This week Shaun Webster, European Project Co-ordinator is a guest blogger, reflecting on his experience of the Voices Choices Summit meeting:
Last week at the Voices Choices Summit meeting that Norman Lamb hosted, I felt very proud. We were taking the Proposals from our Voices Choices Event that we co-hosted with Lumos, to the meeting.
It felt that the Summit meeting was a really good mix of high powered people. This was good because high powered people can make a difference. People with learning disabilities are tired of too much talking. We want high powered people to take notice and get things done. We want ACTION.
Before people with learning disabilities from CHANGE went to the meeting we talked about power and responsibility, peer to peer support, how we can work together to have power in the meeting. We all felt a bit nervous, we were worried we might make a fool of ourselves and say the wrong questions by accident. The meeting was in a huge room which was a bit nerve wracking at first!
The people I was working with made me feel more confident, we supported each other as we were all in the same boat. We didn’t know how the meeting would go. In the meeting we talked about what we know about, our lives and the lives of other people with learning disabilities. This made us feel powerful.
I was an equal with everyone there, all the people with learning disabilities from CHANGE felt the same. I felt people respected me as a professional person with a learning disability. If just Philipa had gone to the Summit meeting on her own and talked about the Proposals on our behalf it would have been just the same old story. Professionals who don’t have a learning disability really don’t know what we go through. It’s real and people without learning disabilities get a better understanding because its coming from us. We live it every day and we know what happens. Professionals are often guessing what happens to people with learning disabilities, you don’t have the real understanding of it.
If we have the space to talk we also come up with different solutions. As true equals we have ideas of our own on how to make things better for other people with learning disabilities.
When Kenneth was talking at the Summit meeting about his experiences of living in a care home, people really took notice because it had happened to him. This means he also has ideas of how to make things better.
We are not victims. I am a fighter and I make things better for other people with learning disabilities. I used to be a victim in the past but I have used my bad experiences and turned them into good. I am using my experiences to help other people with learning disabilities have better lives and get their rights. My victim days are over. Other people with learning disabilities working at CHANGE are professionals too.
A lot of the time people like myself with learning disabilities are volunteering or service users. It feel like we’ve got no power and they pity us. I think that a lot of organisations are scared to take the next step. They are scared they’ll lose their power. Sometimes professionals who don’t have a learning disability need us to always be services users because then they can feel good about helping us. They can feel important. This makes us feel pitied and we think that often professionals don’t realize they’re even doing it.
The professionals who don’t have learning disabilities often think that we don’t know how to work properly. They are scared to let go of their power. They think we’re not able to understand things properly. These are very deep attitudes. They get these attitudes from their parents and other professionals. They are not used to seeing us as paid leaders. They see us a volunteers and it scares people to see things differently.
We are changing the attitudes of other people with learning disabilities, getting them to believe in themselves. We are supporting them to questions things like we do…Why? Why are we not getting properly paid? How can we move up the Ladder of Power? People tell them they can’t do things but I don’t believe that people have limitations, we all need to believe. In my job working with young people with learning disabilities I get them to believe in themselves. Seeing them take their power and speaking out makes me feel just so proud. It’s amazing.
The people with learning disabilities at CHANGE, we are trailblazers. We are all role models. We are being the change we want to see in the world.