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Why I Feel Every Organisation Needs A John Coster (Or - When A "Social Media Cafe" Can Change The World)
I have to admit that my favourite type of people are the ones who walk into any space like they own it - and leave you wondering exactly what will happen next.  You know the sort?  They appear to have the ability to make life seem "fun" in both senses of the word - depending on what mood they are in.

Most of the friends who I have met in real life have been on the "spicier" side of the spectrum (the ones who almost seem to dare me to stay around and find out what life in their orbit is like).

I suppose it might be because I wish I could be as confident as they appear to be on first meeting them.

Someone who I would now consider to be a good friend of mine is one such character - I just love waiting to learn about his latest ideas on how to change the world (including people's perceptions of it as well as some of the humans who live in it).  Trust me - he has managed to make me think differently about myself and my abilities - both as a Blogger and as someone with the ability to educate others.

I first met John Coster as a kind of roundabout result of attempting to get involved in the "Everybody's Reading" Festival in Leicester a few years ago.  His name had been given to me by one of the people who ran that as someone who could possibly help my with publicising this blog.

I don't mind admitting that - the first few times I met him at some of the "Citizen's Eye" gatherings he ran - I was absolutely petrified of him.  Here was a man who was most definitely on a Mission to help the "unseen" Journalists (call them "Citizen Journalists") get a voice.

When he decided to stop with "Citizen's Eye" he started something called a "Social Media Cafe" at LCiL (Leicester Centre for Independent Living") in the West End of Leicester.

I have blogged about both LCiL and the "Social Media Cafe" before now.  However, I wanted to go a bit deeper into the effect it (and John) has had on me.

In fact, if I start with the most recent "compliment" someone paid me (yesterday evening) you might get a taste of it.

I had been interviewed as part of the LCiL 24 hour Newsroom (celebrating the "United Nations International Day of Persons With Disabilites") when I got talking to a student who is studying "Creative Media".  I decided to share with the poor student about some of the challenges I face as a result of my sight (well, he had sat in on the interview).  I was very surprised to learn near the end of our conversation that he thought I must be a teacher.  All I am thankful for is the fact he was willing to listen and learn.

If you want to see the video of me being interviewed please go to the #lcil24 newsroom website by clicking here - lcil24.wordpress.com/ and following the links.

The Social Media Cafe was an eyeopener for me.  Let's face it - I am so used to having to fight my own battles and be very careful what I say about the challenges I face (as well as when I try to educate myself about the challenges faced by people with other disabilities) that - the idea of having a space where I could share my thoughts - without being judged as a result was a scary alien concept for me.

Eventually I decided to give this thing a go - I could always go back to being on my own if I felt judged.

The "Social Media Cafe" turned out to be a safe space where I can moan about the challenges I face as well as learning about challenges faced by people with other disabilities.  The best bit is that I can ask the questions I want to in my own way without fear of being attacked or offending the other person.  We might well all have different experiences of being what Society classed as "Disabled" but I can use my experiences with my sight to learn about (for example) Mental Health issues, Deafness, being a Wheelchair User, etc, in a way that I wouldn't dare to outside the "Cafe".

As well as setting up the "Social Media Cafe" - and letting me write some articles for "Voice" magazine - John Coster has actually given me something which I have been very short of in the past - Confidence in being able to feel I know what I am talking about.

On meeting me you may think I am the biggest Loudmouth you have ever had the misfortune to meet.  The exact opposite is nearer the truth.  I am happiest on the edges of gatherings unless I know the people involved.  I think I have mentioned in a previous blog post that - to get to know the real me - you are better off reading this blog than talking to me in person (at least until I trust you with my life).

This is going to sound completely crazy I know - but had I not met John I very much doubt I would have had the energy or confidence to start my photographic project or even dream of sharing my ideas for the "Human Library Zone" project with anyone.

Being told you are good at something you love doing is one thing.  Being told that you are good at doing things which frighten the life out of you is another thing entirely.  Speaking to a range of humans from different levels about things which interest or affect me in some way is most definitely not something I am comfortable doing.  I am not joking when I tell you that the best way to scare me is sit or stand me in front of a "Brainiac" (preferably someone with a PhD) and ask me to either educate them about my sight or make a suggestion about something which will make my life easier.

I did, however, have some success when I didn't realise the lady I asked about the chances of having a talk at next year's "Literary Leiccester" Festival about 'Disability and Writing' (on the back of a talk I had attended about 'Racism and Writing') was not only someone with a PhD but was also in charge of the event.  I get the iea that we will have one such talk next year.

I have heard John Coster tell other humans that I am good at blogging and writing.  He has told me often enough as well.  I really appreciate his friendship and support - as well as looking forward to whatever idea he has got cooking in his brain to give different sections of Society the ability to mix without fear of stigma.

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