Set The Bar

List Poem: Living with Ataxia

Disability Arts Cymru have introduced me to the amazing Sophie McKeand – the gifted writer, poet, performer who is the current Young People’s Laureate Wales April 2016 – 2018, winner of the Out Spoken award for Innovation in Poetry 2015 and longlisted for the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition in 2014.

Writing about the incredible collection of poetry, Rebel Sun, by McKeand, Martha Sprackland [me neither] says:

“This is mythological, musical poetry that not only crosses borders but seems to dismantle them entirely, collapsing time and space, transfiguring and prefiguring the world we live in.”

I have a signed copy and can confirm the books brilliance.

Anyway, Sophie is an admirer of my Tanka work and has encouraged me to try different poetic forms such as the List Poem below. I was fortunate enough to perform a list poem alongside Sophie at the #SaveWILG community awareness day at Set the Bar in February.

This was a resounding success and gave me the belief in my talent that I needed. It also led to further ideas for more poems such as the one written below. Maybe I can perform this in future with Sophie as I think we made a good pairing. Sophie is an esteemed poet in her own right so she probably doesn’t want me hanging around like a bad smell, but I think that I should maybe be looking for a person to complete my double act. I need an Ant for my Dec.

Anyway, here is my latest list poem:

Introduction: Music of this type will be created and performed as a backdrop to the introduction phase of the poem. This will be narrated by a third party.  

Friedreich’s ataxia is an autosomal recessive inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. It manifests in initial symptoms of poor coordination such as gait disturbance; it can also lead to scoliosis, heart disease and diabetes, but does not affect cognitive function. The disease is progressive, and ultimately a wheelchair is required for mobility. Its incidence in the general population is roughly 1 in 50,000.

The ataxia of Friedreich’s ataxia results from the degeneration of nervous tissue in the spinal cord, in particular sensory neurons essential (through connections with the cerebellum) for directing muscle movement of the arms and legs. The spinal cord becomes thinner and nerve cells lose some of their myelin sheath (the insulating covering on some nerve cells that helps conduct nerve impulses).

The condition is named after the German physician Nikolaus Friedreich, who first described it in the 1860s.[1]

Symptoms typically begin sometime between the ages of 5 to 15 years, but in Late Onset FA may occur in the 20s or 30s. Symptoms include any combination, but not necessarily all, of the following:

It presents before 22 years of age with progressive staggering or stumbling gait and frequent falling. Lower extremities are more severely involved. The symptoms are slow and progressive. Long-term observation shows that many patients reach a plateau in symptoms in the patient’s early adulthood. On average, after 10–15 years with the disease, patients are usually wheelchair bound and require assistance with all activities of daily living.[3] 

[The lines in italics throughout the poem are to be spoken by different people dressed in appropriate clothing and illuminated on a dark stage by a spot light]

Living with Ataxia

Is a struggle

Living with Ataxia

Sounds muffled and unclear

Living with Ataxia

Smells of wet denim and shame

Living with Ataxia

Tastes of bitterness

Living with Ataxia

Feels brittle

Living with Ataxia

Wibble wobble, wibble wobble jelly on a plate

Living with Ataxia

Effects everyone around you

Living with Ataxia

Leaves you wondering what might have been

Living with Ataxia

Demands formidable mental strength

Living with Ataxia

Beats being programmed by The Man From Auntie 

Living with Ataxia

Could be the best thing that ever happened [discounting Maggie’s demise]

Living with Ataxia

“He’s just lazy and clumsy”

Living with Ataxia

Means wanting what you can’t have

Living with Ataxia

Forbids carnal delights

Living with Ataxia

Limits your liberty

Living with Ataxia

Allows your imagination to run rampant

Living with Ataxia

Prevents the attainment of Aquarian ambitions

Living with Ataxia

“Trampoline legs”

Living with Ataxia

Colours your life

Living with Ataxia

Black, dark grey or midnight blue

Living with Ataxia

Is not all bad [he lied]

