There is something special about being given the gift of a book. The written word is something I treasure for the access it provides to pleasure and information, and the challenges to thought that are often contained on the pages of books. Today in Dublin my good friend and colleague Michael Shevlin gave me a book that is a visual treat and full of words that provoke thought. The book, titled Pen and Palette contains a selection of poetry and paintings by students at the National Institute for Intellectual Disability (NIID) that is based at Trinity College Dublin.
NIID is committed to enabling young people with learning disabilities to fulfil their educational dreams and has developed a unique Certificate in Contemporary Living which provides support through taught sessions, careers advice, work placements and personal planning to enable individuals to gain in independence and receive recognition for their achievements. In 2008 the first 19 students to achieve the award graduated and since then around 90 further successful graduations have been recorded. The work of NIID has been recognised nationally and is beginning to gain international recognition for its innovative commitment to inclusion.
Pen and Palette is a beautifully produced book. Each page containing a poem written by a student with a learning disability is located opposite a piece of artwork produced by another student. Many of the poems reflect a degree of sadness in the lives of individuals who have been marginalised and have struggled to gain recognition because of their special educational need. Others reflect a joyous release as independence and confidence have been achieved. Reading through the poetry as I sat in the airport awaiting my flight home today, I was moved by their sentiments and the authority with which individual students have been enabled and encouraged to express their thoughts. Any one of the works could have been selected to represent the ideas expressed in the book, but I have chosen one written by John Power that I felt summed up a theme running through the text.
I hope that you too will enjoy this brief poem and may be moved to seek out the book for yourself.
By John Power
To be part of a community
Means that I have loads of opportunities
I like to be valued and wanted
Not to be tormented and taunted
I like to help others out,
I don’t like when teenagers shout
Calling names and won’t let me be
Don’t discriminate against me
What goes around comes around you’ll see
You never know, one day you might need me.
John not only reports his own feelings but also I feel, issues a challenge to all of us to consider the implications of creating a society that fails to be inclusive.
Thank you John Power and all the poets and artists in Pen and Palette and to NIID and Trinity College for this joyful initiative.