Julie achieves highest level of the John Muir Award

Julie McElroy, a determined young adventurer from Glasgow who has overcome severe disabilities to achieve the highest level of the John Muir Award received recognition for her achievements from presenter and broadcaster Dougie Vipond on 18 November.

Julie was born with cerebral palsy which has resulted in mobility problems, walking difficulties and speech impairment along with manual dexterity problems. She is also profoundly deaf and wears two hearing aids, but she has refused to let these disabilities stop her completing her John Muir Conserver Award.

In the course of meeting the four challenges of her Award Julie has trekked in the Himalayas, joined the Lomond Mountain Rescue Team on manoeuvre, climbed Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain, paddled the length of Loch Shiel and led other disabled people on a three-day expedition on Arran.

Julie said: “I wanted to experience a totally new existence and challenges that are different from the ones I experience in everyday life. Being in the wild allows me to establish myself more as a person.

“I love the outdoors because it allows you to rebalance yourself as a person. I love coming up with new ideas and I wanted to lead by example.

“The buzz of the outdoors began for me when I was a child and I now want to unleash opportunities where other disabled people can climb a mountain, get involved in taking responsibility for the natural environment and most importantly enjoy the fun, adventure and exploration of the wild.”

Broadcaster and presenter Dougie Vipond presented Julie with her certificate at the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park Headquarters in Balloch.

Dougie said: “Adventure is important, it challenges and stimulates us, and it can lead us to wonderful wild places we perhaps wouldn’t normally visit. Julie’s achievements are a reminder to us all that experiencing adventure and challenge in Scotland, and further afield, should be open to all regardless of age, ability or background.

“Congratulations to Julie for demonstrating her drive and determination in completing her John Muir Conserver Award. Wild places and the spirit of adventure can only benefit from being championed by her.”

The John Muir Conserver Award is the highest level of the John Muir Award, which is an environmental award scheme focused on wild places. The Award encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment, in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration. It is the educational initiative of the John Muir Award.

John Hutchison, chairman of the John Muir Trust said: “By getting involved in the John Muir Award, Julie McElroy has set an example to us all. Not only has she refused to see her disability as a barrier to experiencing and caring for wild places, but she has actively encouraged others to do the same.

“Congratulations to Julie on her huge achievement, and I’m pleased that Julie’s John Muir Conserver Award helps recognise and celebrate her own spirit of adventure and challenge.”

ENDS

Advertisements

SUSE (Scottish Union of Supported Employment) – Business Diversity Awards

SUSE (Scottish Union of Supported Employment) – Business Diversity Awards

I must commend the SUSE (Scottish Union of Supported Employment) for hosting the Business Diversity Awards at BBC Scotland on Thursday 17 November 2011.

Scottish Union of Supported Employment promotes awareness of diversity and equality in the workplace. It also engages and works alongside Scottish businesses to unleash the talents of the disabled people in the public population.

Empowering employers and service providers requires understanding, team work and communication from all sectors across Scotland to work together to address the prejudices faced by disabled people and their preconceived capabilities of securing their career in the job markets. It a rising challenge for everyone however it will deliver a strong collective sense in the long term.

As a guest speaker, I spoke about the motivation to succeed and I hoped after the event the winners will leave feeling inspired and motivated more than ever to encourage everyone of non disabled and disabled people to combine their qualities to make your organisation succeed.

The Scottish Business Diversity Awards recognizes Businesses, Organisations and Individuals who excel in promoting the employment of people with disabilities and health issues and people from diverse backgrounds.

The Scottish Union of Supported Employment Business Diversity Awards aim to:

  • Raise the profile of and promote positively the employment of people with disabilities and long term health conditions, and people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Highlight employers who implement inclusive recruitment practice.
  • Promote and highlight the benefits of inclusive recruitment practice.
  • Showcase positive case studies that address the negative attitudes and prejudices that hinder inclusive recruitment practice.
  • Inspire people with disabilities and health issues and people from diverse backgrounds to move into employment.

There were five awards – Employer of the year, Employee of the year, Work Initiative of the Year, Employment Service Provider of the year and a Diversity Award. BBC Scotland was the Work Initiative of the Year’s sponsor this year. Nick, BBC HR Manager and myself presented this category.

