Author Archives: Sam Barnett-Cormack

Do I Know You?

I need to catch someone after Meeting to give him a cheque (I am the treasurer). Let’s call him David. I sit in Meeting, distracted, looking over at the person that I thought might be David. If I go over to him thinking he is David, and turns out not to be, that is so embarrassing. It’s probably less embarrassing to ignore this person who may or may not be David, and post the cheque to him. But then he might be David and then he’d wonder why I didn’t just give the cheque to him.

After tea and coffee, I go to Local Meeting for Business. More agonies. I’m irritated that a small working group has formed, bypassing the authority of LM and the process of Nominations. Am I being too rule-bound and pedantic? I know I often am. But no, it seems others feel that same way as I do. I find it very hard to know when it’s my turn to speak, and for how long to speak. I have so often in the past been told that I butt in or talk over people. I go home feeling rather low. I wish I could explain to people why I find these things so difficult, but years of trying to hide my condition inhibits me.

My life is full of these little agonies. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and have very poor facial recognition (prosopagnosia) which some, but not all, Aspies suffer from.

Asperger’s is referred to as a “spectrum disorder”. In practice, this seems to mean that there is a wide range of symptoms and most Aspies don’t experience all of them. I can only describe those that affect me.

Like most Aspies, I tend to focus on detail rather than see the bigger picture. I recognise people, for example, by usually one or at most two characteristics. That fine if it’s their nose, but if it’s their hairstyle or their glasses, I’m in trouble if they change them. I have poor social skills and find it difficult to make friends. I can’t judge whether the wording of a Minute is good enough and it’s tempting to niggle over a word or two. Because I know this is my weakness, I often over-compensate and don’t say anything even when I want to. I am a poor listener, and can come over as cold and lacking in empathy. I like structure and don’t cope well with change. I can go to once-a-month Meeting Lunch in winter because it’s held at the Meeting House and is structured and I know how it works. In the summer, it switches to a picnic in a nearby park and I find that too scary and unstructured and I don’t go.

My actions or words can seem rude, when I don’t at all intend them to be. A party is my idea of hell, and I haven’t attempted one for years. I think in pictures, not words, and it can be hard to translate the pictures into words. I often feel ignored or overlooked.

If you met me, it’s most unlikely that you’d realise I have Asperger’s. A lot of people have a preconception about autism and Asperger’s from the film Rainman. I’m not at all like Rainman. Asperger’s is a lifelong condition and back when I was a very disturbed and distressed child, there was no awareness, even amongst the professionals, of Asperger’s. I’m now in my late 50s, and it was only recently that I was diagnosed. Years of struggling with undiagnosed Asperger’s has left me with low self-esteem and depression. I now know that I’m not mad, bad or defective. I just have a brain that works differently to most other people’s.

At least now I can explain to people what my problems are, and why…. if they’ll listen.

And yes, it was David and I gave him the cheque. I used one of my usual ploys. “Have you seen David here today?” I asked another Friend. “Yes, he’s just over there” came the reply, pointing towards him.

Chrissie Bligh. 06/05/2013.

Accessible Language (YFGM Minute)

This is a minute of Young Friends General Meeting (YFGM), as discerned in session at YFGM February 2010 in Croydon. This minute was sent to Meeting for Sufferings.

10/08 Accessible Language

Helen Percy has shared with us her concern over Friends’ publications, many of which are accessible only to people of a relatively high educational level, or for whom English is a mother tongue. We feel that this does not sit well with our testimony to equality, nor wish to speak plainly.

We recognise that Quakerism is a path which values the living word over the written word, and that no book can be placed on a pedestal for us. However we recognise that many of us find the Quaker Faith and Practice useful and we must make it useful to as many people as possible, and not allow “words to become barriers between us.”

We ask that Britain Yearly Meeting through the Quaker Faith and Practice publications Group and other groups considers the use of simplified English in future redrafts of Quaker Faith and Practice and supporting documents so that documents being currently produced are more easily understandable to people of a lower reading age, or for whom English is a second language. We recognise that this will be a challenging task and simplification of Quaker language does not mean that the message becomes simplified or diluted.

