Posted by Liz Wilson at 19/06/2015 16:57:22
Learning Disability Awareness week is coming to a close. Through it, Mencap have tried to hold politicians to account. United Response have told stories of the people they support. Dimensions likewise, focusing on people being part of their local community.
I wish there was no need for awareness weeks. There are 52 weeks in each year and any group that finds itself ‘eligible’ for an awareness week undoubtedly deserves the same courtesy for the other 51.
Every day in my job supporting families of people with learning disabilities and autism I come across examples of unawareness. Thoughtless comments, bizarre assumptions and downright offensive generalisations. With over 50 years of dealing with this nonsense personally about my brother and daughter, and through my work I thought I was a tough old boot but to my surprise last week I broke down in tears and hung up on a hapless young man during an official call about my daughter. Some days are like that. He rang me back, maybe he had some awareness training. National awareness training, now that would add value to awareness weeks.
Every family carer I know has fragile days when a little bit of thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness can make a big difference. Today I had a message from a service manager to say a particular parent could use someone to talk to. Some people really notice and act. That kind of awareness comes from living alongside each other 52 weeks a year, and with the best will in the world can’t be replicated by an awareness week.
I think the best way to raise awareness is to spend time together, get involved, get messy, carry tissues, laugh about it, go somewhere different, meet someone new, listen.
What do you think?
“What’s your job?”
“To put a man on the moon.”
This oft quoted NASA cleaner’s reply to President Kennedy’s question has long been a favourite of mine. Everyone at NASA felt part of their big picture. And you can be sure the cleaner took pride in doing a great job.
At Dimensions we too have been thinking about our mission - or as Jack Kennedy might have said – “what are you here for?” Somewhat self-indulgent? Well, NASA knew they had to inspire outstanding quality top to bottom to put a man on the moon. In our sector, a cultural obsession with best practice – whatever job we do – is no less essential if we are to support people to live the life they choose.
Dimensions’ history has been about helping people move out of some pretty horrible places and live in local communities. We’ve been successful in doing that for a lot of people – and given the unacceptably high number of people still living in places like Winterbourne View I expect we’ll be doing it for a few more years yet.
Moving forward, our new mission signals our fundamental belief that being part of a community is more than, and very different from, living in a community. We all know that when people contribute to local communities they establish friendships and relationships. It worked for me soon after moving to Derbyshire when, after a heavy snowfall, I helped dig out our neighbour’s car and clear a pathway up the hill we both lived on.
I suspect that stretching boundaries and helping people explore how they might contribute will prompt some to conclude we’re compromising choice. Like many CEOs, when I confront poor practice, I find that some staff will argue that choice means people can choose what they want to do. Of course - no argument. However, choice does not mean it is OK to stay in bed until midday, not wash or clean your teeth and live off fish and chips.
What we’re talking about is being part of a community and that comes in many forms: volunteering, paid employment, participating in time banks; running social groups; fundraising for others, voting or just being a good neighbour. For a long time we have been driven by personalisation – to take one example, matching interests of support staff with people they‘re supporting. We’re now talking about going from matching interests, to creating interests.
I was struck by the following story about someone we support. Beth is a young woman with learning disabilities who we support to live in her own home in Leeds. Beth used to get very anxious about, amongst other things, being out and about. If she really had to leave the house, her hood would be pulled up and she would look at the pavement as she walked along. When she got really anxious Beth would verbally abuse people around her.
Through a structured programme of support, Beth has become more and more active in her local community. An early achievement was occasional visits to her local corner shop. She now goes at least twice a day, is welcomed by and talks with the shop staff. This helped her also learn how to use and manage her money.
This small milestone led, over time and in small steps, to trips by herself to nearby Morley to buy food and stuff for her fish tank. With this newfound self-belief, Beth more recently asked if we could find her a way to do some work with animals. Now, one day each week, Beth mucks out the pigs and feeds the newborn lambs at a local family farm. Farm manager Rachel says, “Beth is great with the children and animals alike. She does a proper job, helping me out and she brings so much positivity and joy to the farm. Her excitement is really infectious.”
Supporting Beth, and many people like her, to be part of their local community rather than just living in it and seeing how much happier people can be, is why we’re changing what we’re here for:
“To provide high quality personalised support for people with learning disabilities and autism, helping them to be actively engaged with, and contribute to, their communities.”
It may not sound like rocket science – but the emphasis and focus we’ll be placing on engagement and contribution is different. And as Beth’s story illustrates - it really makes a difference.
This week is Learning Disability Week. Each day we’ll be publishing a story that really illustrates what we mean by stretching boundaries. The stories inspire me; look out for them and have a think what more you could be doing.