The shorlisted winners are:
Lochore Meadows
Specialisterne Scotland
Work4U

Fife Council’s Outdoor Education Centre at Lochore Meadows, work in partnership with Fife Employability Team (FET) and West Fife Community Support Service (WFCSS) to offer volunteering opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

Volunteers help to design and build new mountain bike trails and maintain existing trails within the country park. This gives people a wide variety of work experiences. Volunteers gain credits for hours worked and these can be exchanged for hiring bicycles. Staff from WFCSS have now accomplished the basic cycle leader qualification.  This enables them to lead small cycling groups within the country park which benefits other service users. Staff, volunteers and those supported by WFCSS now enjoy free bike hire that lets them enjoy the wildlife and fantastic scenery at the park, with the added benefits of promoting the employability agenda and a health lifestyle.

Specialisterne Scotland  is a social enterprise franchised from Denmark, offering employment opportunities for people on the autistic spectrum. Work is specialised in web development and software testing.  The unique business plan was developed with particular recognition of the known skills and abilities of people on the spectrum. By focussing on the particular skills of people on the spectrum, Specialisterne are championing inclusive recruitment practices and very effective job matching arrangements.

So far 24 people have undergone training, 12 have completed training and 8 of those trainees are now paid employees.  These employees are offered support and development through training, one to one and performance meetings. The trainees and employees have highly sought after skills that enables the business to succeed in the IT sector.

Work4U, Fife
Fife Employability Team, Fife Council Social Work Service, delivers the Work4U project in 18 secondary schools throughout Fife.  The project targets young people with additional learning support needs, and those most likely to have no employment, training  or further education opportunities when they leave school.

Work4U helps these 4th year students to consider the skills and qualities that they have, the type of work this might be suited to, and provides work placements with local employers. Over the last year W4U has engaged with 244 young people; 172 completed a one week work placement, 84 have stayed on at school, 54 have gone into further education, 12 have taken up further training and apprenticeship opportunities and 6 are now in paid employment.

This early intervention initiative has shown the real benefits of cross service partnerships between Education and Social Work, and the positive outcomes that can be achieved for the benefit of young people in the world of work.

And in reverse order:

Bronze award goes to Lochore Meadows
Silver award goes to Specialisterne Scotland
Gold award winner is Work4U

For more information on SUSE (Scottish Union of Supported Employment), http://www.susescotland.co.uk/

India Exploits

Imagine discovering the country of India which conjures up images of lush green paddy fields, brightly coloured saris, jasmine scented incense, ancient palaces and adorned maharajahs. A huge country, India is often known as the Indian subcontinent; at 3,287,240 km2 it makes number 7 on the top ten largest countries by landmass on earth.

Now imagine undertaking this challenge with a physical disability along with four able bodies guys from Rolls-Royce, discovering breath-taking mountains of the Himalayas as well as spending time in the slums of Delhi working on a local community project which caters for disabled children.

Julie McElroy from Glasgow, Scotland did just that, she flew out to Delhi with the boys from Rolls Royce naming Alan Mileham, Colin Summers, Graeme Hughes and Gordon Barr. She was born with Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in a mobility problem such as having walking difficulty.  She also has a mild speech impairment along with a manual dexterity problem and is profoundly deaf and wear two hearing aids.

Since childhood, Julie have embarked on various challenges and spearheading new initiatives however this latest challenge was going to take her into terrority  to see firsthand how some of the poorest disabled children lives in India and scaling new heights in the Himalayas. This exploit was to be completely different but was a desire that Julie had longed wished for to join an able bodies group on an expedition as she wants to embraced inclusion among her able bodies peers. When asking Alan and Colin about Julie joining them on the Indian’s expedition ‘The team have had limited exposure to disabled people and no prior experience with disabled adults. However we have a good team working spirit and early on we wanted Julie to be part of our team. Though good spirit and intentions are not always enough, I think that a little more research about the terrain and techniques for assisting people could have better prepare us for the Himalayas with Julie’.

