BECOMING A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS
Jonathan Bryan was awarded the Diana Award in 2017 for his work as a disability rights campaigner. Diagnosed with Cerebral palsy and renal failure, Jonathan is sharing how finding his own voice inspired him to speak out for the voiceless.
During the summer of 2016 my life was nearing an end and I was looking forward to going to Jesus’s garden. So when I recovered, I realised I had been given the time by God for a reason. And, since then, I have been on a mission to improve education for children like me.
On entering the education system, I was labelled with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and spent my time being amused and entertained at special school. But I was never taught to read and write. When I was in year 3, my mother took me out of school for an hour and a half a day to teach me basic words, letters and maths. By the end of year 4, I had started to spell everything I wanted to write and say, and I had caught up academically with my able-bodied peers.
“I have been trying to demonstrate that you can’t judge someone on their outward disabilities, and that whatever your circumstances you always have something to offer.”
When I set up Teach Us Too – my charity promoting the right for all children to be taught to read and write, whatever their label or diagnosis – in the summer of year 5, I didn’t know what reception my story and campaign would get. At the time, the country was in the throes of a referendum and I was unsure whether there was space or appetite for a story like mine. But my health was fragile and I wanted to try to make a difference in the educational outcomes of children stuck in schools that were not teaching them to read and write.
So I set about trying to effect change by starting a petition, and writing to ministers in education. In the meantime, the media interest was helping to spread my message to the public.
In November 2016 I arranged a meeting with the minister responsible for special educational needs, which I attended, accompanied by experts in the field of literacy and alternative communication. One of these experts then nominated me for a Diana Award for my work in trying to make a difference.
It was an immense honour to receive a Diana Award from HRH Prince William and Prince Harry. Meeting the inspiring young people who also received the award was a privilege and I am humbled to hold the same accolade as them.
Receiving the award gave my campaign a greater exposure to a wide audience, and gave me opportunities to spread my message further, including at the House of Lords. Connections such as these are invaluable to a small cause such as Teach Us Too.
Thank you to those who have believed in me and given me such amazing opportunities. Last year my book, Eye Can Write, was published, with a portion of the proceeds going to our newly formed charity Teach Us Too, continuing our mission to promote the right for all children to be taught to read and write.
Since I’ve been able to spell to communicate I have been trying to demonstrate that you can’t judge someone on their outward disabilities, and that whatever your circumstances you always have something to offer. Being a Change_Maker is a way to show the world that young people are not just the future, we are the answer to the present. We are not just the ones who need teaching, we bring fresh perspectives on old issues. We are not just to be tolerated, we can demonstrate new ways to embrace difference. As Change_Makers we build a brighter future today.
I am proud to be building my own legacy as I seek to be a voice for the voiceless.