Living with Ataxia

Results in a dark sense of humour

Living with Ataxia

Is no laughing matter

Living with Ataxia

“Sorry sir, I forgot my kit”

Living with Ataxia

Adds fuck all

Living with Ataxia

Subtracts hope

Living with Ataxia

Divides friends and family

Living with Ataxia

Multiplies hurdles

Living with Ataxia

“Maybe it’s a trapped nerve”

Living with Ataxia

Confuses small minds

Living with Ataxia

Frustrates 

Living with Ataxia

Embarrasses

Living with Ataxia

Teaches you virtues, such as “Good things come to those who wait”

Living with Ataxia

Makes you wonder who the fuck wrote virtues?

Living with Ataxia

“Have you got a licence for that?”

Living with Ataxia

Highlights injustice

Living with Ataxia

Illustrates that beauty isn’t only skin deep [thank God]

Living with Ataxia

Condemns you to a life less ordinary

Living with Ataxia

Contradicts

Living with Ataxia

Imposes barriers around ghostly souls

Living with Ataxia

“Sorry, only genetically perfect people can donate sperm”

Living with Ataxia

Did I mention it’s a struggle?

Living with Ataxia

Underlines inequality

Living with Ataxia

Objectifies the body

Living with Ataxia

Mystifies my mixed up mind

Living with Ataxia

Disqualifies true contenders to the crown

Living with Ataxia

“I charge by the hour hun

Living with Ataxia

Locks lively minds in dying bodies

Living with Ataxia

Mangles the idea of perfection

Living with Ataxia

Twists the spine

Living with Ataxia

Causes caustic sorrow

Living with Ataxia

“Fill your pockets chaps. These disabled freaks are easy targets”

Living with Ataxia

Suffocates the soul

Living with Ataxia

Haunts empty shells

Living with Ataxia

Implodes

Living with Ataxia

Crushes everything that’s precious

Living with Ataxia

Guess what? It’s a fucking struggle

Things Just Got A Little More Interesting #SaveWILG

I am in a foul mood today after being passed the following condescending letter by Lesley Griffiths AM written by the Minister for Children and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies AM.

Following the letter below, I have shared some of the responses I have received after sharing this letter amongst the rest of the #SaveWILG campaign team. Feel free to leave your feedback in the Comments Box at the foot of this blog entry.

I guess I am so upset at this letter because it seems that Huw Irranca-Davies did not take on board the enormity of what I had to say and he seems to have dismissed it as the inconsequential bleatings of a disabled man. This hurts deeply and, believe me, I will get absolutely no pleasure from saying “I told you so” when the Social Care system in Wales finally implodes due to the negligence of Welsh Labour.

So where do I go from here? Tomorrow, I have the official launch of the #SaveWILG art exhibition at Theatr Clwyd and on Saturday we have the Community Awareness Day at Set the Bar in Wrexham.  I will remain positive and keep up the fight because I believe that we are in the right and I am determined to be able to enjoy my life once more following these eight years of hostile uncertainty.

23rd January 2018

 

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your further letter of 21st December last year on behalf of your constituent, Mr Nathan Davies, regarding the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG),

You will recall I wrote to you on this on 14th November, soon after becoming Minister For Children and Social Care.  In that letter I responded to a number of issues relating to this decision that Mr Davies had raised, including providing a copy of the summary of the public consultation that was held and first published in March 2015.

While I appreciate the apprehension WILG recipients such as Mr Davies will have about how they are going to be supported in future, the decision to change the delivery of this to local authority social care was not taken lightly. Neither was it taken in isolation of the views of those who represent disabled people in Wales as some have claimed.  It was taken with the best interests of all disabled people in Wales in mind.  This is of ensuring that all disabled people receive the support they need to live independently at home in line with the ethos of our new social care legislation.  This is irrespective of whether they used to receive payments from the Independent Living Fund or not.

