It is an absolute privilege to introduce twelve-year-old Jonathan Bryan to you, though the chances are you’ll already have heard of him as ‘the boy who writes with his eyes’. His story has been featured on national TV and newspapers and his new memoir, Eye Can Write, has a foreword with none other than Michael Morpurgo. My exclusive interview with him is below, but first…
Introducing Jonathan Bryan
Born with severe cerebral palsy, incapable of controlling his movements, it was assumed that Jonathan was ‘locked in’ or had very little brain activity. However, his mother, Chantal, always believed that he was more alert than the doctors told her, and she persevered with teaching him the alphabet and basic words.
Eventually, Jonathan, Chantal and his teacher worked out a system where Jonathan could communicate with eye movements while they pointed at letters and, to their astonishment, he quickly learned to ‘write’. His mother acts as his transcriber, only writing down the words he spells out with painstaking patience.
The world now has access to the inside of Jonathan’s twelve-year-old brain, and we are better for it. Highly intelligent and with a poet’s soul, his perspective on life and faith as told in his new memoir, Eye Can Write, is unique and beautiful.
Eye Can Write – Jonathan’s memoir
The first part of the book is written from his mother’s perspective, telling the story of his traumatic birth after a car accident, her battle with medics and schools to allow him access to learning. The remainder is Jonathan’s own reflections of his life. His writing has its own mature voice, distinct from his mother’s, and his poetry deeply moved me.
His story is incredible – he is now a loved member of a mainstream school, with other pupils using the complex alphabet pointing method to communicate with him. A firm Christian, he encountered Jesus through visions.
I devoured the book and it’s one of my favourites from last year – I recommend it to everyone as a unique and important story, beautifully written. Buy it immediately.
Teach Us Too – Jonathan’s charity
His deep passion is to increase access to learning for non-verbal people. Right now, non-verbal children spend the majority of their ‘school time’ in chill-out sensory rooms with the same thing each day, and I can only imagine the depth of frustration of someone with extraordinary intelligence like Jonathan sitting through that year on year. He is campaigning to change the provision of education for severely disabled children, some of whom could have their lives changed by learning to communicate and ‘write’ like him.
I’m thrilled to have an exclusive interview for you with Jonathan – one I particularly value, as it will have taken significant time to spell each letter with his eyes.
Interview with Jonathan Bryan
What is the message you would like the wider public to take from your book and campaign?
When I wrote my book I hoped that it would change perceptions and assumptions about disabled people.
Being non-verbal and in a wheelchair, I come across a range of reactions from people uncertain how to react to me. Often people stare at me, but it’s not often they will come and talk to me. So I see children I would like to chat with, pulled away by embarrassed parents, and adults engaging my mother in conversation about how old I am and what’s wrong with me.
Even having found out I am 12 some people still talk to me in what I call ‘special’ – a slow, loud, exaggerated, high-pitched voice, which I find excruciatingly patronising.
Reactions to me in the street are a microcosm of the reactions to disability in society. My hope is that, having read my book, people who meet a non-verbal person like me will not assume that their intellect is at the stage of a pre-verbal baby.
What can the church do better to support those with disabilities?
Many churches are good at providing for those with disabilities: a ramp to get in, a hearing loop so that hearing aid wearers can tune in, a large print service book for those who struggle to see.
But if we are truly accepted as members of the body of Christ then true inclusion needs to go deeper than accessibility: it needs also to value our gifts and go beyond seeing us as people who should be supported to people who have a valuable role in the church.
Jonathan Bryan is the twelve-year-old author of Eye Can Write and founder of the charity, Teach Us Too (who are receiving all his proceeds from the book). Faith, family and friends sum up all that is important to him. He also passionately campaigns for all children to be taught to read and write regardless of their educational label, for which he has been awarded a Diana Legacy Award and a Pearson Young Person of the Year Award.
Jonathan blogs at eyecantalk.net
Buy the book:
Eye Can Write: A memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging
- from $4.56 Amazon.com*,
- from £3.74 Amazon.co.uk*,
- £7.70 Hardback Wordery.com*
- or support your local high street through Hive (free postage).
Find out more:
Tweetables:'True inclusion needs to go deeper than accessibility' - 12 yo Jonathan Bryan @EyeCanTalk chats with @Tanya_Marlow about his new memoir #EyeCanWrite: Click To Tweet 'People with disabilities have a valuable role in church' - 12 yo Jonathan Bryan @EyeCanTalk chats with @Tanya_Marlow about his new memoir #EyeCanWrite: Click To Tweet 'Reactions to me in the street are a microcosm of the reactions to disability in society.' - @EyeCanTalk Jonathan Bryan, the boy who writes with his eyes, talks to @Tanya_Marlow about #EyeCanWrite: Click To Tweet 'I hope to change perceptions and assumptions about disabled people' - - @EyeCanTalk Jonathan Bryan, the boy who writes with his eyes, talks to @Tanya_Marlow about #EyeCanWrite: Click To Tweet
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