel independently to Cork with the Supporter’s Club.

Jimmy met with a member of staff in WALK to discuss the trip in detail. Jimmy said the other lads in the Club were always very positive about my involvement with the Club and that we were all there for the same reason – to support our team!  Jimmy felt this trip was something I could do without staff support. Jimmy felt that I had settled into the Club well and I was completely comfortable with everyone in the Club too. Jimmy and the staff member exchanged the relevant contact numbers and it was all systems go.

Now, I needed to spend time to figure out how to travel from Blackhorse Luas Stop to Heuston Station because this is where I would be meeting the lads from the Supporter’s Club to catch the train to Cork. I did several trial runs – both with and without staff supporting me.  I was comfortable travelling independently on this route ahead of the match date.

Another thing I worked on was identifying and becoming familiar with things in Heuston Station such as the location of ticket kiosks, platforms and toilets to avoid confusion on the morning of the trip. Jimmy agreed to meet me at the Heuston Luas stop on the morning of the trip, where we would both go and collect our train tickets together. We were able to book our seat together on the train – which was great – as we were able to keep each other company and discuss the game that evening – we were both really looking forward to it!

The trip went well. West Ham won 6-2, so I got to see plenty of goals and a couple of first-team stars were on show, which I wasn’t expecting, and was a bonus! It was great to bond with the lads in the Supporter’s Club too and we still share stories from the trip to this day (What happens on tour though, stays on tour!!!)

Having seen West Ham come to me, it was now my turn to go and see West Ham in London.

I didn’t have long to wait. The Supporter’s Club were running a trip to see West Ham v Aston Villa on at the start of November. The group intended to stay overnight, however I preferred to do a day trip. A staff member from WALK would travel to London on the flight with the Supporter’s Club, and after the game I would arrange to meet the staff member and travel back to the airport to head home.

My deposit for the trip was paid, my seat on the Supporter’s Club bus was booked, my flights were booked, my match ticket was booked and I was all set to go.

On the morning of 2nd November 2013 – a staff member and I travelled to the airport to meet the lads in the Supporter’s Club. We were all booked on the same flight, which was great. Upon touching down in London Stansted, the staff member exchanged numbers with the one of the guys in the Supporter’s Club and we arranged a meeting point after the game.

Unfortunately the game ended 0-0 – there is nothing worse than going to a football game that ends 0-0! The consensus amongst the Group was that it was two points dropped, but I had enjoyed the day and my first experience travelling to London with the Supporter’s Club. I promised myself it wouldn’t be the last.

Over the next couple of months, I continued to travel regularly into Brannigan’s Bar in Dublin City Centre to meet up with the Club and watch games on TV. The Club then announced plans to travel to London in May 2014 to see the game v Tottenham Hotspur – the derby! What a game that promised to be – I knew I just had to be there.

It was very similar to the last trip the Club ran in November 2013. The Club planned on staying overnight, but I preferred to do a day trip. I agreed a staff member would travel with me again to London, that I would head off with the Club for the match and afterwards I would meet up with the staff member to travel home. I paid the deposit and made the relevant bookings. It was just a waiting game now.

The morning of May 3rd arrived and the staff and I travelled to meet the Club – bright eyed and bushy tailed, in Dublin Airport. Again, we were on the same flight and we were all in jovial mood. West Ham v Tottenham is one of the biggest games of the season if you’re a West Ham fan, and I felt really fortunate and excited to be going to see this game. Going into the game, West Ham weren’t playing particularly well of late and Tottenham were in a good run of form, but ever the optimist, I was hopeful of a West Ham win!

On a beautiful summer’s day in East London, West Ham put in a great performance to win the game 2-0. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it made the journey home a happy one.

I’ve been on three more trips to London with the Supporter’s Club – in November 2014, May 2015 and October 2015. In November 2014, we drew 0-0 with Aston Villa – again! – Which was like déjà vu from my first trip in November the previous year! In May 2015, we were beaten 2-1 by Everton – where I saw my record of West Ham never being defeated disappear! And my most recent – and arguably my most enjoyable – trip was in October 2015, where we beat Chelsea 2-1 in another derby game.

