Is This Abuse?

One of the many things that people with learning disabilities who are employed and volunteer at CHANGE say is that by working in an organisation where people with learning disabilities have equal economic power and where power and rights are integral to all that we do, they feel deeply respected and listened to. We support people to become more resilient and to use their intuition. This may sound surprising but I think that both of these qualities are often taken away from people with learning disabilities – along with their voice and their access to information.

It is within this context that one of the volunteers came to me the other day asking if the following situation in her residential home was ok because intiuitively she felt that it wasn’t:

‘A male agency support worker undressed me, then left me on my bed undressed while he went out of the room. As I use a wheelchair I was stuck there’. She felt degraded, vulnerable and powerless. What I understood that she was asking me was  – Did she have a right to feel what she did?


I felt completely shocked. I too felt powerless and angry. I have no doubt that this is not an isolated incident in one care home. We as a society allow this to happen.

In many ways I hate the term ‘vulnerable adult’, it concerns me that we need to have a ‘vulnerable’ group. It can make us feel good because we can then ‘help’ this group of people and surely this in turn means that we are good people. What and who are ‘vulnerable’ adults? Why are they so vulnerable? What makes us vulnerable economically, in our families and in our communities? Would I like to be called ‘vulnerable’? How would it affect my decisions and life choices if society saw me in this way?

How can we work together to change this? Should we?

I think that this incident raises a number of questions….is this abusive practice? Should men ever be allowed to deliver personal care to women? If women in our society are sexualised by the media and the pornography industry are we allowing women who least have a voice to be in the most disempowering of situations? I know that for me to have my personal care delivered by a male member of staff would make me feel very different than if my carer was a woman. I would feel more vulnerable – would you too? Are the issues the same for men with learning disabilities?

And what does this mean for women with learning disabilities who are put in these situations daily. How courageous and strong that they can then come to CHANGE and work together for the human rights of other people with learning disabilities, that they can get on with their lives. Or can they really?

What are we doing so that people with learning disabilities are no longer ’vulnerable’ but are empowered, strong and have economic power, role models, real hope? If people with learning disabilities were employed in that care home as advocates, peer mentors and rights workers, could we change the balance of power?

I had a fantastic discussion this week with a Healthcare Trust who are thinking about the possibility of employing adults with learning disabilities as co-workers to work in schools. They would support the young people to ensure that they are getting their needs and rights met, ensure personalisation works and understand and support the young person to talk about how they are feeling. This is a role currently done by a senior manager. We really did have tears in our eyes, both of us deeply moved by the real possibility of an immense shift in power for ‘vulnerable’ adults.

empowered woman


3 thoughts on “Is This Abuse?

  1. Total tosh and waffle.

    There is plenty of waffle, but no true understanding here, and a great deal of modern terminology used, political speak. To say that in may ways you “hate the term ‘vulnerable adult’, is not understand the disabled at all, as we look upon ourselves, first and foremost, as individuals, in our own right, and then collectively. You seek to take away the individual. You also say that you would not like to be thought of as vulnerable. Those of us who are vulnerable admit we are, being a fact we have to live with, and no shame in it as it is the truth, where we are, cannot be avoided. We that are vulnerable know we are, accept we are, as it is the truth of where we are at. No good messing around with words to santise what is reality. Live in your world, and we shall live in ours, and we are very much pleased with our own true world of facts, though if we had the power to change things, to be better, we would be. This is where those who impose themselves upon us, with their inordinate sentiment, guided by emotions, not facts, part company with us, and should go and get a job that they are suited to, let those that have a vocation in this field take their place.

  2. This is abuse, i’m not surprised you were angry. It’s reassuring that people within Healthcare trusts are moved, I do hope they’ll take action too. Thank you for these words.

  3. We all have rights and the right of choice should be respected, as should the right to be treated with respect and dignity. This is more termanology just as the word ‘vulnerable’ is. Whether a person has a learning disability, or not, these rights should be available to all.

    Unfortunately in some parts of Society certain persons feel that because a person has a disability these rights no longer apply. But they do, because through no fault of the person with a disability some are at a greater risk than a person with no disability, if only because they require others to provide some assistance to do certain tasks.

    With regards the word ‘vulnerable’ to some extent we are all vulnerable in some ways. So why is it that some persons are tagged with the word and others are not. Is it the way authorities have of labeling people as if people are objects and not individuals. No one person is the same, whether they have a disability or not, surely the individual should come first not the label.

    In respect of the lady who was left on the bed in a state of undress, this was certainly abuse as the male agency support worker showed the lady no respect to her as a person with regards to dignity, choice, vulnerability and others. She certainly did have a right to feel the way she did and the situation should have been brought to attention of the management of the care home and logged as a safeguarding issue.

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