The Simon Heng column

My local rehabilitation hostel is closing down. Designed in the
1970s, it must have been one of the first purpose-built homes for
disabled people in the country, with level access on every floor,
large bathrooms and (for the time) state-of-the-art adaptations. It
is even within easy wheelchair distance of all the local community

But times move on. The building cannot be adapted beyond its
present limits, and current policies to encourage disabled people
to live independently in the community mean that this form of
service provision seems backward-looking, unacceptably expensive
per-capita and service-led rather than needs-led.

In the time that I lived there, in the years following my
disability, I complained about the lack of privacy (kitchen and
bathroom facilities were shared, for example) and the lack of
flexibility in the system. I was frustrated by the absence of
co-ordination between health, social services and housing to
provide an efficient, timely transition to independent living for
myself and the other residents. Sometimes, it felt like I was
living in a ghetto.

But I did earn valuable lessons there. I learned how to interact
with, and develop working relationships with my carers, through my
dealings with the vastly experienced staff team. I learned that
people can take many different attitudes towards their
disabilities, each of which has its own validity. I learned how
other disabled people dealt with discrimination and injustice, and
so formed my own strategies for dealing with this. I found out
about the social model of disability.

It’s right that disabled people are enabled to establish themselves
within their communities. But I believe that there is a process of
socialisation which enables us to establish a sense of our own
identity, our own practices and our relationship to the wider
community which can best be fostered by spending time together,
which most of us need before we can stand alone successfully. I
worry that this valuable process will be lost, as service provision
becomes more atomised and people are fast-tracked towards

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