I particularly enjoyed that Chelsea game as the 2015-2016 Season represented the last season of West Ham playing in Upton Park before they moved to the Olympic Stadium in the summer of 2016. That famous old ground has been home to West Ham since 1904. When I went to visit family in London in 1974 – as a student at the time, I went to Upton Park to watch West Ham. 41 years later, I was possibly watching them play in that same old ground for the last time. It was great to win the game on the day to ensure my last memory of Upton Park was a happy one!

When West Ham move to the Olympic Stadium in the summer of 2016, it will open a new chapter in the club’s history and a new opportunity for myself too. I watched the London Olympics on TV in 2012 and was impressed by the stadium. It looked fantastic.

I look forward to my first and many more trips to the Olympic Stadium with the Supporter’s Club to seeing West Ham play.

Author Bio

Hi, I’m Kevin, I live in Inchicore. I’ve got lots of interests: dancing classes, choir, guitar lessons, going out to gigs – anything to do with the music side of things. One of my biggest loves is my work. I work part time in 2 cafes and a bar. I enjoy learning new skills and working as part of a team. I enjoy meeting the customers and looking after their needs. I enjoy the banter with the other staff and the customers. I am also a serious sports fan – soccer, rugby and gaelic. Developing this passion and meeting new people through it is what this article is about.

Veronica Crosbie and Ana Wardell review a striking theatre experience at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, involving service users from St. Michael’s House, Dublin.

The play centres around a young lady and her struggle from darkness into light. Lost in a depression she battles many demons and is helped by teachers along the way. A play not to be missed!

Poignant, beautiful, lyrical: these are words that come to mind when recalling Love | Loss | Life, an ensemble piece which ran in early November at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, Dublin, starring users of St Michael’s House Service Dublin, and directed by Nicola Kealy of Rhythm Room, whose mission is making theatre accessible to all.

The play opens in darkness, tuning the audience into the frequency of the set piece by having us listen to a series of voices aging in range from very young to old, musing whimsically on the meaning of the titular three words. These thoughts become embodied once the lights go up, to reveal a scene in a restaurant with a young broken-hearted woman (Sandy O’Gorman on the night in question) coming to terms with loss, and being comforted by a waitress (Norah Chawke), who begins to narrate the story of The girl with the broken heart (illustrated graphically by Jane Lee’s artwork). The narrator’s voice then switches to Kealy, who draws us gently into the fable, which, in archetypal fashion, begins a journey of discovery. This is no ordinary story, however, as we embark, together with the characters, on a voyage through the main vein (vena cava) towards the heart. Our senses are beguiled en route by trippy, psychedelic artwork projected onto a backdrop screen (courtesy of Mike Winkelmann) and plaintive and playful music by a quartet of musicians on saxophone, guitars and percussion (Mischa Langemeijer, Lee Frayne, Terence Tau and Alexis Nealon).

The girl is lost in a deep, dark depression, which grounds her, literally, as we see her pinioned and flailing on the floor. However, in time she is slowly drawn out by a light, which leads her down a tunnel towards discovery, and ultimately transformation, aided on the way by five Heart Keepers, characters that challenge and galvanise her into action. The first one, Warrior Man (John Mahon), emboldens her by teaching her how to fight, helping her thus to win back the first piece of her broken heart. However, she soon succumbs to the darkness again, aided and abetted by The Platelets, clad ominously in giant white coveralls, clogging and blocking the life force. Her mother (Sandra Healy, a memorable Juliet for the same company four years ago, who is also assistant director here) comes to the rescue, reminding her of her unconditional love, and reassuring her that she is on the right road. Next, she meets, in turn, a joker (Aidan Gouldsbury) and a dancer (Andrew Murphy), who teach her to laugh at herself and help her regain her composure and passion. The final character, the Lover (Alan McHugh), woos her gently, restoring her confidence and belief in herself; and we see them move together towards a happy ending as her heart is fully restored to itself-