In the build-up preparation, Julie forged a firm friendship with theboys as they set about climbing Ben Lomond together. This was great day out Julie recalled as it was good team-building day and this allowed the boys to see firsthand how I coped with the uneven terrain however she confessed she was extremely lucky to be given this opportunity and felt reassured to be in capable hands with the strongest boys on the planet!

Julie’s easiness and her ability to get on with anyone, she alleviated the fears and concerns that the boys of Rolls Royce had as Alan cited from ‘Our initial contact with Julie was via e-mail and a good rapport was quickly built up, I guess putting us at ease with each other. The team were a little nervous prior to meeting Julie mainly down to concerns around communicating (deafness and speech)this was quickly put at ease when we realised we could easily understand Julie and with a little thought Julie could understand us (if we were talking directly to her).  “Also I found myself adapting very quickly after meeting Julie. In the way that I talk, ensuring not to put my hands over my mouth when speaking and always addressing her face to face to allow her to lip read more’.

On arrival in Delhi, the team’s first stop was to visit the slums of Delhi and to pay a visit to the community project that the team would be working on. The project is runs by a charity called Deepalaya, is a non -government development organization working on issues affecting the urban and rural poor, with a special focus on children. It is because ‘Every child deserves a chance’ that the organization exists and works towards making that possible. For the past 32 years Deepalaya has been working in the urban slums of Delhi and has also made inroads into rural development in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

For Julie, this was a personal and emotional journey to see some of the disabled children that lives in the slums as she commented when you see it on the TV’s news, you take an interests in it but when you come out to witness it for yourself it gives you a completely different prescriptive on how these children live and survive daily. It also made me realized how fortunate we are to have access to good health service.

Just walking through the slums of Delhi with Alan and our guide, it was unbelievable, poor sanitation, malnourished children, the smell says it all. It truly opens your eyes to how these poor disadvantage children survived. One thing that I was constantly aware of although I got used to it, is the amount of Indian people looking at you, if you were Western then they were bounce to scared at you but if you had a disability the scaring becomes noticeable as in India, people with disabilities are not seen in public, we saw some Indians with disabilities crawling on the street.  Even working on the community project, we interacted with the children who have profound learning disabilities.

What really saddened me is that during my years of education we had technologies to aids us with our learning and I believed without a doubt if these children were provided a basic laptop this would enhanced their intellectual ability rather than struggle to write on a piece of paper. India is still a developing country and still has a long way to when it will embrace people with disability as in the same way as the UK, they are now recognizing the talents of disabled people.

On meeting Julie, she possesses the drive and determination to leads an independent life however during her trek in the Himalayas she admitted this was far harder than all her previous exploits as she was among an able bodies group. I found the terrain in the Himalayas tough at times to walk on. It was so frustrating and emotional at times because I kept falling a lot whereas at home I rarely fall.

First thing she noticed that the terrain was completely different as when she out in the countryside back in Scotland, she uses her walking poles to assists her whereas in India she relied on help from the boys and the boys were happy to provide assistance saying that
When Julie finally allowed us to support we quickly developed a good technique, that with the support of two of the team we could get over a range of different obstacles on the assent. It was very clear to me that Julie was having to work around twice as hard as her able-bodied team mates. The main thing we all noticed was Julies determination and she gained the respect of the team through her tenacity and toughness’. Nobody there was in any doubt that Julie gave 100% effort on the day and pushed herself to the limits of her abilities‘.

The community project was my most rewarding experience out of the whole trip because she could understand and empathized with the children’s difficulties. Whereas the Himalayas presented her with even greater challenges however this trek in the Himalayas has inspired Julie to decide what she will do next!

For Julie and the boys of Rolls Royce, although this intensive expedition was challenging, it has changed them in how the perceived about life, forces Julie and boys about assumptions of someone having a disability who equally capable as Colin puts it ‘travelling with Julie has changed some preconceptions I had around people with disabilities in a positive way’.

Personally for Julie, she feels this trek had marked a new vision in her life. When asking what she will do next she says ‘That would be telling!’

Disabled People VS Online Forums

From my disability connections, I was approached by MRUK, who are a research company. Firstly, Scotrail has asked them to conduct online focus groups with respondents who travel by rail and have mobility or disability issues. Capability Scotland pointed out that online focus groups are often not fully accessible and face to face can be better, but MRUK have said that they have previously conducted face to face focus groups so this time are just looking at conducting online groups.

