Service User Voice: Regional differences

Learning Disability Week brings the focus onto a particular category, where Simon Heng discovers some inequalities

Some of you may know that the 17-24 June is Learning Disability Week. Usually, it’s unhelpful, even divisive in the service user and disability movement to categorise people by their impairment – it can be seen is a throwback to the medical model of disability.

All people with disabilities share a need for assistance in everyday tasks, or adaptations to the non-disabled environment. Most of us lack opportunities in education, employment, leisure activities, good health care and a political voice a greater proportion of people with all forms of disabilities are housed inappropriately, and, perhaps most significantly, a large number of us live in relative poverty and social isolation.

So why focus on learning disabilities? The issue that sticks out is inequality. Not inequality between different groups of disabled people, but inequality of provision between different groups of people with learning disabilities.

I know a number of people with learning disabilities who lead independent lives with little assistance. They are capable of looking after themselves they also have jobs, social lives and get involved in the life of their communities.

At the same time, there are still learning-disabled people living in total institutions. The Department of Health has confessed that it doesn’t really know how many are still kept in these “residential campuses”. This makes them sound like a cross between a university campus and a holiday camp, which is a hollow irony to anyone who has visited one of these places. This is no criticism of the nurses and carers who have worked there, many of whom have devoted decades to looking after their clients in difficult circumstances.

What’s the real difference between those who are taking responsibility for their own lives, those who are living in the community with greater levels of support, and those who are still living in residential campuses? Is it really down to the level of their abilities, or whether or not they display “challenging behaviour”, much of which psychologists have shown to be a product of institutionalisation?

Why is it that the Department of Health estimates that there are six learning-disabled people living in institutions in the North West, whereas there are more than 250 in the West Midlands, and more than 250 in London?

Simon Heng is a wheelchair user and is involved in user-led organisations

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