What we witness here as the story unfolds is a case of capability expansion as Kealy expertly, and with care, draws out the talents of her diverse cast, supporting them as they embody the characters and thus embolden themselves. In Frontiers of Justice, Martha Nussbaum writes that care is one of the hallmarks of a decently just society and that capabilities are ways of realizing a life with human dignity. This entails the ability to form affiliations and provide stimulus for senses, imagination and thought. The support and camaraderie between the ensemble cast on stage is evidence of this heartfelt care-work, evoked in particular through subtle hand gestures, smiles and bodily integrity.

Love, Loss, Life plans to tour nationwide in 2016. Miss it at your peril.

Nussbaum, M. C. 2006. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press.

Author Bio

Dr. Veronica Crosbie is Lecturer in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University. Her research interests include the capabilities approach, intercultural dialogue, cosmopolitan citizenship education and migration studies. She is co-convener of the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA) Education thematic group and vice-chair of the International Association of Language and Intercultural Communication (IALIC).

Ana Wardell, a student attending Mount Temple Comprehensive School, Dublin, is the assistant writer for this piece. She is interested in art, imagination and geography. She is a member of Green Schools and Amnesty International. She has studied drama in the past with Dublin Amateur Dramatic Association (DADA) and is currently reading Romeo and Juliet for the Junior Certificate examinations.

Deirdre Spain, a person with a learning disability tells how technology has helped change her life in many ways.

Deirdre-Spain at desk
Technology has changed my life and has helped educate me a long time after I have left school. I started off with a TV in my bedroom but then I got a laptop in 2003 and nowa smartphone and tablet. These items helped me to learn how to read and write and keep my interest up in what is happening in the world.

My first experience of technology was when I got a TV for my bedroom.  Of course my family’s TV was in the sitting room, but this was my own to look at whatever I wanted.  My parents were against this as I might be lonely in my bedroom and spend too much time on my own.  Like many of my friends, I love watching soaps such as Fair City, Home and Away, and Neighbours.  These are my favourites.

I was given a present of a laptop computer in 2003.  At first I was afraid of it as I am not very good at spelling, and I found it hard to look up sites which interested me.  Lots of times I went into dodgy sites, and I had to ask for help from my sister.  She made sure by getting security insurance for my computer.

I then attended literacy classes where I learned how read, write and to use a dictionary.  I don’t think I would have bothered with this course, if it wasn’t for my interest in using my computer to follow up on what was happening in my favourite TV programmes and finding the latest news on pop stars, like Take That and at that time, Westlife.

I now have moved on with my use of Technology and media with my smartphone and iPad tablet,  which goes everywhere with me.  Like many of my friends in the day centre I attend, I don’t go out much at night so I suppose my iPad is my friend.

While I know it is sad to say that my iPad has become my friend, and yes know I have friends in the day centre I attend, but like myself I know many of them don’t go out much at night and if they do it is with their families.  Talking to other people with Intellectual disability, they all think this is a real problem with them.  They say that the TV is their only company.

So what has Technology done for me? I now can read and write.  I know what is happening in the world.  I love listening to plays on BBC Radio 4 which has helped me at my drama classes.  I now play and download most of my music on “Spotify” which is great and also saves me money.  I keep up my interest in what is happening in the world by watching “What The Papers Say” each night.  If there is something in the news I am interested in I will look it up on my iPad.  I am also on Facebook.  I haven’t got many friends yet but I know I have to be careful.  As for my family holidays, I really annoy my parents by using my iPad to make sure the hotel suits me as well as them before they are book the holidays.

So as you can see technology has helped change my life, but I hope to continue to learn more and more about how to use technology to make my life more interesting.