Due to one of my many areas of interests, is with accessibility with assistive technologies, I decided to share my thoughts on learning experiences after taking part in the MRUK research.

A question to ask yourself: is web-based forums in danger of replacing real interactions with people?

It is clear that web based technologies is on the rise and they all have their benefits to everyone and those who have disabilities. When it came this forum which I clearly enjoyed very much and transport accessibility is a major issues for some disabled people especially with the revamp of Queens Street for the Commonwealth Games, I was keen to ask the question how does Scotrail plans to cope with disruption to passengers safety without even mentioning disabled passengers too. Do they also plan to embed assistive technologies in and around the station?

During my recent trip to London last week, I was introduced to a new useful contact who is the Head of Disability and Inclusion of Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) was keen to gets my views on public transports i.e. why do like the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) in comparison to not using Scotrail much. It was merely down to accessibility issues. If more assistive technologies on the trains and at station that may assists me better.

Anyway, back to the topic agenda about online learning experiences, I feel there is necessary place for e-learning and online forums as participation process as it encourages people with disabilities to come forward and from what I gathered from the online forum’s experience more disabled people feel comfortable being upfront online forum rather than voicing publicly in open-spaces. (I know all too well – doing and delivering presentations is a daunting experience for anyone). Overall, MRUK were excellent and more forums research should be conducted this way as long as these research companies continue to meet the accessibility needs of participants through various means of technologies then this will go a long way in terms of time and cost-saving issues for everyone involved. We are inevitable going to see more web-focused programme being delivered all types of education sectors as it is their best response to slashed budgets and other factors. My generation are responding to social media and using the web as their study and to keep in touch with their peers.

The balance on the otherhand need to be strike with real interaction with people as that equally important or we risk becoming too dependent on remote learning on the web!

INAUGURAL WILDERNESS WEEKEND SUCCESS

On behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland:

An innovative new outdoors project that introduces disabled people to woodlands and green space has taken its first six participants to Arran to take part in an inaugural ‘Wilderness Weekend’.

This project is to encourage more people with disabilities to access woodlands and green space and is part of Forestry Commission Scotland’s widerCentral Scotland engagement strategy.

Delivered in partnership by Forestry Commission Scotland and The National Trust for Scotland they have worked with Scottish adventuress Julie McElroy to develop the Wilderness Weekend, which saw the group taking part in a range of outdoor activities.

Participants, aged between 20-74 years old, got involved in a series of pursuits including arts and crafts and woodland walks. They also explored how people lived on and off the land and learned how to light fires from sparks, gather food and build a shelter.

Hugh McNish from Forestry Commission Scotland said: “As an organisation we believe in encouraging everyone to access woodlands and
experience the outdoors. “Current evidence shows that disabled people do not access the outdoors as frequently as able-bodied people. We want to tackle this and encourage more people with disabilities to access their local woodlands.

“By running unique weekends such as this, we are actively helping to remove any obstacles for disabled people to enjoy the outdoors and benefit from the experience too.”

A keen adventurer, Julie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was a child and is eager to help more people with disabilities experience the advantages of the outdoors.  She added:  “I have always had a love of the outdoors and I was really passionate about getting this project off the ground. It has been a real challenge, but finally being able to get participants across to Arran to take part is a great feeling.

“This course is designed to enhance the confidence of the participants and also increase their personal development, by allowing them the chance to take part in a series of tasks and adventures that they haven’t before.”

Notes to news editors

  1. Forestry Commission Scotland works as the Scotti Government’s forestry directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
  2. The National Trust for Scotland is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, which relies on the financial support of its members to funds its important work of caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland for everyone to enjoy. The Trust cares for a range of sites on Arran, including Brodick Castle and Country Park and Goatfell.

                                

Challenging Your Perception of Leadership

Julie is now becoming renowned for her leadership expertise. A far cry from a few years, she felt lost on where to take her vision of leadership forward into the future. However, thanks to RADAR (Royal Association for Disability Rights) who have nurture Julie’s leadership expertise and thus Julie has now become the forefront of sharing her leadership experience and embedding her skills into many other areas.