The continuation of the WILG would only have sought to reinforce the inadequate two-tier approach which currently exists to supporting disabled people in Wales, with some only receiving support from their local authority while some can receive this as well as dedicated payments from the WILG.

My kind regards,

Huw Irranca-Davies

***

Feedback from #SaveWILG Campaign Team

“It’s a shocking(ly awful) response from the Minister. Apart from a general attitude of ‘It’ll be OK, because I say it’ll be OK (but I’ve nothing to base that on)’, it fundamentally ignores the central issue that the councils can’t be trusted with this responsibility.  To say ‘…I appreciate the apprehension…’ but ‘we gave it some thought and decided to do it anyway’ is dodging everything.  Typical, I’m afraid, of a generation of politicians more interested in their own careers than supporting the people they represent.”

“Typical defensive political speak that ignores the issues and pretty much says there aren’t any. I don’t think we have a friend in HID, but we have plenty of others. At least we know how the land lies in that direction now.”

“What we have never managed to get over is we do not receive LA support plus WILG, we receive reduced LA support which is topped up by the WILG Payments.”

“I agree with all the above comments. HID doesn’t want to know and I’m sick of Welsh Labour just replicating everything the Tories do and expecting no resistance.”

“We should be looking at getting Labour councillors involved as the added work load to administer WILG will fall onto already overstretched councils.”

Falling Apart at the Seams

 Loads of things to let you know, but so little time.

First of all a little self promotion, as the following paragraph is from Ian Lucas MP’s monthly CLP report:

I have been working alongside Nathan Davies, a party member here in Wrexham, over the changes the Government has made to the Independent Living Fund. The debate included MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England as well as Welsh Labour colleagues Susan Elan Jones and Jessica Morden, and it was notable that each part of England criticised the changes the UK Government has made to the administration of the successor to ILF. I was able to pay tribute to the work Nathan has been doing – and to highlight his front page appearance in the Leader that morning. I was not particularly impressed with the Minister’s response, although I will take her up on her offer to meet to discuss my concerns. 

The following video accompanies this text:

Independent Living Debate with Ian Lucas

I think we have established how brilliant I am, but this awesome individual is also struggling at the moment with the effects of Friedrich’s Ataxia. This cruel disease is progressing quickly and really starting to affect my swallowing and speech. I have particular problems before food as I am regularly coughing and choking uncontrollably on my own saliva as I anticipate my food.

Another problem is with my speech. I am afraid that I am beginning to slur more than I use to and I just cant bear listening to myself on TV or radio as the voice that I hear is not the one that I hear in my head when speaking. I really should do something about both problems, but as I am so busy trying to save WILG, I am letting my health slide.

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from the local hospital asking me to come in for a camera down my throat following discussion with my GP about my difficulties choking. I chose to decline there kind offer as I am so busy with other things and cannot afford to lose my voice or become ill at the moment.

I received a newsletter from Ataxia UK today informing me of a speech and language therapy course that they are running in association with the University of Stirling. The second are all taking place through Skype so they are open to everyone. I really should take part and I would like to if only I had the luxury of time to spend looking after myself. The Tories and Wrexham council are ensuring that this is just not possible at the moment.

1Study Advert, Version 4.0, 05 January 2018

Speech Therapy Treatment Study for Friedreich’s Ataxia

Communication problems are a frequent consequence of ataxia. Many people report a decrease in quality of life as they can impact on our social relationships, employment opportunities, etc. Yet there currently is no effective treatment for speech problems that has been properly evaluated, and there is uncertainty amongst clinicians on how best to support people with ataxia with their communication.