We ask that this minute be sent to Meeting for Sufferings to pass on this concern to the Quaker Faith and Practice Publications Group and other groups producing material on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends.

Cait Gould, Siobhan Haire

Quaker Disability Equality Group (QDEG) Annual Report 2014/15

QDEG has had another busy year. We held our AGM at Yearly Meeting Gathering (YMG) in Bath. This was a good opportunity to share experiences of disability with members of our group and the wider Quaker Community.

YMG There were two members of our committee on the pastoral Care Team at Bath. This gave us an opportunity to meet with disabled Friends throughout the week sharing experiences and solving problems. Working with Pastoral care and the disability access officer Krishna was very helpful. During the week we talked to many Friends who shared their experiences. Of course there were some problems but on the whole Friends comments were very positive. A full report of Friends experiences was sent by QDEG to YM arrangements committee

We had a stall at the groups fair in Bath when we had an opportunity to meet with members and interested Friends. We also ran a well-attended Journeys session at YM when three Friends talked very movingly about their experiences of being Quakers who are disabled.

Mental Health We have fostered links with the mental health cluster and talked about how we could work together. The MH cluster has a rather different remit which is mostly giving advice in response to requests from meetings.

Long-term Framework QDEG was asked to respond to the BYM 2015-2020 Long-term Framework. We arranged a special committee meeting to draft our response which focused on equality and inclusion of Friends with disabilities at all levels within our society.

BYM directory of resources Two members attended a consultation meeting on updating the BYM directory of resources. This was another opportunity to emphasise the need to make its services as accessible as possible to all Friends.

Woodbrooke We are continuing our work with Woodbrooke. Later in May we will hold one of our face to face meetings at Woodbrooke followed by half day meeting with staff looking at issues around access and inclusion.

Website: Over the coming year we plan to develop the site making it a valuable resource for a Quaker perspective on disability and inclusion.

Committee Our nominations committee bring names forward to serve on our committee. We endeavour to have Friends with experience of varying disabilities, age range and representing different areas of the UK

This year Magda Cross, Julia Smith have been released. We are pleased to welcome Alan Johnson.

Our committee: Liz Anderton and Jackie Fowler, co-clerks. Pam Brunt, treasurer. Bob Pickup. Jonathan Griffith. Sam Barrett Cormack. Shelagh Robinson.

We have monthly meetings of which 2 or 3 are face to face meetings and the others are by telephone conference. We are experimenting with Skype but so far this has not been accessible for all our committee to use.

Letter to AM clerks Recently we have sent a letter to all AM Clerks publicising the work of QDEG and encouraging them to think about issues of inclusion and how their meeting could become involved. Please use this letter as an opportunity to raise awareness and publicise our work.

E-mail network We continue with our e-mail network where Friends can share experiences and ideas. The committee use this information to guide them on Friends concerns and a guide to what our members want. We welcome suggestions for future development.

Finance We try to use our financial resources wisely keeping expenditure to a minimum. Although meeting in London is expensive it is easier for most of our committee to travel in one day. For full details of expenditure see attached accounts.

QDEG still has much work to do to achieve full inclusion within our society. We see that much of our work is raising awareness and supporting Friends and meetings. We are encouraged by the support we have had from Staff at Friends House and meetings. The committee encourages and welcomes ideas for further development from Friends.

Liz Anderton and Jackie Fowler


Making the Written Word More Accessible to People with Dyslexia

By Melanie Jameson of Dyslexia Consultancy Malvern (opens in new window)

There are two reasons why producers of paper-based and website materials should take account of dyslexia. The first is the prevalence of the condition: with up to 10% of the population showing some signs of dyslexia (of which about 4% are severely affected) there are bound to be people with dyslexia amongst readers of your materials. Although dyslexia can present a formidable barrier to the written word, many individuals nevertheless learn to read but most will never become completely fluent. Skimming though text is rarely possible so other methods are used to get an overview such as focusing on summaries, introductions and conclusions, subheadings and absorbing information from charts and diagrams.

