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.