I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Communication Matters Conference at the beginning of September, to pass on the Alan Martin Award I won for my Contribution to Creative Arts at the conference in 2018. This year, I was asked to write and give the plenary speech, which was an incredible experience and an honour to do. I’ve shared my speech at the end of this blog post, if you want to read it. I hope I made a change to some of the people listening and, if you were at the speech, this is your opportunity to ask me any questions you might have. Comment on this post with your question, and I will answer it.
It was an incredible conference this year, very well programmed and thought-provoking. I listened to the other keynote speaker, Karen Erickson, give her speech. She talked about literacy and special edition with communication aid\AAC users. She said that everyone, whatever their ability, should be able to learn English. If we can learn how to use symbols, we can learn 26 symbols that can be combined to say anything you want – the 26 letters of the alphabet. We learn when we’re challenged, so we should push a bit further all the time. A lot of what she said actually mirrored my journey with literacy skills growing up, not moving on from symbols until I actually left school. So AAC users/communication aid users, here’s a tip for you – start spelling and typing with a qwerty keyboard as soon as possible. You can do it.
I also went to the AAC Users’ Annual meeting. The subjects discussed were AAC reliability and battery life, which I agree are issues I do face, but we use computers at the end of the day and computers get old and sometimes break but not as much this guy was saying. He had a replacement computer every year, and that is not on. Another subject that was discussed at the meeting was if there would there be interest for an AAC users workshop, to explore the arts for a day or a weekend. Would people be interested in that? We could put on poetry sessions / performances, Eye Gaze music and painting workshops. If you are an AAC user would you be interested in this, for a day or a weekend?
Here is the plenary speech I gave as a keynote speaker…
Hello everyone. I am Dave the Shouting Mute. I am called The Shouting Mute because my mum couldn’t shut me up. I am a poet, a performance artist and an activist for disabled people, especially communication aid users. I believe that the unexpected people in the room have the most to say but they are often not listened to. But they have a mountain of knowledge from listening and observing all the time.
Now, I will tell you the truth, the first performance I did, using my communication aid, I hated. I was switch scanning at the time and I know that I missed every cue. Afterwards I actually didn’t perform with a communication aid for about 5 years. I kept on performing though, through movement and acting with voiceless and I performed everything with voiceless. I danced my way around the stage to communicate and I loved it. I even danced in Brazil and then at the Olympic opening ceremony on Weymouth Beach.
Whilst this great performance journey was going on, in about 2010, I tried out eye gaze technology properly and it changed my life. I think my first eye gaze was an Eco 2 with a point. Eye gaze technology was a creative game changer for me in a few ways. I could write faster and more easily so I could participate more. I wrote my first poem and then I discovered writing just for myself. Night after night after school. I just couldn’t stop myself. I could write my own stories and save sentences I wanted to share or just write for me. It really really changed my life and the way I thought about communication.
I was still performing and doing incredible things. Then at about the same time my school was involved with another project called Seen but Seldom Heard Voices. With them I performed my first poem in public with my Eco Point live on stage. From there my love for performing live and creating just grew and grew with and without my communication aid.
In 2013 I left school and that’s when my creative journey really took off. It all came together with Touched, a piece of poetry I wrote for Diverse City, for a performance on the South Bank for the Unlimited festival. My computerised voice boomed out along the waterfront, drawing people into our show. People were stopping and watching us, cheering as a group of disabled artists enthralled them. Touched made me who I am. Diverse City could see what I did not see and had not believed possible. They saw me as an artist, a writer, a performer and a potential director. Diverse City believe that everyone has the right to create theatre and the right to watch theatre and they asked me to join them.
So now I want to make sure communication aid users are welcomed into the arts in any art form that they choose. By working inclusively and creating a culture whereby AAC users can participate, a bit like how deaf people have very successfully become enabled to perform and to sign on stage and access performance in a way that is creative and accessible. Many Theatres have relaxed performances that encourage everyone to come and enjoy the show and where it’s ok to shout and scream, cough or jump about, even spit or swear, and have noises going off because of computers or technology, but that doesn’t worry anyone whether they are performing or watching.
Communication for me is more than just words being spoken by my computer. In 2014 I wrote a poem for my drama group for the first time. They took my words and turned it into a performance full of emotion and colour. It was like a bomb exploding in my head, words and performance merged together into an art form with music and dance and BSL all combined. Everything fit into place. It had taken years so don’t let your first experience of something put you off.
Yes, I still miss a cue sometimes, but I can write and share my work and ideas with others and listen to people and make sure everyone is heard. Communication aid users need to have creative expression and use their voice in every way. From physical movement and shouting, to typing a story. Even how you dress is a form of communication. Use that to tell your story. Use that to say I am here. This is me. The fact that I can’t do something the same way others do it doesn’t really matter and I am still communicating in every way. All arts are a form of communication. Writing can express so much of a person through a creative out blast. Painting, music and performance can all do the same. We should use art as a form of communication to get out what we are all trying to say.