We are looking for participants for a study investigating a new treatment approach for speech problems. There is good evidence that this approach is effective for Parkinson’s Disease and we  want to find out whether it can also help those with ataxia. This study is funded by Ataxia UK and aCHaf and carried out by researchers at Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

The treatment will be administered via Skype in your home and there is no need to attend a clinic. It will run for 8 weeks, with two therapy sessions per week and homework practice for the other days. A typical LSVT therapy session will involve practising a good voice production on a series of long ‘ahhhs’ focusing on controlling the loudness of your voice, as well as the pitch. We will then try and transfer these skills to speaking by reading out individual words and functional phrases, working our way up to longer stretches of speech over the course of therapy. As treatment will be carried out in English, it is important that you have Basic English speaking and reading skills. This protocol of activities will be the same for each session, but the materials will increase in complexity. Homework exercises will follow a similar protocol to the therapy sessions and will take about 30 minutes. Ideally, we would like you to practise at least another four times during the week.

We will measure how much your speech has changed after treatment, and also ask you what youthought of the therapy approach. To do this, we will perform two short assessments before and two after treatment, and also do an interview. This will again be done via Skype. Altogether, the study will take about 6 months.

To be able to take part, you need to fulfil the following criteria:
􀁸 Have a confirmed diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia
􀁸 Experience speech or voice problems
􀁸 Not have any other neurological or speech problems
􀁸 Be aged 16 or over
􀁸 Have access to the necessary technology (good internet connection, access to a computer

that allows you to use Skype and has a functional microphone input)
􀁸 Have Basic English speaking and reading skills

If you are interested in participating, please get in touch with us by phone or email and we will give you more detailed information. Please contact:

Aisling Egan
Speech and Language Therapy Unit
School of Psychological Sciences and Health
Strathclyde University
Tel: 0141 548 4393
Email: aisling.egan@strath.ac.uk

I should probably email Aisling to find out more information.

I cannot end this blog without mentioning the two events that have on this week.  The first of which is a #SaveWILG Art exhibition at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, north Wales. This event runs from January 24th to February 12th and includes art, poetry and pictures from a wide range of disability activists and artists. The official media day for this is on February 2nd. I am very proud of what we have put together in such a short space of time.

A leaflet for the Theatr Clwyd event has also been produced by Heather Wilson.

SaveWILGSideA2

SaveWILGSideB2 copy

Our North-East Wales WLG/M comrades are centrally involved in organising this great event. It will be a fantastic occasion, but we need to get as many people there as possible! This is a day of entertainment and information. There is alcohol, soft drinks and food on sale at the venue and there is full Disabled access and a Disabled toilet.  The least we hope anyone can do is promote this event by sharing the flyer and printing it off and putting around your area, disability groups, CLPs etc etc. Raising awareness of the event is crucial to the campaign’s success!The event is FREE to all. Please do help in any way you can.

Schedule

 

Links and updates

his is a busy time for me, so I would like to keep you up to date with my recent activities by sharing a few links with you that show the pressures that I have been under and the local celebrity status I have been creating for myself 🙂

Blue Badge Petition

Independent Living Debate with Ian Lucas

Daily Post Feature

The Leader

I am also looking forward to the following two events which I am busy trying to organise. The first of which is a #SaveWILG Art exhibition at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, north Wales. This event runs from January 24th to February 12th and includes art, poetry and pictures from a wide range of disability activists and artists. The official media day for this is on February 2nd. I am very proud of what we have put together in such a short space of time.

A leaflet for the Theatr Clwyd event has also been produced by Heather Wilson.

Our North-East Wales WLG/M comrades are centrally involved in organising this great event. It will be a fantastic occasion, but we need to get as many people there as possible! This is a day of entertainment and information. There is alcohol, soft drinks and food on sale at the venue and there is full Disabled access and a Disabled toilet. Some of our comrades are performing, but we would love to hear back from you or anyone you know how is in any way creative and/or a performer. Please do get in contact with either Vic Grout (vic.grout@glyndwr.ac.uk) or Louise Bosanquet (louise.bosanquet@hotmail.co.uk) if you would like to perform or know someone who would. The least we hope anyone can do is promote this event by sharing the flyer and printing it off and putting around your area, disability groups, CLPs etc etc. Raising awareness of the event is crucial to the campaign’s success! The event is FREE to all. Please do help in any way you can!