He has profound and multiple learning disabilities and can’t communicate verbally, but Christian Raphael is building a successful career as a lecturer and trainer
Public speaking can be terrifying. So imagine what it would feel like to be in front of a roomful of people awaiting a presentation, if you couldn’t speak. This is a situation that Christian Raphael faces on a regular basis – in fact, he’s made a career out of it.
Christian, 25, has profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). He can’t communicate verbally and has other health needs, including epilepsy. However, he hasn’t let his disabilities hold him back. Christian lives independently in Cambridge, with support, leads an active social life and now has a burgeoning career as a freelance disability consultant.
It all started when Christian left special school at 19. He hadn’t received any career guidance, so was helped by his circle of support to plan where he would live, his day-to-day life and the support he needed. That worked well, but Christian’s mum, Vicki, and his support team noticed that it wasn’t enough.
“It became clear that there was something lacking,” explains Matthew Clark, Christian’s dedicated employment support worker. “Although he was enjoying a social life and still does – he loves going to the pub and eating out – there was something missing. Some days, he communicated an element of boredom. Sometimes it impacted on his health.”
So, Matthew helped Christian to plan voluntary work. His first role was to help set up the Cambridge High Support Needs Committee, to give vulnerable people in the community a voice. Christian was also instrumental in the local Changing Places campaign to get a fully accessible toilet in Cambridge’s new shopping centre. Plus, he advised the local learning disability partnership board on ways to include people with more complex needs.
“We used that as a bit of a test,” says Matthew. “And we saw that Christian enjoyed being with other people and sharing his stories with them.”
The voluntary work went so well that Christian secured similar paid roles on a freelance basis – this flexibility worked well given his health issues. He went on to work with the Department of Health – on filming for its Valuing People Now and Valuing Employment Nowstrategies.
He then got involved with his local NHS trust, where he delivered a training workshop to frontline healthcare staff, based on his experiences of using health services. Christian also began addressing conferences, for organisations like the PMLD Network.
Even though he is unable to speak, Christian uses his eyes and touch to communicate with people. He also keeps a regular visual diary, to share his experiences. “Christian’s so clear about things when you get to know him, and he’s become a really able communicator,” says Vicki. “He comes to life when he’s at conferences and interacting with people.”