Nicki Conway
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Nicki Conway

1978 to 1983


I didn't get much out of my time at TDS, not educationally at any rate. The school had changed from being the grammar school of the Spastics Society, into being the comprehensive school and I was put in the low achievers

The therapists took me off my foot controlled possum typewriter and made me use an ordinary typewriter with a head attachment. I don't know why the therapists thought it was not  "socially acceptable" to use your feet, or whatever you could use most effectively. This has always baffled me.

  Although my class time was wasted, my social time was really good, and made up for the extremely frustrating class time.

I remember feeling left out when my piers were being trained to be independent. I longed to go to the Cooper hut with a group of girls and be "independent" like other students. I have discovered as time has gone by that independence is a state of mind and not what you can physically do.

When I finally left school, in 1983, I went into residential care at The Princess Marina Centre, near Beaconsfield in Bucks, about thirty miles from London.

So there I was, a 18 year old kid, severely disabled with an active mind fresh out of school. The world was my oyster, but what was I supposed to do?

I had no examinations, was frustrated because I couldn't express myself in writing due the head attachment..

I reverted back to using my feet to type. I had had a brief glimpse of an Apple computer (with the MAC Apple program running) before leaving school, and I knew that I could make full use of computers in my life.

The typing teacher at TDS, Mrs. McCaskal, saw how frustrated I was and decided to give me a little help secretly.

So I hope she reads this little article.

An uncle had left my sisters and I 1,000 each in his will, so I decided that I would buy myself an Apple Computer..

I remember the first sentence I ever wrote on the screen, "Hooray, my mouth has been unzipped"!

I have never shut up since...

I had the opportunity to do the gold Duke of Edinburgh's award. I could now write relatively quickly, so did creative writing for my skills section.

Not having had much formal education at school, I had to have a lot of help with spelling and of course my grammar was non-existent. But I really enjoyed making up stories, and it was such a thrill when I finished a story.

I didn't have any concessions with the skills, I did them all.

Obviously I had to have a few adaptations to accommodate my limited physical abilities but I did more intellectual things. 

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award took me 3 years to complete.

In March 1986 I moved out of Cedar over to Gib house, which was a separate building and was suppose to prepare you for the outside world. Gibb House held ten people and we had to organise our meals and book our care, and we

I was in Gibb house for 3 years and then I moved into a bedsit, still in PMC. This was a little more independence.

After doing the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, I realized that I could study and started at Amersham college of FE in 1989. I did my English language GCSE and the following year took my Psychology GCSE.

I also did my GCSE in Art through the local high school - I got grade A. The tutor at Princess Marina Centre thought I ought to get some formal education as my art was good.

I had been applying for somewhere to live in the St Albans area, as this was where my Mum lived. I wanted a place of my own but I was in a catch 22 situation, the council wouldn't give me a place until the care was sorted out and I couldn't get care until I had a place. In the end I wrote to the Director of Housing and within a month was offered 2 flats. I decided to wait for this flat in London Colney to be built, and so I moved out of residential care in March 1992.

It was strange being on my own. It was a new life, and really scary. I had been in residential care since I was 7 and there was so much I had to learn.

For instance, I had never encounter real bitchiness.  If I had a problem with a member of staff, I could go to the seniors and get help.. Not so in my own place, I had to face the consequences.

I decided to carry on with my education and went to Oaklands college, in St Albans and did my English Literature GCSE and then English Literature A' level. This took three years 92-95 and I wore myself out.

At the same time I upgraded my computer to a Cameleon computer. I had to raise money for it.

After a break from studying for 3 years, I applied to do an Open university undergraduate course. I got on the Introduction to the Humanities course, but found it too much physically so decided to quit in favour of my health.

I say I didn't get much academically out of my time at TDS. Although I did make 2 very special friendships which have lasted.

However, I think because of the lack of interest most of my teachers had in the more severely disabled pupils, I decided that I would achieve anything I could within my own abilities. In the 18 years since leaving TDS I have got my education up to a reasonable level, live independently with family and carers support, and become quite an accomplished head attachment artist.

I have also had three art exhibitions of my own and I am in the process of trying to get some children's stories published.

I am still in touch with Debbie Cannon (nee Sherrington) and Kim Gunston.