When Practical Experience Beats “Received Wisdom” (Or – Why Some “Human Library Books” Could Bite Back)

​If you are a long time reader of my blog inkyworld you may have come across the term “Human Library Books” before.

I use this phrase to describe people (usually friends of mine) who have interesting experiences which I love learning about.  The obvious difference between a “Human Library Book” and a more traditional one is that I can ask the Human version questions in order to help me understand what they are teaching me.

I was speaking to four “Human Library Books” today at the Social Media Cafe (I spoke to the fifth one after the event).  Some of the “Books” had similar experiences whilst others were totally different.

An example (which has proven extremely educational for me) is that two of the “Books” have Epilepsy.  However, one “Book” has “Normal” (as in triggered by flashing lights) Epilepsy – whilst the other “Book” has Stress-triggered Epilepsy (which I had never heard of before they told me about it).

The strange thing is that “Human Library Books” come in all sorts of disguises.  This is because everybody has their own unique set of experiences.
For example – if I want to find out about Policing (for example) I can consult several “Books” whom I am in contact with, depending on what aspect of Policing I wish to learn about (and in which country), if I want to learn about life in a different country all I have to do is pick a country and speak to a “Book” who has got experience of living in that country – the same with a different religion, etc.  I even know “Books” like the two I mentioned earlier with different health issues.

I am the sort of person who prefers consulting my “Human Library” if I have a question about something – because I know I am going to get an answer based on that particular “Book” and their experience.

For some strange reason – Corporate bodies are not exactly like that.  They usually end up either consulting charities or proper paper-based Textbooks.  Especially when it comes to things like physical disabilities and Mental Health issues.  There is only one minor problem with that – the advice is either “one size fits all” or totally wrong to start with.

Take the “Book” who is typing this blog post.  If you and I were in a group of people doing one of those “Team Building” exercises where you have to “file” people in order of different things – and the criteria we had to file ourselves on was the subject of who has got the worst sight – you and I may decide to file me in different places based on our experiences of my sight.  Unless the specific criteria was “file in order of the strength of prescription of glasses or contact lenses” – in which case we would both have no choice but to put me at or near the end with the strongest prescription.

The paper-based textbooks only deal with general theories about different disabilities and Mental Health issues and their effects on the people who have them.  This is especially true if they are written by academics.  (These are the ones which I can prove wrong in a matter of minutes when it comes to visual problems – subsection Myopia.)
Some of the charities – who supposedly exist to either help or speak up for Disabled people or those who have Mental Health issues – do not actually have any member of staff with the issues which are being talked about by the charity.  How are they supposed to provide help and support if they have no personal practical experience to use???
It is all very well corporate organisations such as Councils, Construction companies, Organisations who run Festivals, etc, consulting the Charities, etc, for advice about how to make their building accessible for different disabilities.  What they fail to realise is that every single disabilitiy or Mental Health issue has its own scale of severity.  For example – all seven of the “Books” (including myself) in our little discussions wear glasses at least part of the time.  This would indicate that all of us have got some kind of sight problem.  However, it would not (at least in my case) indicate the exact severity of the problem – or all the factors which combine to make it that severe.  You need to consult each separate “Book” to find out the exact severeity of the sight problem and what the “Book” you are consulting would wish you to do to make their life easier for them.

This may sound totally daft but – surely – instead of asking people who have no practical experience of dealing with the issues you have come up against – it might be a good idea to ask someone who has got that particular issue???
Before you try to tell me that there are people who are qualified to discuss things like Disability and Mental Health – due to the fact that they have got paper qualifications coming out of their ears – I would answer that by saying “by all means feel free to ask any Brainiac you want to – just don’t be surprised when you come across someone like me who seems to live for proving the “Experts” wrong”.

I know I have said this elsewhere on my blog but – and the two “Books” I was discussing this subject with agreed with me – we need to value practical experience more than paper qualifications.  Especially when it comes to subjects you cannot get paper qualifications in the Practical side of – ie, a PhD in Psychology and having practical experience of a Mental Health issue are two very different concepts.  The same with a degree in Optometry and having practical experience of severe myopia, photophobia, lack of night vision, a total inability to judge speed to distance ratios, problems with angles and depth of field, etc.  (That little list actually describes my sight problems in a nutshell.) 

I was informed that I am “Pro-active” today.  My answer to that is – if I don’t make a fuss about the challenges I face due to my sight nobody else will.  Apart from that – if the Disabled “Community” (and I really hate using the word “Community” in that context), including both the physically disabled and those with Mental Health issues, don’t stand up for ourselves and start shouting about the problems we face on a daily basis – whether or not it is connected with the issue itself or the stigma which is attached to some issues by Society – nobody is going to start shouting for us.

My blog contains posts on the challenges I face due to my sight in an attempt to educate people about them.  This is my way of doing my bit when it comes to being part of a large section of “Human Library Books” on the subject of “Disability”.  However, my blog also contains posts on other aspects of my life which this “Book” is also happy to discuss with you – all you have to do is ask me.

I am going to leave you with a song by Richie Sambora which I always think of whenever I blog about my sight.  The song is called “Undiscovered Soul” – the relevant lyrics are “When you walk that road – you walk alone.  Just an undiscovered soul in the great unknown.  When your only hope is to find a home.  Just an undiscovered soul in the great unknown”.

http://www.youtube.com/“Undiscovered Soul”

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