Friday, January 15, 2016

Helping Individuals with Sensory Processing Differences: An Interview with Squease

Squease is a London-based organisation aimed at creating products to help those individuals with Sensory Processing Differences cope with everyday life. We spoke with Sheraz, one of the founders of Squease, to find out more about the Squease Vest and their aims for the future.

We are constantly receiving stimuli through our senses. We pay little attention to much of the stimuli we receive and they are simply processed unconsciously. However, people with sensory processing differences react to the stimuli that they receive in very different ways and may be unable to tell the difference between an important detail and an unimportant one. They may be hyper-aware of the feeling of a label inside their t-shirt, or may hear a buzzing from a light that is not apparent to others. These challenges can lead to an individual experiencing sensory overload, where the brain is receiving more stimuli than it can process, and cause feelings of anxiety or complex behaviours, making everyday life more difficult.

With this challenge in mind, a group of socially minded designers and engineers set out to create a product that would help individuals with sensory processing differences. Andy, Katrien, Sheraz and Menno met at the Royal College of Art and Design in London and worked together for their graduation project. Inspired by Andy’s nephew Alex, who has autism, the group wanted to create a product that could be used to help individuals like Alex in everyday life. They listened to Alex and his friends about their stories and experiences and worked closely with the people who would use their end product to find out what would be most effective for them. The team discovered that many of the people they spoke with found feelings of deep pressure or a hug-like sensation to be beneficial when they were feeling stressed or overwhelmed. However, many of them also disliked physical contact, which often introduces new sensory stimuli. From this, the Squease Vest was born.

An animation on the Squease website gives more information about how the product came to be:

As Sheraz states, ‘the Squease vest was inspired by Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine. When the vest is inflated with air, it provides a hug-like pressure to the wearer’s upper body.’

Deep pressure has been widely recognised as a means of helping to relieve feelings of sensory overload. It has a direct influence on the amygdala – the section of the brain that produces fight, flight or freeze responses when it receives what it thinks is threatening stimuli. By providing a regulatory effect, deep pressure provides a feeling of safety and helps to reduce the incidence of meltdowns and makes it easier to cope with stress or overstimulation.

When the first Squease Vest was produced, it received overwhelmingly positive feedback. ‘Based on that, with the help of family and friends, we decided to turn it into a reality, and launched in 2012. We’ve been improving the Squease Vest ever since,’ says Sheraz.

The vest is designed to help people with a variety of disabilities – including Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders and Tourette’s, among others. The team have been working with parents but Sheraz points out that they ‘also work with a lot of schools, health organisations and therapists particularly in the UK and Netherlands. Our distributors interact with the same types of groups overseas.’

Their plans for the future involve awareness building in both the ASD community and for those with other conditions. Sheraz reports that they have seen positive results from those with SPD and ADHD, for example. In addition, the team have been involved in a number of research studies looking at how the vest can be used in other ways. Sheraz says, ‘we still consider ourselves in a start-up phase so have a lot of marketing and awareness building ahead of us. At our core, we are socially minded designers and envision a pipeline of socially beneficial design products and projects. This will most likely continue on the theme of Anxiety.’

The testimonies on the Squease website speak to the impact that the vest has had on the everyday lives of many individuals, and the team’s plans for raising awareness in the future will hopefully ensure that more people are able to access this excellent product. As Sheraz states, ‘we are really happy that we designed something which helps people deal with the complexities of life, making their lives and the lives of the people around them better. The best part of our day here is hearing from a mother explaining on how the vest has changed the family’s life.’

To find out more about Squease, visit their website: or email them at

Squease Vests can be purchased through their website or through one of the reselling distributors listed here:

Interview and feature by Emma Bowell. Many thanks to Sheraz from Squease.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stammerers Through University Campaign (STUC)

 Stammerers Through University Campaign (STUC)
Claire Norman, 24, is a graduate and founder of the UK-based Stammerers Through University Campaign. Here, she shares her story with us.

