Thursday, August 23, 2018

OMOD's Speaking Advocates

Hey all! This is Eric, your friendly OMOD coordinator, here to tell you about the newest addition to our Opening Minds, Opening Doors program: our Speaking Advocates group that meets every last Saturday of the month from 1-3 PM in Austin. We have now been meeting for six months and have grown a dedicated group of 10-12 members, but we have plenty of space for more folks to join!

Here's an overview of what we do. Each month we vote on a new theme to speak about during the next meeting; recent themes include "technology and accessibility," "hobbies," and this month's theme is "art." Once we choose a theme, 2-3 of our members will volunteer to each prepare a 3-5 minute speech on that theme to deliver at the next meeting. Folks who have prepared speeches present in the first half of each meeting. Then, in the second half, all other members present are welcome to give 1-3 minute impromptu speeches on the same theme. After every speech, the entire group offers the speaker constructive feedback, meaning what they did well and what they could improve if they decide to continue working on their speech for future presentations.

Meet the Speaking Advocates! A diverse crew of vibrantly-dressed adults with disabilities gathered around a long table during one of our monthly meetings

If it sounds a lot like a Toastmasters club, it's probably because we took a field trip to a Toastmasters meeting and adapted the things we liked about it to fit our group. While Toastmasters is a world-renowned organization for aspiring public speakers, there are aspects of it that do not translate well for people with disabilities. Namely, they do not have the same emphasis on accommodations. Sure, their locations are often wheelchair accessible, and most everyone is welcome to attend their meetings; however, our Speaking Advocates group devotes time to helping each person find the best way to present their speech, knowing that not everyone can effectively stand up and read a speech off a piece of paper they can hold with their hands. Sometimes the only way someone can present a speech is by remembering a general storyline, looking at a series of sketches on notecards, or using a slideshow to help prompt the speaker. Moreover, whereas Toastmasters follows a standardized rubric for judging each person's speech, we don't expend energy pushing someone to perfect skills that simply lie beyond their abilities, which is not to say we don't push our speakers, just that we meet each speaker where they are and work on bringing out the best presentation possible, whatever that means for each new speaker.

And did I mention our Speaking Advocates group is FREE?? All you need to do is send me an email at eric@vsatx.org to RSVP. And show up, of course! So come join us! Our next meeting is this Saturday, August 25th, from 1:00-3:00 PM in Room 101 of the AGE of Central Texas Building (3710 Cedar Street, Austin, TX 78705). We'll be talking about art. And if you don't want to get up and speak at your first meeting, no worries! Anyone is welcome to attend and get a sense for what we're all about. See you there!

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