The fact that a person may lack literacy and numeracy skills should not deprive them from learning about literature or drama.
Every Sunday at the Writers’ Museum, a group of people with learning difficulties meet and learn about the great writers. They love getting to know about poetry and plays, but above all they love getting to know the writers, why they wrote, and what they have written. They have even developed an interest in stagecraft.
The way poetry was introduced to most of us in school was sometimes enough to put us off it for life. When information is given in a pleasurable atmosphere and without stress, the results are very rewarding. I think we are succeeding with this new method of learning through inclusion and association.
History is sometimes considered a daunting task—trying to remember dates, etc. When I proposed the idea of developing communication skills to help people in supported employment, history was one of the ideas suggested for the discussion groups I was to lead. Cecile Woodham Smith’s The Great Hunger went down so well with the groups that further readings were introduced.
I used the method of visualisation, and in fact we started with all the senses, and so many other things, that we have in common. When we examined the idea that none of us in Ireland would be here only for those who had survived the Famine, their own association with the past excited the group and that encouraged me to continue. One group has been studying the one-act play ‘Cathleen Ní Houlihan’ by Yeats. With the help of the Ballyfermot Senior College, we hope soon to make a video, which we intend to call ‘Thank you, Mr Yeats’.
People with learning disabilities have so much to offer. Nowadays the educational system is supported by advanced technology, which helps to make it more accessible to wider sections of the community. The unfortunate thing is that we feel we are protecting people when we deprive them of a higher education. We have seen great successes in physical development and participation in sport through the Special Olympics movement; I think the time is right for taking education for people with a learning disability a step further in the fields of history and the arts.
As we met for one session recently, one of my group asked me if I’d seen ‘The Rebellion’ on TV during the week. I admitted that, unfortunately, I had missed it. She said: ‘That’s alright, Eva, I taped it for you.’