Imagine that your building society is
repossessing your house and you are obliged to move out. It has
arranged a meeting to discuss the way forward with all the
significant people – your financial adviser, GP, social worker,
employer and nearest relative. You know the meeting will decide
where you will live, who you will live with, how much help you are
going to need, and who is going to give it. You are quite anxious
about the meeting, as it is so important and many changes are
dependent on it. But you are not invited. You ask a friend to find
out why. When she asks, she is invited to imagine how uncomfortable
you will feel with everyone talking about you while you are there.
This is the only justification offered.

As an advocate working for people who have a
learning difficulty, I have been the “friend” in this type of
situation many times. It never ceases to amaze me how unprepared
some professionals are to work collaboratively with their clients –
even down to inviting them to their meetings. If we are honest, how
often is it that the discomforts we feel about discussing personal
details with a client in such a setting impact upon who is actually
invited? Surely, the more personal an issue the more you would want
to be in your own meeting?

For many of us, preparedness for
person-centred working – a principle underlying the Valuing
white paper – will present a range of challenges, both
personal and practical. We will need to look at our own values,
attitudes and what causes us to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.
We will need to hold meetings in places that people like and can
get to. We will have to consider dates and times, not around
professional diaries, but the best time of day for the individual
whose meeting it is. We may need to allow most of the day (to
ensure there are enough breaks) or only half an hour (because of
concentration or pain management). We will need to look at the
dynamics of the group and communication skills of every member. But
most of all we will have to stop thinking it acceptable, or even
thoughtful, to hold meetings about people without them being

The National Strategy User Group of People
with Learning Difficulties presented its report earlier this year
with the title Nothing About Us Without Us. While its
focus is at the organisational level, it is an approach that many
of us enjoy, and expect, at a personal level. The real challenge
then must be to ensure that we strive to provide the opportunities
for participation that we would demand for ourselves, and that it
is not our skill deficits or comfort levels that determine who is
at any meeting but rather the autonomy and dignity of those we work

It is only in this way that we might begin to
be able to say to our clients that there is “nothing about you
without you”.

Victoria Jones is a senior lecturer at
the University of Glamorgan and a former independent

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