When disability awareness day started
Beginning in 1992 and lead by a small team of talented individuals from a social services day centre in Warrington, disability awareness day has always aimed to promote what individuals with learning needs can do! This is a very admirable thing and I hope they continue to promote individuals with needs long into the future. Unfortunately due to the impacts of Covid 19 this year’s event has to be done virtually (Warrington Disability partnership, 2020). There is still hope. At a time where so many disabled individuals are being left out of care decisions being made about them (Department of health, 2012) are being left in their homes with no support by our government (Public health England, 2020), a paragraph directing parents to support young people themselves or to call the national Autistic society simply is not enough. Are being abandoned by services as it takes a long time for a referral for an Occupational Therapy assessment due to long waiting lists (Bristol community health team, 2020) and are often less likely to have access to the internet to keep connected (Offcom, 2018). It is time to highlight exactly what it is that individuals with learning needs add to society.
Focusing on strengths
Working as a partner for Open Theatre Company, a company which uses drama to help individuals with learning needs become stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their lives and claiming their rights. I can see the value that individuals with learning needs add to society. They are creative, they have amazing minds which when focused on the right thing can have a really positive effect on their part of the world. For example, a person with a special interest in drawing can become a modelling engineer, an artist or a designer. If you focus on what someone is good at rather than only seeing their weaknesses and what they are bad at then you can help them to improve their lives and feel positive about themselves and the world around them. They are kind, loving, non- judgemental and most importantly they are human beings. If everyone was able to spread kindness and positivity as quickly as they can spread hate and judgement the world would be a much better place.
The power of positive language
If the way we use words was not so important then why would we constantly bang on about freedom of speech? Words lead to action and so by constantly using negative words and phrases which are focused on weakness and lack of skill we are trapping people with learning needs into a place where they cannot contribute. For example by saying “so and so is not good at that” or “so and so is pretty useless there is not a lot they can do” we are focusing on the negative and not focusing on what they can do. Words are can be very hurtful and hearing that they are useless quite often does not have a positive impact on the mental health of someone with learning needs.
Actions speak louder than words
It is no good me just writing this all to you so I want to follow this with an action. Let’s try and think about the way we use language to have a positive impact and spread true kindness and love around the world. For example, true kindness and love begins with having kindness and love for ourselves (Gilbert, 2010). We cannot support and promote others if we are not kind and loving to ourselves so let’s start with the way we talk to ourselves. You know? That voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough or that you need to do better now replace that with I am doing my best and watch the way that changes that way you feel about yourself. Now let’s do the same kindness to people with learning needs. Instead of saying “so and so cannot do very much” try saying “so and so is a human being and they are doing their best just like I am” and if everyone could do that then the lives of people with learning needs would massively improve for the better.
Let’s also take the dis out of disability
This is not me dissing disability awareness day it is me asking them to think of an even more positive way to describe individuals who struggle sometimes. As someone with Autism myself I find the word to be very negative and here are
the reasons why:
The word dis as a verb means:
To express negation such as disadvantage, more recently to show disrespect for; affront. To disparage; belittle. As a noun it means an insolent or contemptuously rude action or remark; affront.
In medical terminology it means an agent that inflicts something so that means that there is something in the brain or something physical which is affecting a person’s ability. This in itself is not a positive way to describe what happens to us although this was the way the word was originally meant to be used. (Cambridge dictionary, 2020)
As someone with a learning need myself I feel able to say what I think about disability from the perspective of someone with a leaning need. So from now on if everyone is in agreement, I would like to hear people speaking of learning needs and learning support this is much more positive and offers individuals who are trying their best some validation. This means that it makes them feel valid and valued in the world rather than being seen as a weakness or medical problem. I am as much concerned about the ‘dis’ in physical disability and I would like to see a similar positive framing of words. What about people who are in wheelchairs and are physically disabled? I hear you ask, that is different from having a learning need. Yes you are quite right, it is different so then perhaps these individuals have physical needs and need physical support? I am aware it is ultimately up to these individuals to decide how they would like to be addressed by society as I know that sometimes these individuals feel that society disables them and that is why they are known as disabled individuals. However, I think it is time for us to get some power back and enable ourselves rather than allowing society to disable us anymore. We are able and we have strengths only they may not be visible to others. It is a big change and not what we are used to as I know many of us have grown up hearing learning disability and physical disability but if we are going to make positive change in the world we have to start small and that starts with the way we describe ourselves and the way we use our powerful words.
Happy Dis ABILITY awareness day. Remember true kindness and compassion are everything and can change someone’s life for the better.
Written by Madeleine Levy
Bristol Community health (2019) Autism diagnostic assessment [Online] available from <https://cchp.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/Clinical%20Guideline%20Autism%20Diagnostic%20Assessment.pdf> [09/10/2020]
Cambridge dictionary (2020) DIS [Online] available from <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dis> [09/10/2020]
Department of health England (2012) ‘Liberating the NHS: No decision about me, without me’ [Online] Available from <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216980/Liberating-the-NHS-No-decision-about-me-without-me-Government-response.pdf> [09/10/2020]
Gilbert, P. (2010) Compassion focused therapy. Routledge Taylor& Francis group: New York
Offcom (2018) Access and inclusion in 2018 [Online] available from <https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/132912/Access-and-Inclusion-report-2018.pdf> [09/10/2020]
Public health England (2020) Guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
[Online] available from < https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-supporting-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing/guidance-for-parents-and-carers-on-supporting-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak> [09/10/2020]
Warrington Disability partnership (2020) about disability awareness Day [Online] available from <https://www.disabilityawarenessday.org.uk/about/> [09/10/2020]