Fire Escapes and Touch Communication


Today we created a landscape, with a Sponge cake mountain on top! (It is Friday after all.) The plaster of paris casts we had made last week were set, and we got to work painting and decorating them into characters to fit on the landscape. The class was quite small this morning, with only 3 participants and 2 support workers. The egg boxes we had created to put the characters in were looking great, and by the end of the session we had a lovely array of quirky characters in colourful boxes.

This lesson was made even more exciting by the fire alarm going off halfway through. As most of the group made their way down the stairs to the fire exit, one service user who is a wheelchair user headed to a refuge point, surrounded by fire doors, with a support worker and the head of the arts department. The question of evacuating wheelchair users from a building when the lifts aren’t in use is one I have never seen fully answered. It seems unlikely that no designer in the world can create a safe a dignified method of getting wheelchair users out of a building. I have experienced using an evacuation chair ( see one here ) during my training as a Front of House Usher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Not only was it difficult to use unless you were well practiced at it (which it didn’t seem that anyone was) but it was a scary and undignified way of leaving the building. At sense, the participant who used a wheelchair remained in the building until the all clear was given. It was explained to me that the evacuation chair can be such a traumatising experience for people that it is procedure to wait for the fire brigade to arrive and remove wheelchair users than for the chair to be used. This was very sensible, but I still feel a need for an easy and non-traumatising method of getting wheelchair users out of buildings needs to be designed.

After the afternoon class I met up with Jon Reid, head of Drama, to discuss the work he and Adrian Howells are doing regarding touch, communication and performance. The current performance project they are working is a group piece devised and performed collaboratively with the drama group at Sense. This is not this groups first public performance; last May they performed ‘Home’ at Platform in Glasgow ( see details here – )
Having discussed this exciting new piece, Jon started to go through a brief history of touch communication for people who are Deafblind. There are a lot of different ways people have been taught to communicate, some more ideologically questionable than others. A lot of methods worked for people who acquired deafblindness, but where not as useful for those who are congenially deafblind. We discussed how these methods of touch communication were just as valid to use for anyone with a communication barrier, such as some of the service users at sense, but how alphabet based systems wouldn’t work if people didn’t have a grasp of alphabet or reading and writing.

This is a very young field of research, which really surprised me as Hellen Keller was writing about these issues in the late 1800s. If we think of how far other fields of research have progressed (psychology, medicine, sign language, even sewage systems!) it is hard to think that this area is still in it’s infancy. However, this also makes it exciting as we are on the cusp of a great wealth of knowledge and understanding.

I am incredibly excited to work with Jon, Adrian, Jenny and the rest of the drama group I haven’t met on their new work, and look forward to seeing how their ways of working and modes of collaboration can affect my practice. Touch communication is what I am investigating within my Text in Performance module, so I will have the opportunity to develop my understanding through independent research and practice. Yippee!! Let’s get started!




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