In addition to the handicap of being essentially a word-by-word reader, a considerable proportion of the dyslexic population contend with a further barrier to reading: a condition that has been variously referred to as Visual Stress, Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome or Meares-Irlen Syndrome 1.

Typical symptoms reported by dyslexic people when reading include a ‘glare’ from white paper which obscures the text drawing the eye to the streams of white space meandering down the page, the blurring, fading or swirling of print, together with headaches or eye strain when reading. Some individuals are hampered in their reading by continually losing the place as they transfer from one line to the next, while others unintentionally skip words or misread them. People with dyslexia do not have a monopoly on these symptoms, in fact it was work with photo-sensitive epileptics and migraine suffers which first highlighted visual Stress.

The way forward is often a combination of treatment from a specialist optician / optometrist2 to correct any visual dysfunction and investigate colour sensitivity. Some people find that intuitive tinted overlays (placed on to text) are helpful whereas others ‘go all the way’ and acquire spectacles tinted to their personal requirements.

Why is Visual Stress an issue for all producers of written materials? This brings us to the second point: the text you produce may actually exacerbate Visual Stress.

Research by Professor Arnold Wilkins3 over several years has confirmed that the physical features of text can greatly aggravate Visual Stress. A fundamental way, therefore, of tackling the problem is to encourage those who produce manuals, magazines, articles, public information leaflets etc. to make their texts more ‘dyslexia- friendly’. The points of good practice, outlined below, will make the written word far more accessible to dyslexic readers. Many of the guidelines also refer to web design.

Try to avoid or limit the following:

  • fonts below size 12
  • cramped spacing – between words, lines and throughout the document as a whole
  • printing whole words, phrases or sentences in capital letters (dyslexic people often read by recognising the shape of a word – this is destroyed by capitalisation)
  • use of italics (words in italics are harder to decipher)
  • use of ‘fancy’ or unusual fonts
  • glossy or bright white paper (the shine causes intense glare, especially under artificial lighting; the best colour for most people is pale blue or cream)
  • printing in either red or green (colour-blind people also report problems reading text written in green or red)
  • over-elaborate desktop publishing and ‘busy’ backgrounds

Wilkin’s research concludes that the first two factors present the biggest handicap.

Incorporate the features below where appropriate:

  • justify left only leaving the right hand margin unjustified (this format leads to equal spacing between the words and makes it easier for the eye to move accurately from one line to the next)
  • use lists and bullet points
  • use bold text selectively
  • use no more than two columns
  • stick to one font and style throughout

The recommendations below focus more on assisting the process of assimilation than minimising Visual Stress:

  • always aim for a clear text, laid out in a consistent fashion, uncluttered by unnecessary features
  • only use graphics if these underline the textual content, otherwise they can distract and lead to incorrect understanding of the content
  • include icons and pictograms as markers to enable readers to find what they want more easily
  • incorporate clear headings and sub-headings
  • boxed summaries are useful, given the short-term memory problems and loss of concentration usually experienced by people with dyslexia
  • if shading is used, keep it pale and only overprint text in black, not in a colour.
  • on the whole, dyslexic people are visual thinkers so will find diagrams far more accessible than a written account and flow-charts ideal to explain procedures
  • since dyslexic readers often struggle to recall the ever-increasing number of abbreviations and may not always have internalised new jargon, it is good practice to provide a glossary of terms at the end – this also assists newcomers in the field

Following these guidelines should not hinder us in conveying information to the non-dyslexic majority. In the case of readers with dyslexia, however, it could make the difference between accessibility and necessitating considerable extra effort on the part of an already disadvantaged minority.

1Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome’ was the initial name given to this condition by the pioneer Helen Irlen but the term ‘scotopic’ was rejected as a misnomer by eye professionals. ’Meares-Irlen Syndrome’ also recognises the contribution of Olive Meares. I prefer the term Visual Stress and believe that treatment by specialist optometrists rather than (expensive) Irlen Practitioners are the way forward (MJ)

2 See: and for further information

3 Full details visit Professor Wilkin’s website at