Author Bio

Deirdre Spain attends St Michael’s House Employment Centre at OMNI Shopping Centre in Santry, Dublin. She has worked at Jury’s Inn, Christchurch, Dublin for 17 years, takes part in Special Olympics playing badminton and swimming, and has in the past made presentations as a self-advocate in many countries.

Clare Hudson examines a number of devices and applications designed to assist and develop technology skills for people with disabilities.

Clare Hudson examines a number of devices and applications designed to assist and develop technology skills for people with disabilities.

For many people, devices such as iPods and iPads have become an extension of their arm.  They give us so much at the touch of a screen.  They keep us up-to-date on the everyday movements and special events of those who may not be in close proximity (or, in some cases, may be!), and on news from around the world.  They provide all sorts of on-the-spot entertainment from music to DVD, games to virtual worlds.  And no matter what the issue or problem someone always knows of ‘an app for that!’  This development in the technological world has brought with it fantastic opportunities, particularly in the area of support and development of communication skills.

There are so many options that it’s hard not to feel like the proverbial ‘kid in a candy store’ when we browse our ‘local’ app store (without even having to leave the house!)  But the sheer volume of options can quickly become overwhelming and it can often be daunting to know where to start; how to know what you or your child would benefit most from, what type of devices and apps would be appropriate and how to begin using the app.  This article aims to point you in a helpful direction with these decisions and dilemmas, discusses how technology can be used for social connection, and finishes with an example of how technology in the form of Skype has been used in an innovative way to connect and provide support for teenagers who stammer.

Techie Words: What the words mean

Advances in technology have brought us a new vocabulary.  I for one am guilty of using ‘techie words’ without really understanding what I’m saying, always to be caught out in the mobile phone shop when I realise I am unable to fully participate in the conversation I have started.  So, I am going to provide a quick reminder of what I think I mean by a few ‘techie’ words that will be used in this article.

‘App’ is short for “application”, which refers to a software application or a software programme used on a smartphone or mobile device such as the Android, iPhone, iPad or iTouch.

‘Android’ is an operating system for mobile phones and tablets, in much the same way that PCs run Microsoft Windows as their operating system. It is maintained by Google.

‘Tablet’ refers to a tablet computer; a mobile computer with a touch screen display, circuitry and battery in a single device. iPad by Apple is a type of tablet device.

Choosing technology: Where to start?

  1. Decide on the purpose of the device or app

Devices and apps are available to support education, leisure skills, communication, independent living, social skills and employment.  Determine whether the focus is to support the individual’s language and communication skills, or to teach numeracy or literacy, or indeed to provide an activity in which the individual can engage independently for a period of time (e.g. a game or a film).

Figure 1 outlines some of the areas of communication that can be supported and developed through the use of technology.

table 1

Figure 1: Elements of Communication which can be supported through use of technology

*AAC: Alternative and Augmentative Communication includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas.  Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA) is an aided AAC system as it is a device in addition to the users’ body.

  1. Match the capabilities and needs of the user/individual to the features of the device/app

Factors to consider when choosing a device/ tablet include

  • screen size,
  • durability,
  • screen glare,
  • volume,
  • weight

Factors to consider when choosing an app to use include

  • the picture or symbol system used and whether and how easily the system can be personalised with photographs,
  • the ability to change the grid size (number of symbols/pictures on a page),
  • the presence or absence of a voice output,
  • the layout of the folders,
  • the capacity for language development.
  1. Identify and include an appropriate instructional approach as part of the intervention package, as this is required to enhance communication

AAC users and communication partners (the person(s) with whom we communicate) benefit from support and training to use specific techniques and strategies to maximise the benefits and effectiveness of AAC.  Likewise it is important to think about what the communication partner can do to support the user to use an app or technology to transition or complete a task more independently.

