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Joanna Grace, a bottle of gin and sweaty bodies.

04 Jul 2018

Gin

With a boutique bottle of gin tucked on to the passenger seat, I frantically drove around in circles, rapidly losing my cool. I was going to spend the day with a Simple Stuff Works hero, Joanna Grace, and had been so determined to arrive in plenty of time. Firstly, the Satnav conspired to thwart my punctuality aspirations by sending me to the wrong place. Then a complete lack of parking spaces in central Cambridge put the final nail in my timekeeping coffin.

So, when I eventually burst into a room brimming with people at Wesley Methodist Church, I was hot under the collar and flustered. Thankfully, a very kind person with rosy cheeks strode across the room a few minutes after me – there is nothing that balms a sense of tardiness more than someone else turning up even later.

Joanna Grace

At the front, Jo stood bare foot and animated, introducing the day. A large, ornate, leaded window illuminated the room jam packed with bright colours, textures and quite a few sweaty bodies; it was a sensory explosion. Dressed in her iconic style, reminiscent of Dorothy skipping through Oz, Jo talked with enthusiasm and clarity introducing us to the three steps of sensory experiences;

  • You are an entity in this world
  • I can declare my presence
  • I am an I, separate from the world.

Before the day really got started, we were all encouraged to share the sensory object we had been primed to bring along. It needed to be something which described us in some way but also kindled more than one sense.

Around my table, offerings included foliage hastily plucked from a garden on route, a wonderfully enticing dry bubble and a very personal memory box with sound and smell, given by a child. I lowered the tone considerably by offering my exotic gin bottle with its bright colours, popping cork and scented interior. I suspect it said more about me than I had intended it to.

Sensory Lexiconary

Throughout the Sensory Lexiconary training day, Joanna goes through each sense, looking at their development, quirks, examples, practical considerations and an experiment to try together. I hadn’t intended on taking notes but immediately Joanna started talking, I wanted to remember what I was hearing so flipped open my laptop and began to type. By the end of the day, my notes were being hastily tapped on to my phone as my laptop’s battery had given up the ghost after several pages of information and insights.

When I asked later what lexiconary meant, Jo explained, “A Lexicon is the vocabulary for a branch of knowledge, a group of people or a subject, so the Lexiconary session is a romp through a lexicon. The day covers the sensory vocabulary of seven senses.” It certainly felt like a romp (rough, energetic play) or the maybe even a sprint.

Inclusion: for pity’s sake?

Before my day in Cambridge, I had already been hooked by Jo’s engaging and tender style of communication through watching her much loved and challenging TEDx talk, Inclusion: for pity’s sake? with Chloe Salfield. If you haven’t already seen it – watch it now.

Jo’s enthusiasm and passion for engagement with Sensory Beings didn’t falter throughout the day. She led by example and clearly was only skimming the surface of her extensive knowledge and practical experience. Although I had an inkling before the sensory lexiconary training, by the end, it was clear to me why Simple Stuff Works had identified Joanna Grace as one of their heroes.

But for me, the most inspiring thing about Joanna is the holistic and encompassing approach to her work. You might be tempted by her appearance to be duped into thinking she is an artistic, creative, attractive woman who likes making people happy with lots of touchy feely objects. But that is simply the tip of the iceberg. Jo is a hardworking, dynamic and dedicated professional focused on the pursuit of challenging us as a society to improve the lives of those with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties through respect, communication and inclusion.

Pioneer

This is clearly demonstrated through her pioneering work launching the National Conference for Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties with their Essential and Core Service Standards for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD).

One of my favourite Jo Grace quotes remains;

“A person’s ability to communicate is not dependent on their being able to master certain skills, it is dependent on our ability to listen and communicate responsively”

As the parent of someone with PMLD, I would recommend everyone who cares for, educates or loves someone with PMLD to attend the Sensory Lexiconary. You could also stalk Jo and her wealth of knowledge at the Parallel games in London or the second PMLD national conference.

It is time for us all to step up and take a lead from people like Jo who have used their insights and skills to develop tangible guidelines which help us give people with PMLD the wonderful quality of life they deserve.

Joanna Grace is Sensory Engagement and Inclusion specialist, Parallel London Ambassador, author, trainer, TEDx speakerand founder of The Sensory Projectsand hero of Simple Stuff Works. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Sensory Projects website.

Written by Rachel Wright (Born at the Right Time) on behalf of Simple Stuff Works.