Jennifer Brown being interviewed by pupils at Dame Ellen Pinsent School

My Experience of School

One of the things that I like best about working on this project is that I have personal experience of going to special school, so the stories we’re looking at mean something to me.

I first started my school life at Wilson Stuart School until about the end of Reception/Year 1. I then went to a special unit at a mainstream school, after which I went to Josiah Mason College and then onto Rathbone College, a special college for people with disabilities. I was originally meant to go to Rathbone, but I decided on Josiah Mason as they had support there for young adults with disabilities. I passed my Admin level 1 but was struggling with Admin level 2 so I accepted my place at Rathbone college instead. I studied there from 2002 until 2010, when I got my first job at Solihull Action through Advocacy.

I was born with Cerebral Palsy which led to my hearing impairment and Learning Disability. I spent most of my childhood at Birmingham Children’s Hospital; it was my second home. I had teachers coming in to give me lessons while I was in hospital. I didn’t like not being allowed to leave the ward. There was a playroom at the end of the ward where we could go to do arts and crafts, or play games etc, which was also used for our school lessons.

With my hearing impairment it has really annoyed me throughout my life that people think I’m pretending I can’t hear. There is nothing wrong my ears it is my brain that is deaf as part of my Cerebral Palsy. I can’t hear anything without my hearing aids. I have to have specialised digital hearing aids to help my brain pick up sounds, but I still struggle to hear things such as a person’s name. I lived in a quiet world until I was 16.

I have always been determined to be an inspiration to other people with disabilities. All my life I have had to fight. Whether it is my Cerebral Palsy or my Learning Disability I have always fought how people see me. I go on holidays quite a lot on my own to show that you can do things no matter how people see you. My motto in life is: “The greatest disability of all, is those who don’t treat us and respect us the same as everybody else”.

I have always had a close relationship with my brother Lloyd, who was born with macular dystrophy, and we both went to special school together. Wilson Stuart was on the same site as Braidwood for the deaf/Hearing Impaired children and Priestly Smith for blind/partially sighted children (a bit similar to Victoria school, which also has a school for deaf children on the same site). My brother went to Priestly Smith. Even though he is 8 years older than me we have got a close bond and have helped each other; he was donkey and carried me when I couldn’t walk, and I was his eyes. He also helped to train me on how to use buses.

I didn’t like mainstream school and would have preferred to be back at Wilson Stuart. I loved it at Rathbone College. There I felt like I was back in my own world and had lots of friends. Being in Rathbone College and Rathbone housing gave me the skills I needed to live independently.

I love working on the Education is Special project because it has really made me reflect on my own life, and the different paths that I could have taken. I hope that the children/young adults we work with grow up to achieve their own dreams and have the careers that they want.

Jennifer Brown

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