I'm Claire Norman and I’m a 24-year-old graduate from 2014. I have had a stammer since the age of 5, which has affected many aspects of my life; from socialising, to participation at school and general telephone use. By the time it came to entering university, I was increasingly concerned about the challenges I would face. I read French Studies BA (Hons) at the University of Warwick and felt that this was a brave decision for a stammerer, because of the placement year abroad and the French oral segments of the course.

It was at the start of the second term of my final year, in January 2014, that I noticed a lack of support for stammerers. I found a lack of resources available for stammerers who are students - whereas children, teenagers and adults who stammer could more easily find advice. I decided, therefore, to fill this gap by creating a support campaign that would help university students who stammer, which I believe I would have found invaluable had it been in existence during my university studies.

The idea came to me towards the end of my first semester during my final year at University. Whilst studying for my finals, the stresses of preparing for my oral examination became too dominating to handle and I started to reflect upon the (lack of) support offered to me during my 4-year course. I decided that something had to be done regarding the support offered to stammerers; not just during their final year, but as soon as they start.
I thought of the initiative and later the name; the acronym ‘STUC’ (Stammerers Through University Campaign), pronounced ‘stuck’ – emphasises the feeling of being trapped by having a speech impediment. After the Christmas holidays I presented my idea to a panel at Warwick University, who then notified me the following week that I had been successful in gaining a small grant to get the initiative up and running. It was here that STUC was born!
I was very lucky to have practical support also, from some Trustees of the British Stammering Association (BSA). Since then I have been flattered by the number of emails and messages from university students who seek my support and ask me to persuade their university to become a partner, as well as BSA members offering their praise.

STUC aims to create meaningful change in university settings for anyone who stammers, whether students or staff.  We also hope to debunk stammering myths and raise awareness of stammering more generally.

Stammerers - whether students or staff - can attend a focus group and seminar in a non-judgemental, supportive environment. These will be attended by a combination of University stammerers, lecturers, researchers and anyone with an interest in stammering. In this way, a range of personnel will be available to discuss the issues and offer responses from different perspectives. By doing this, the idea of bring together university students, staff and personnel who stammer will create a group of individuals who can, as a collective, discuss and examine issues and possible resolutions.

I work closely with the university to organise a focus group, during which we identify areas of concern. These are collated and revised, then used to determine what should be discussed at a seminar to be held at the university a few months later. Examples of issues raised in the first focus group at the University of Warwick included:

§  What can be done to help stammerers during their introduction (e.g. the first fortnight of their first year)
§  Ways in which awareness of stammering within the university environment can be raised
§  How the Students' Union of the university in question can become involved
§  How certain aspects of university life could be altered in order to ease the impact, e.g. assessment.
§  How current university students and/or alumni have overcome/are overcoming this obstacle.

The seminars are a welcoming, non-judgemental, supportive environment attended by anyone with an interest in stammering – this is a wide-ranging group including stammerers themselves (staff, students, stakeholders, etc), lecturers, counsellors and researchers. The hope is that by bringing together university students, staff and people who stammer, we will create a group of individuals who can, as a collective, discuss and examine issues and possible resolutions.

STUC currently has 9 partners (Newcastle University; Imperial College, London; University of Kent; Leeds Trinity University; City University, London; University of York; King’s College London; University of St. Andrews and University College London (with University College London Union). For more information, contact Claire below:

Twitter: @STUC_UK


Sunday, November 8, 2015

#LetsTalkAboutDisability - a new campaign to raise disability awareness

In conversations about diversity and difference, disability is often left out, despite the fact that it can traverse race, gender, sexuality and religion. Yesterday, as part of the Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity celebrations at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ed-Ability took the opportunity to put disability back on the agenda by launching a new social media campaign: Let's Talk about Disability.

