Front Line Focus: The right to be different

We all want to be green now: to cut carbon emissions, live healthy stress- free lives, quit the city rat race and grow our own greens.

Yet for many people with learning disabilities this is seen as a retrograde step. It seems for them that inclusion extends the same rights to city stress as everyone else.

When I started working with people with learning disabilities it was in a big house on the edge of the Peak District, where the views from the window lifted your spirits, people lived and worked together on the land and the emphasis was on being safe, protected and isolated from public view.

These qualities don’t fit well with recent trends, and inevitably the big house was sold and people moved to the city and went to college, work or community facilities. Many years on, when college courses have been repeated a few times, and “work training” rarely leads to paid work, we have to wonder if we threw the baby out with the bath water.

Today I support people with learning disabilities who live alone and have their own tenancies. Some of these are in areas where it’s not uncommon to look out of the window and see a burning car: where your wheelie bin gets pinched so you have to keep your rubbish inside where you can’t put pots in your garden or they’d be used as missiles to break your windows. A place of your own can be a great thing, but quality of life and location are important to. We shouldn’t expect vulnerable people to live in areas where we wouldn’t consider living ourselves.

Then there is the emphasis on work. Anyone who has ever been unsuccessful at a job interview can relate to how that knocks your confidence. You may bounce back if you have a learning disability you may not. There are some good supported work schemes around, but people with learning disabilities in paid work are still a tiny minority. Striving for what seems impossible just creates more anxiety, and sometimes work is just not appropriate for everybody at every stage of their adult life.

It’s the same with how we choose to live. Different people need different degrees of support. Some like to live alone, some with friends, some with partners or family. None of this is unique to people with learning disabilities.

And some people like to live with friends in the country, grow vegetables, tend animals and carve wood.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning disabilities.



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