Recently, Julie was asked to share her vision of leadership with the Wilderness Foundation UK who were keen to gets her opinions on ‘What Leadership means to her?’ and how she manages to unleash the potentials in other individuals and the projects she been involved to date. Julie believes there are key attributes required to be a good leader and they comprises of: confidence, vision, passion, motivation and organisation.

Julie also realizes as part of leadership it also comes with self-empowerment. This empowerment enables you to achieve or overcome difficulties as she says there are solutions to each one whether it may be making a change in tactics, different strategies to draw on. In order to fulfil your potential, you have to have the motivation, passion and the focus to succeed. She was beginning to handle a lot in a short space of time in her years of growing up and felt competent to share and inspire other i.e. putting her skills and life experiences into practice and embedding them into new situations. From there onwards, the empowerment to try new things and change people perception of someone like myself who has a disability thus in turn can be respected citizen, self responsibility and leader which come with confidence.

When working with people whether they are disabled or able bodies, learn to see what they can do rather than doing it for them or avoiding it. It naturally for people to focus on what disabled can’t do however, we need to adopt in a change in attitude on focusing on what disabled can do as I find there are things that I would like to do but it is looking at the picture/situation as a whole and implementing a strategy to coping and participating in mainstream activities.

More recently on one of her projects, she was involved in putting her judgement forward for the participants to be selected from the Disabilities Wilderness Project. We had a good response of applicants and it was interesting reading their desire to take part in the project. As one of the project’s leaders, you want to select people who are going gain skills that will give them the confidence to progress or use the experience to do other activities when they go home.  It is all about understanding other people’s strengths and weaknesses and what they will bring to the team.

Julie was the first disabled person to have secured the Sirius Environmental Leadership. In her application form, there were many highlights that secured her place and for Wilderness Foundation UK it was about meaningful inclusion knowing how to make this programme accessible for the like of Julie to fulfil her potential. Julie says ‘We need to reinforce participative approach as this will enables organisations like Wilderness Foundation UK to excel in confidence which will grow and in turn will allows them to improve inclusivity and diversity practices. The ending results will pays off!

Throughout the years, it has been motivation and more recently self leadership skills that had helped Julie possess the qualities of leadership.

YOUNG SCOTS ADVENTURESS PUSHES HER DISABILITIES ASIDE TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN HIGHER

Remarkable young Scots adventuress Julie McElroy – who has cerebral palsy – is embarking on a formidable challenge to climb the Himalayas in five days to raise money and awareness for a Scottish charity that provides vital therapy for children with the same condition.

Although Julie’s cerebral palsy means she has serious walking difficulties, co-ordination, and speech and profound hearing impairment, along with manual dexterity problems, she is determined to climb the Himalayas in aid of the Bobath Scotland Children’s Cerebral Palsy Therapy Centre.

Twenty five-year-old identical twin Julie – who received specialist therapy at the Bobath centre in Glasgow as a youngster – is embarking on ‘Julie’s Bobath Challenge’ on September 30, to help Scotland’s children with cerebral palsy.

It’s not the first time feisty Julie has demonstrated that through determination, self-belief, drive and stamina, people with cerebral palsy can push the boundaries and realise their full potential.

Julie, who again proved her determination to push the boundaries by recently completing the Sirius Environmental Leadership Scholarship with Wilderness Foundation UK which consisted of canoeing and wild camping in the north-west of Scotland in Loch Shiel.

She says “ I hope my zest for life will help in it 16-year history, Bobath Scotland help hundreds of children to realise their potential and live life to the full, as I have always done.

“The Himalayas challenge, I hope, will spearhead in the coming year in a bid to highlight the wonderful work of this children’s charity. Bobath Scotland has made such a difference to the lives of so many families like my own, and I’m proud to be associated with it.”

Jim Campbell, chairman of Bobath Scotland, said: “Of all the talented, ambitious and motivated young people I’ve been privileged
to meet over the years, Julie must surely be among the most remarkable.

“She is a true inspiration, and our charity is proud to have such an admirable ambassador to fly the flag for Bobath Scotland.”