Wading Through the Apps

There are thousands of apps available to support and develop communication skills, so that the search for the right app can seem overwhelming.  I have found some of the following websites and resources useful in my work and others have been recommended to me:

On this website, apps are organised in sections relating to their general purpose (e.g. communication, education, fun, life skills) in an interactive ‘app wheel’ (last updated in April 2015, see Figure 2).  The website allows the user to click on each app icon to find out more about the app. This website also publishes regular app reviews which aim to provide an evidence-based perspective on apps for autism.

table 2

Figure 2: Interactive app wheel compiled by Sue Fletcher-Watson.

Mark Coppin has also developed an ‘Apps for ASD’ wheel identifying the features that are important when choosing a suitable app. This can be viewed at

For AAC  provides a list of AAC apps, including information about key features of each app, which will help in discussions with the speech and language therapist as to an app that might best meet your AAC needs.

A fact sheet about iPad and Tablet apps has been published by I CAN, the children’s communication charity, at

Apps relating to the various areas of communication including language, speech, emotions, social communication and organisation are outlined in an easy to read table which includes the price and comments about the app.

In my experience, many apps are regularly updated as a result of both user feedback and further advances in technology.  An example of this is in visual schedule/organisation/social story apps.  Where once these apps were personalised through use of photographs, they can now be personalised through use of video of the individual completing the task, or steps in the task.  Planned use of videos is known as ‘Video Modelling’ and ‘Video Self-Modelling’ and have been found to be effective means of skill acquisition, maintenance and generalisation for individuals with ASD (Bellini & Akullian, 2007).

Apps vary in price; some are free with others being relatively expensive.  Many apps offer a ‘lite’ version, which is a free taster of the app and others offer a free trial period of the app. Trials and ‘lite’ versions can be a very effective part of the decision-making process to know if the app is the right one for you at the moment.  In addition, there are a number of websites, blogs or forums on which parents and app users provide reviews and personal accounts of their use of the apps.

Getting Going

Apps as VOCAs

If technology is being used as a VOCA it is advisable that parents, the device user and the speech and language therapist work in partnership to identify and plan when the device will be used, with what vocabulary and the role of the communication partner (the listener) during interactions.  ‘Augmented input’ (Elder & Goosens, 1994 cited in Mirenda, 2001; Cafeiro, 2005) is an approach advocated by many in the field of AAC that involves the communication partner simultaneously touching the corresponding symbols to his/her spoken words as they are spoken.  This provides a model to use the VOCA.  Alternatively, some apps have specific instructional packages in which the communication partner is less actively involved.  Regardless of the instructional approach, integration of the VOCA into an individual’s everyday activities has been shown to lead to the most successful outcomes for functional communication (Beukelman & Mirenda, 2005).  In terms of evidence-based practice, various analysis of research into the use of technology such as iPad and iPod to enhance the communication of individuals with developmental difference such as ASD has shown favourable outcomes (e.g., Kagohara et al., 2013; Alzrayer et al., 2014)

Apps for Interaction & Leisure

We know that individuals learn best when they are interested and engaged in an activity.  If tablet technology and apps are attractive and engaging for you or a family member, it is important for communication partners and practitioners to use this interest to foster and build communication and interaction skills, even if this is not the advertised purpose of the app.  It is worth considering “The 7 Ps of Using Mobile Technology in Therapy” (DeCurtis & Ferrer, 2011) as a guide to help to maximise interaction and communication with the device or app in everyday situations. The 7 Ps are:

  1. Preparation: What is the rationale behind using an app versus using actual books/toys?
  2. Participants: Consider characteristics of the child using the device/app
  3. Parameters: What is the appropriate amount of time for the child to spend using the device?  Might the device interfere with naturally occurring communication at times?
  4. Purpose: What is the advertised purpose of the app? How can this app meet a child’s goals (by means of this purpose or using the app in an alternative way)?
  5. Positioning: How and where should you position the child and/or yourself to maximise interaction and communication?
  6. Playtime: How will you and your child experience shared enjoyment with the app?
  7. Potential: How will you extend and expand the learning gained from using an app to real-life experiences and to support future learning?

For more information on “The 7 Ps”, see .

