The Simon Heng Column

Many areas are in the process of reviewing their adult daycare
provision. It’s always been a conundrum: once you have taken care
of people’s health and safety needs, what else?

Some disabled people have the resources and luck to be able to take
jobs, become athletes or run their own businesses. But what about
people who are too damaged, whose conditions are too unstable, who
need constant help to work or have a social life?

In the past, sheltered workshops seemed to be an answer, until
people realised that workers were often being exploited by being
paid pocket money for making things. Endless “work-experience”
programmes involving few real learning opportunities and offering
the possibility of employment, but rarely a job, seem little

People have spent years attending day centres in the company of
their peers, safe in knowing that staff and other users understand
and accept their conditions. Activities are laid on, trips
organised. It’s hard for anyone to understand exactly how scary
everyday life can be if you have a profound disability or mental
illness. But day centres, the last of the institutions, run the
risk of institutionalisation.

Attitudes have also changed. The social model of disability has led
to a rise in expectations, particularly of younger disabled people.
And if you acquire a disability, you don’t automatically assume
that your life is over. So, fewer disabled people want to attend
day centres.

Government emphasis on getting disabled people into work is
reinforced by councils using education and training as a means of
turning disabled people into active members of their communities.
This seems like a positive step, but graduates of these schemes
could easily be stigmatised in the job market – with the admirable
exception of some of the big supermarket and DIY chains – unless
employers are positively encouraged to see the benefits of
employing disabled people.

Even so, some people will be left behind, feeling that they have
failed despite new initiatives. Given that resources will be
diverted from existing provision, the chances are they will be less
well accommodated. How do you think they’ll feel?

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