So what’s so different since we all witnessed with such horror and sadness the abuse and trauma that was happening at Winterbourne View? How can we as compassionate and caring professional people stop this happening again…is it possible for us to do this on our own or do we need to think more radically?
A huge lesson when CHANGE started, was that people with learning disabilities said information gives people power and if you can’t read you can’t access information. People said to me that they couldn’t work in CHANGE if we didn’t make our office, team meetings and information accessible. People with learning disabilities identified the problem and they then came up with a solution that they felt would work for them and so we began the process of drawing pictures to represent words. As soon as we did, it made complete sense. We started to share power.
More recently we were lucky enough to get funding for 2 people to attend the European Self Advocacy Conference in Croatia. I assumed that I would go with one of the workers or volunteers who has a learning disability….until 2 people with learning disabilities said that they wanted to go together as co-workers with each other, without me! To be honest I was shocked, shocked that I wasn’t needed and shocked at myself for assuming that I would be the one to go to a self advocacy conference! Those 2 people with learning disabilities went to Croatia and became immediate stars and role models for every other person with a learning disability who was there, as they could immediately start to imagine and dream of themselves doing exactly the same.
Without people with learning disabilities being equal paid partners in providing the solutions as to why services might not always be working for them and why there are small incidents of power abuse in services every day, my worry is that we are reinforcing perceptions of people with learning disabilities as powerless receivers of services. If we start with people with learning disabilities daily lives, if people with learning disabilities were employed in their own services, as co-workers,delivering and speaking up for other people with learning disabilities, this might then support them to have more power in themselves to see what is possible, to be more active participants in improving services and building truly inclusive communities. It might change our deeply held perceptions of what people are or aren’t capable of doing.
Maybe the time is right and this is just the system change that we need to try to ensure that there are no more Winterbourne’s.
It’s the turn of the year and my first tentative attempts into the world of bloging supported and encouraged by Alex Fox!
I thought I would write this blog because I think that CHANGE is a really special organisation and I want to share some of our perspectives, struggles, challenges and stories from my perspective as the director of such an organisation, a role I feel privileged to have.
We are a national user led organisation working across the UK and internationally and we have been running for 20 years. We have developed a co-worker model of employing people with learning disabilities and we also have a number of volunteers with learning disabilities who come to work as volunteers at CHANGE. We are always looking at issues of power, inclusion and how to communicate in ways that we can all understand. How can we adapt and develop in our changing world while still ensuring that people with learning disabilities are at the heart of everything that we do within our own organisation as well as within society? These are challenges that we face that I want to share with you.
I thought I would start by talking about our first team meeting of the new year. The staff team met and we talked about how we felt about coming back to work and what we what done over the Xmas break. I have just come back from a short holiday in Morocco with my partner and my son which was lovely, getting up and coming back to work was a bit of a shock to my system after 2 weeks off. As we went round the table there was a clear divide between the staff who had a learning disability and the non learning disabled staff. Staff who didn’t have a learning disability spent time with family and friends enjoying the festive season, we took time adjusting to being back at work. The staff with a learning disability had a very different experience. One person said that they were on their own and did nothing, they felt sad and lonely and fed up, another person said that they had felt really really depressed. And so it struck me like a bolt, many people with learning disabilities who work and volunteer in CHANGE say that we are like a family(a good one hopefully!). This made me realize how important CHANGE is for people with learning disabilities and they really do see us as their family.We look out for each other and we accept, respect and include each other. A man who has autism recently graduated from university and spent some time volunteering with us. He said that working at CHANGE was the first time that he had felt he was really accepted for who he is and I can understand why. We are a very different group of people working together with passion and integrity to improve the human rights and inclusion of people with a learning disability.
My dream is that next year when we come back to work after Xmas the staff and volunteers with a learning disability will have had a more nurturing and enriching break.