Managing Time with the Tablet

As with all exciting developments comes caution.  Learning and interacting through technology alone may not always provide everything a child needs for development; variety of learning opportunities should be encouraged.  Many parents, however, have discussed how it can be difficult to limit time with technology.  The National Autistic Society ( suggests ways to manage the amount of time and quality of time a user spends with portable technology.  The suggestions include:

– Use the child’s routine to make the technology available at specific times;

– Use the battery life icon;

– Use an online timer;

– Use different coloured cases when using the device for different purposes.

Technology for Social Connection

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter and online communities are increasingly used as a means of staying connected with friends and families, creating new relationships with like-minded individuals and exploring topics and dilemmas in an undisclosed manner.  The face-to-face element of social communication can be eliminated in communication via technology.  For some individuals for whom initiating and maintaining conversation can be a daunting task, social media can allow a greater sense of control over the conversation, more time to process what has been ‘said’ and what to ‘say’, and avoids the need to process the non-verbal messages that come with face-to-face interactions. Within the literature on the use of technology by individuals with ASD, the themes that emerge relate to the sense of empowerment  and social connection experienced by people using technology as a medium for communication as well as the voice given to this community (Byrne, 2013; Davidson, 2008).

“Technology doesn’t mean sitting alone in a darkened room any more, and the line between technology and ‘real life’ is disappearing” (NAS, 2015,

‘Cyber safety’ is an important element of any online activity. It is critical that internet users are aware of the dangers that exist when talking online and learn to be cyber safe.

Technology and Innovative Practice

Advances in technology also provide a challenge to the teams working with individuals with communication needs and their families.  Many practitioners are involved in innovative practice using technology.  An example of this can be found in the work of The Irish Stammering Association, which runs an online support group for teenagers who stammer.  Callum Wells, Speech and Language Therapist, explains below how the online group works including feedback from participants:

Irish Stammering Association runs a monthly online support group for teenagers who stammer. The group aims to provide a place for teenagers who stammer from all over Ireland to meet, chat and share experiences online. The group uses Skype to connect to a video conversation. The group is facilitated by speech and language therapists but the young people discuss topics of interest to them. The group was established in early 2014 and members hail from various parts of the country. Feedback from members has been positive: “I get to talk to people and I don’t [need to] think about my speech”, “I’m going out of my comfort zone…it’s a good thing and helpful” and “the call reminds me about techniques”. As a group facilitator, I have enjoyed being part of the discussion on stammering and have been impressed by the willingness of people to share experiences and support each other. A variety of topics have been discussed ranging from stammering to X-Factor contenders, which allowed for a more free-flowing and fun conversation. I hope that more young people from different parts of the country will participate in upcoming groups and that they will be empowered from group support.

Callum Wells’ contact details:

Final Thoughts …

Advances in technology have brought new opportunities to support, develop and enhance communication skills.  This technology may be life-changing for some families but it is rarely the answer to all the communication needs of an individual.  Communication is by definition an interactive process where messages are sent between a speaker and a listener.  The listener is vital to the further development of communication skills, even with the addition of a device or app.


Alzrayer, N., Banda, D., & Koul, R., (2014) Use of iPad/iPods with Individuals with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities: A Meta-analysis of communication Interventions

Bellini, S., & Akullian, J., (2007) A Meta-Analysis of Video Modelling and Video Self-Modelling Interventions for Children and Young People with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Exceptional Children, 73, 261-284

Beukelman, D.R., & Mirenda, P. (2005) Augmentative and Alternative Communication; Supporting Children & Adults with Complex Communication Needs (3rd Edition) Baltimore: Paul H Brookes Publishing Co.

