CHOICE UNLIMITED 2017: EVENT RECAP

18195254_120332000458718984_636363744_o (1)It feels like only yesterday when Hidden Talent set their stand up at Choice Unlimited 2016… although that might be down to the déjà vu. And now, it was time for Hidden Talent to make its presence known a year later at Choice Unlimited 2017. Be prepared for a tale of twists and turns, thrills and revelations… don’t worry, I am describing a public event, not a Dan Brown novel.

Talent Match Leicestershire Manager Emma Southern and I arrived at Leicester Tigers Stadium weighed down by our bags, our handouts and the printing… dear God, the printing. Emma had been graceful enough to print off some handouts I had designed prior to the event. But I never imagined there would be so much paper… so many trees…

…Anyway, we arrived at our designated stall and began putting the Hidden Talent spin on it… by which I mean we spilled the contents of the folder over the table. But it looked fairly presentable, right? Right!?

After that, we got to work with trying to draw people over with our boundless charisma, telling people who we were and what we were doing, working our way up to the moment where I ask for a few minutes of their time to answer a few questions. I have never used the words ‘a few’ so frequently. I have a feeling if I told them beforehand they’d be filling out 12 questions, they’d be disappearing faster than Speedy Gonzales.

After getting a bit of interest going, I remembered a key piece of advice Emma gave me the night before. An idea that had never occurred to me and felt so revolutionary in its approach that I was kicking myself for never considering it before…

…Fill the answers out on the computer!

I know. Should have been fairly obvious given the 16-hours-a-day spent on it.

The feedback was quite interesting, mainly on account that many of the respondents came from organizations that provided some form of support, from a work buddy at work, to assistive technology to consulting employers (some even bypassing the interview stage!), it felt like jumping a few years into our ideal future. Some of it seems quite obvious and makes you wonder why no one else is doing it.

As part of the event, we’d arranged to give two presentations in the Conversation Circle aka The Far End of the Room (seriously, navigating that stadium is a nightmare) 11:30 and 1:30.

Of course, based on past experiences, I assumed that this would be a similar format to our previous Hidden Talent presentations i.e. a pre-arranged audience waiting to be enlightened.

The reality was quite different. Instead, people could come over if they were interested and have an informal conversation around a circular table. Really don’t know how I could have missed that. I really should have read more into the words ‘Conversation Circle’. Clearly my concept of conversation differentiates from everyone else’s.

Despite this little hiccup, two volunteers from DMU Square Mile were gracious enough to round up a captive audience – not actual captives, mind you – I didn’t send them out there with chains and tasers. We sat and talked for quite a bit, hoping that we could dish out some strategies between us. To this end, I had put together five fictional scenarios, each one focusing on an individual with a different hidden condition to give them an idea as to how to provide specific support. So for example, how would you support Matt the autistic? NOTE: Not a real person, although there probably is an autistic named Matt out there, so heads-up, Matt! We’re fighting your corner… whoever you are.

Over the course of the day, we had the chance to converse with various other organizations throughout the day, many of which already have various support strategies in place. This meant we had to be a little diverse in what we discussed, lest we end up preaching to the converted.

And it wasn’t just hidden conditions, we had people from health groups, charities for senior citizens, equality groups for LGBT groups. The beauty of Choice Unlimited is that it is not just about supporting one demographic. It’s about supporting ALL OF THEM. I can’t think of many organizations like LCIL (Leicester Centre for Integrated Living) that run such events.

While I had to be away from the stand every now and then, Emma was working her magic reeling in new contacts and getting their contact details. Over the day, we spoke with Stephenson College, Assist Ability, the University of Leicester and a brilliant author named Julian Harrison, a great and noble advocate for mental health awareness.

The best thing about those discussions was that there were avenues for future collaborations. One of the businesses there was DisabledGo, a company that had designed an ingenious app that outlined the schematics of various facilities, especially those with disabled facilities. So, for example, if a paraplegic requires wheelchair access for a location they want to visit, they can check online via the app rather than heading there and being met with a mountain of stairs. You can find out more about their app here: www.disabledgo.com. It really is incredible and I’ve lost count of all the things there’s an app for. Ideally a teleportation app? If anyone tech-savvy is reading, we need a teleportation app. Please?

An unexpected, but no less pleasant surprise was bumping into Dani of the Be Happy Yoga Project(see here for a full recap) She was looking to get a lay of the land and finding some more people to recruit for her yoga classes. I intend to attend another one at some point (though I will try not to come dressed as the Purple Man!)

As the day drew to a close, the numbers slowly began to dwindle and the stalls began packing up. We’d previously been told that we needed to stay until 6. I’m still not sure whether they left due to the lack of people about or to avoid the rush hour. Probably the latter. Seriously, the traffic looked like an ocean of cars.

To pass the time while Emma went here and there taking names and making links, I caught up with the leaders of Confident Communities Tina Black and Rina Patel, both of whom specialize in Irlen Syndrome, an under-explored hidden condition that impacts the brain’s ability to process visual information… and no, it is NOT dyslexia or illiteracy.

Anyway, having gotten most of what we came for, Tina and I embarked on our greatest challenge of the day, one that made raising awareness feel like child’s play by a comparison…

A crossword. Yes. Crosswords can be an intellectual abomination. Never mind trying to ascertain how to support hidden conditions. Try guessing the words for ‘sudden pleasurable excitements’ or ‘Africa’s highest peak’. That was easily the hardest part of the day for us. I knew I should have paid more attention in Geography…

Finally, we got everything we came for. Emma felt that it had been a productive day and we left with a number of questionnaires and contacts in hand. The fact that we filled out all the questionnaires online meant we didn’t have to chase down too many people, with one exception. We shall think of that questionnaire as The One That Got Away. I think next time we hand out questionnaires, we need to have a sniffer dog at the ready.

We have a better idea of how to identify specific channels of support for young people, and now, when employers ask us, “How can we support these people in the workplace”, it won’t turn into a tumbleweed moment.

At the end of it all, we just had one final challenge… making sure the contact numbers we’d gathered did not get lost in translation… on in this case, a Sainsbury’s bag.

Finally a big thank you to John Coster, Laura Horton and everyone else at LCIL for hosting Hidden Talent and for tolerating us for the whole eight hours. Until next year, then!

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