Advocacy Musings for August 18
There have been a couple of things on my mind recently. They are connected, in a sense, and do have a bearing on advocacy. Firstly, the social model of disability. I was reminded of this recently by my colleague and friend, Sandy. We first met twenty years ago working for the Derbyshire Centre for Integrated Living. In talking again with her I realised that it shouldn’t be taken for granted that society as a whole now runs on the social model and that disabled people have, at last, a full and equal role in society. None of us should forget that there are many attitudes, responses and prejudices that still need to be unpicked and challenged. The social model of disability is one in which the assumption and belief that people are disabled by their “condition,” illness, supposed I.Q., genetics et cetera, is wiped away and responsibility for the response to “disabled” people is clearly a matter for society as a whole. Town planners and public and voluntary service providers have a big part in this but so do we all. Physical access to buildings is important and if you are elderly and less mobile than you used to be, in a wheelchair or you have other mobility issues, you are actually disabled by not being able to access things properly. (eg by steps or narrow doorways), and not by the fact your legs don’t work. But the wider issue is inclusivity and that is something we can all definitely have a role in promoting. The emphasis on a medical approach to disability has largely omitted the human rights to full inclusion and opportunity. In advocacy we believe in equality and inclusivity and we embrace the social model of disability. Such a stance is the foundation of why we exist. Perhaps we should state that a bit more clearly. Hopefully I just have.
Here is the second thing that has been weighing on my mind: Aston Hall Hospital. A few days ago we were not been able to switch on the television without seeing a report about unsavoury and abusive occurrences there. A colleague who had trained there in the 1980s said to me the other day, “”What we mostly learned is how not to provide services to people.” What she meant by this is that three hundred or more people with learning disabilities and other needs had been lumped together in a fairly isolated institution and had been left there, in some instances for decades, for no other reason than that they all had the same vague “label” based on a medical diagnosis that denied them any hope of social equality or freedom.
I am glad that Aston Hall and similar places throughout the country are now closed Advocacy has an increasingly important role in ensuring that as a society we finds ways to value everyone equally within it and that disability of any sort does not mean that people have to lead inferior or isolated lives.
There is one, third thing I will briefly allude to! And that is the heat. We’ve certainly had our fair share during the past couple of months. Mediterranean conditions or what! Though this has been a summer to remember and there has been much about the warmth and sunshine to take pleasure in it is also true that older and generally less mobile people may have found this summer as difficult as any winter. Weather extremes can be bad for the health and wellbeing ! Advocacy can’t change the weather but if we were all a bit more aware of each other that would be no bad thing. Perhaps it is the heat that has resulted in a rather intense and serious musing this month! Let’s hope that the rain, which is doubtless on its way, will refresh us all .
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy.
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