Byrne, J., (2013) Autism and Social Media: An exploration of the use of computer mediated communications by individuals on the autism spectrum, University of Glasgow Chancellor’s Fund, Student Project Report FINISH THIS REFERENCE WITH WEB PAGE

Cafiero, J. (2005) Meaningful Exchanges for People with Autism; An Introduction to Augmentative and Alternative Communication, (MD: Woodbine Inc

Cafiero, J. (2008) Technology Supports for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Technology in Action, 3, 3, 1-12

DeCurtis, L. L., & Ferrer, D. (2011). Integrating mobile technology using a family-focused approach. CSHA Magazine,41, 1, 10–11, 25.

Howard, S.C., Laubscher, E.H., Schlosser, R.W., Flynn, S., Sorce, J.F., Abramson, J., (2012) Applying Technology to Visually Support Language and Communication in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1228-1235

Kagohara, D., et al (2013) Using iPods and iPads in teaching programs for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review, 34, 147 – 156

Mirenda, P. (2001) Autism, augmentative communication, and assistive technology: what do we really know? Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 3, 141- 151

Author Bio

Clare Hudson is Speech and Language Therapy Manager at St Paul’s Hospital and Special School, Dublin.

Getting started in the world of social media in the context of intellectual disability.

social media icons
Frontline issue 100 is coming soon and the theme is ‘Social Media and how to use it well‘.
Social Media can be great but sometimes it can be hard to know what to do. Below, please find a few easy videos on how to get started using social media.
If you are not sure of how to stay safe and keep your information private while using social media then ask a friend to help you.

Frontline issue 100 is coming soon and the theme is ‘Social Media and how to use it effectively‘.

Social Media can be a great social resource for people but sometimes it can be daunting trying to keep up to date with the ever-changing trends, tools and platforms. Below, please find a few basic videos on how to get started using social media. If you are unsure of how to stay safe and keep your information private while using social media then we would advise you to ask a friend to guide you in the beginning.

We are looking for articles based on this theme but we are also looking for stories related in any way to intellectual disability.

If you would like to contribute, why not drop us a line via our contact page or via Facebook and Twitter.

Here is a basic video on how to sign up for a Facebook account….

Here is a basic video on how to sign up for a Twitter account….

Stephen Kealy

There is nothing like the sun to encourage people to wear bright clothes, go to the sea side, have fun – to do all those things only thought about during wet, dreary and cold winter weather. Part of the enjoyment of holidays is thinking about exotic places to visit with family and friends.

People with intellectual disabilities often talk about their friends – primarily family members, staff or people met during a befriending scheme. While there are many super and innovative initiatives to support people with an intellectual disability to participate more fully in the community, sustaining friendships through initiatives like circle of friends is often dependent on the goodwill of family or staff.

From time to time, outside of special Olympics, the adventure sport achievements of a person with an intellectual disability makes the headlines – a parachute jump – wall climbing – sailing – all achieved by support from parents, friends or staff. Unfortunately for many people with an intellectual disability, their opportunities for risk-taking are often curtailed by staff because of the restrictions of insurance underwriters, or by parents, because of perceived risk, lack of imagination or an understanding that the person is not in a position to give informed consent.

To go on a holiday, people with an intellectual disability may also have to fund, from their own resources, a support staff to accompany them – limiting choice and experiences. Yes, it is important to ensure people are safe but is there a better way of achieving the holiday goal without adding a cost disincentive?

Thankfully, there are more commercial organisations offering accessible holidays for people with disabilities. Challenging holidays requiring active participation but on the basis of an appropriate skill fit, from tall ship sailing to quiet lounging breaks with good food, recreational opportunities and lovely environments.

Taking time to involve the person with an intellectual disability in holiday planning provides an opportunity for teaching, learning, and the exercise of more autonomy – to have the person at the centre of the process.

Sarah Lennon of Inclusion Ireland, in her article on the progress of the proposed capacity legislation, flags some of the impact that legislation will have for decision making for people with an intellectual disability – essentially making sure that people take time out to hear what they want and to act accordingly – putting the person at the centre of a decision process. Is it possible that this legislation, when enacted, will enable greater risks to be taken by people with an Intellectual Disability or taken on their behalf? After so long maybe real change is in the air!