I am going to read some poems now, but after I want to take a second to think about the messages behind the poem for yourself. This first poem is Be Cheeky Be Naughty Get Us Into Trouble. I have a walking frame that I slowly under-use as I get a bit older and if I am honest lazy. This is called Be Cheeky Be Naughty Get Us Into Trouble. It goes like this.
Be cheeky, be naughty, get us into trouble. Let’s ram into mats and let your special friend ride our back. Let your mate Terry spin us around. Be cheeky, be naughty, get us into trouble. Let’s run around the track, you need to run again. Let’s let them hit balls at us. Do wheelies, put your feet up, scuttle and skate. Be cheeky, be naughty, get us into trouble. Let’s splash through puddles and mud and put paint on my wheels again. Let’s put a hose pipe on me and have a water fight. Let’s dance, go on stage, get too close to the edge, find a wig, a guitar, dress up as a rock star. Let’s hide and run. Play grandmother’s footsteps, see the waves and run away from mum with the dog. Be cheeky, be naughty, get us into trouble. Let’s kick balls. Let’s jump up and down, bat off hockey balls. Let’s run to class one minute late again. Push the boundaries. Get me out. Out with the air filling up our lungs. Some other time than the physio hour. Be cheeky, be naughty, get us into trouble again.
This next poem is called Grow Up. This poem is about a friend that moved away. It goes like this.
Grow up. Grow up. We are older now. Grow up. Grow up. I don’t like you anymore in that way. Grow up. Grow up. I just asked a question. Grow up. Grow up. I just want to be friends. Grow up. Grow up. We don’t need to play games anymore. Grow up. Grow up. I was just wondering. Grow up. Grow up. I want you to understand that I haven’t got friends like you. Grow up. Grow up. I am moving on but I don’t want to not know you. Grow up. Grow up. I just want another sister and brother, mine have gone away, you are my sister from another mother. Grow up. Grow up. I need you to be there, I am alone. Yes I am doing fantastic in life but that doesn’t necessarily bring friends. Grow up. Grow up. I miss you…
This next poem is a love sonnet to my one true love.
Chocolate yummy! Chocolate scrummy! Chocolate deliciousness! Chocolate in my belly please, preferably right now. Chocolate, I eat you at every opportunity. Chocolate, I make no discrimination to whatever form you present yourself in. Chocolate, milk or white, I will always desire you. Chocolate, you are the shake to my milk. I am sorry that I sometimes go strawberry pink. I promise that I will commit to you now. Chocolate, you are always on my pancakes, every Saturday morning. Chocolate, cooked as cookie dough. That is a sight like the sunset. Chocolate, you go perfectly with every pudding. Chocolate, you always thrill me when you are near. Chocolate, you are like fags to me. I can’t get through a day without you. Chocolate, I love licking your cake beaters, and the bowl if I am lucky. Chocolate, I love soft brownies. You are a square of heaven. Chocolate, you are saucy. I will enjoy you every second. Cake, bars, ice cream, buttons, and in everything which you kiss. I love you on my lips. Chocolate, I would buy you flowers every day. Chocolate, we could go for romantic walks on the beach. Chocolate, we can go to Belgium together. Chocolate, we could settle down and get a flat together. Chocolate, we could get chicks together, they can lay big chocolate eggs. Chocolate, you are the love of my life. Chocolate. Will you marry me? I don’t think I will ever find another partner like you.
The last poem is The Shouting Mute.
The shouting mute is fighting for a world that has difference, respect and peace as it’s only agreement. The Shouting Mute gets his point across, The Shouting Mute lets people know what he thinks and feels, The Shouting Mute considers and then shouts. The Shouting Mute talks to you like a squirrel but with a tigers roar, The Shouting Mute sees emotions in people. The Shouting Mute knows to listen with his eyes and ears before shouting. The Shouting Mute talks to you with his body. The Shouting Mute talks to you with his head. The Shouting Mute talks to you with his eyes. Watch a mutes body and listen to their talking heart. Saying the dreams, saying the missions, saying the opinions. The Shouting Mute is fighting for a world that has difference, respect and peace as it’s only agreement. The Mute does not stop talking. The listeners do not hear the mute’s words. Listen in, then you will hear the mute speak everyone’s unique language. I am a mute but can you hear me? Yes you can. The quietest people in the room are always the loudest.
Thank you for having me CM. I have been Dave, The Shouting Mute. Like me on Facebook and Instagram @theshoutingmute. Thank you very much.