This campaign is an opportunity for people to share their own beliefs, thoughts and experiences about why we need to make disability a talking point. It is a way of raising awareness for the many 'invisible' disabilities that can have a huge impact on an individual's day-to-day life. It is a way of making sure that disability is not left out of the conversation again.

The messages we gathered yesterday ranged from the personal to the profound. What they all had in common was a sense of the need for an inclusive society in which all people are treated as equals and are given the chance to succeed, regardless of their needs. 

A few messages below:

All of the messages can be viewed on our Facebook page.

If you would like to share your own message, please contact us via email (hgseedability[at] or through our Facebook/ Twitter pages. 

Let's keep the conversation going. #LetsTalkAboutDisability

Monday, October 12, 2015

Nick Hoekstra addresses IEP Class of ‘16

Written by Syeda Farwa Fatima
Co-Founder of Ed-Ability
Ed. M Candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Nick Hoekstra, a former graduate of the International Education Policy (IEP) program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and current Advisor on Inclusive Education at Ecuador's Ministry for Knowledge and Human Talent, visited Cambridge last week. He brought together an Ecuadorian delegation of leaders in higher education to understand the inclusive practices and specialized facilities offered at different institutions across Massachusetts. His aim was to help the delegation explore the best practices of inclusive education that they all can take back home.

As inspirational as Nick is, he addressed a group of current IEP program students and reaffirmed the resolve of many present there to determinedly work for Education For All (EFA). Having lost his sight at the age of 8, Nick led a tumultuous life that not only helped him learn how to overcome his own battles, but also how to help others surpass theirs. As he recalled, he felt very fortunate to have grown up in the US where he always had the experience of being treated as a ‘normal’ student. With the exception of a year in the beginning when he was in placed in a special education environment to learn how to use the braille and other technological facilitations, he proudly spoke how he always studied in inclusive settings. He believed that it was because of such settings that he was able to come this far.

Drawing on his college experiences, Nick spoke about his time at the University of Michigan where he felt very comfortable with the accommodations offered and support available. However, when he did a study abroad program in Santiago, Chile, he for the first time realized what it was for students with disabilities elsewhere, other than the US. He humorously recalled as to how there were no special accommodations for students with disabilities at the university and he had to send his textbooks back home to be digitized.

However, Nick drew his real inspiration to change the education systems for children with disabilities around the world, from his experiences in Japan. He describes how the Japanese education system viewed students with disabilities or cognitive impairments as ‘dumb kids’ who were bunched together into one big group, regardless of what grade level they belonged to, and administered extremely substandard services. As he worked as an English teacher in a general education public school, he was requested to visit some blind children at a nearby school one day. It was there that he met a young eight-year old boy, full of passion and intelligent energy but unfortunately had been put together with children much younger than him and was forced to follow the same trajectory of learning as those around him. This triggered Nick’s provocation as he sorely reflected that ‘this was the age when I lost my sight and how easily this could have been me in another country and context’.

Nick understood how he needed to work with the policy makers to change the reality of countries like Japan. Although HGSE did not offer a customized master’s program in special education, Nick took advantage of the flexibility of the IEP program and shaped it to his interests. He took up all the classes offered that related to the subject from Special Education Policy with Laura Schifter, Inclusive Education with Tom Hehir, to Universal Design Learning with David Rose. He also organized an international conference on inclusive education practices and built many resources and connections through that experience. He graduated from HGSE and began working with an international organization called Creative Associates in Washington D.C when an opportunity to work for the Ministry in Ecuador knocked his doors- stemming from some great connections he managed to maintain over the years. He immediately prepared himself for yet another rollercoaster and set off to explore a land that was once again, nothing like home.

Nick’s unwavering courage and positive energy was definitely contagious. It helped strengthen the resolve of many of us to believe in our capabilities and strive in the way of our drive, no matter how difficult and remote it may seem-the distance eventually closes and success comes forth-ideals that echo through many of our discussions, resonating with Jimmy Carter, Frances Fowler and Fernando Reimers- as we #learntochangetheworld.