Behind the headlines

The learning disability task force’s first annual report –
written in a format accessible to people with learning difficulties
– cites evidence of progress towards the white paper Valuing
People’s goals of rights, independence, choice and inclusion. It
includes more person-centred planning, smoother transitions from
children’s to adults’ services, and more involvement in the
development and delivery of services. But the task force report
Making Things Happen also shows that no housing
alternatives are in place for many of the rising numbers of people
with learning difficulties living with ageing parents; learning
difficulties hospitals remain open with no immediate prospect of
closure; and promises of independent living are not always what
they are cracked up to be. The case of the Monmouth shop assistant
with learning difficulties, paid in gift vouchers to avoid giving
her employment rights, is an example of the discrimination that is
still all too common. As task force co-chairperson Chris Davies
said: “It is still too soon for much to have changed in the lives
of people with learning disabilities.”   

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers
“Discrimination will continue while children are educated
in schools where pupils with learning difficulties are segregated
off into separate learning groups. The education system is so
academically focused that allowing children to learn about the
value every individual can bring to life is forgotten. It should
not be beyond the wit of government to fund ways in which all
pupils can learn together.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“Do you know what it’s like to really want to do something
and know that you can’t? All you can do is sit and watch just
because no one had thought of including you. Young researchers in
the Children’s Society’s Ask Us! project have also shown the
importance of attitudes and access to public services – playground,
bus, pavement, shops and toilets. Could this be the next challenge
for the learning disability task force?”

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s
“It is commendable that the learning disability task force
has produced only one report that is intended to be accessible to
all. To me, the jargon-free report is symbolic of the shift towards
breaking down the barriers that non-disabled people put up to
ensure that people with learning disabilities remain as lesser
valued citizens. Negative attitudes towards people with learning
difficulties remain dominant in society and if the discourses and
language attached to this group of people were changed it might
have some impact. For example, why ‘learning disability’ and not
‘learning difference’.”?

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social care,
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
“I applaud the fact that in many parts of the country,
people with learning difficulties have a much better quality of
life and experience themselves as being valued and valuable members
of society. But we are still only at the very beginning of what
must be a dramatic sea change in our own and society’s attitudes
towards those of our fellow citizens who have learning
difficulties. I have simply not seen enough change and have not
contributed enough to the changes that are needed. I will and must
do better, we all should.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and
“The areas for attention are clear from the task force
report but without ring-fenced funding they will not get the
priority they need from cash-strapped authorities. I would like to
see dedicated new resources accompanied by a high-profile campaign,
with the media as a partner, which would aim to break down public
prejudice and stereotyping, and stimulate much greater community
understanding. If employers, like the one who paid a woman in gift
vouchers to avoid bestowing employment rights, thought there would
be public condemnation, they would not risk it.”

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