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Together On Common Ground

Author: Anna Eliatamby

Many years ago, people with differences lived in the community and then most were moved into institutions. There was then an epiphany and a successful campaign was created to close them and move people into the community.

Initially, our creativity was limited to creating specific options, e.g. group homes. We then stretched our creativity and used the supported living model to offer more (limited) freedom. We provided some real options such as jobs for a few but most remained institutionalized in terms of daily occupation. A lot was achieved but there is much more to do. 

We are floundering trying to understand the next wave. We have a sense that it is about bringing about real and true citizenship for all. But how can we make sure that we really bring about significant change?

Perhaps the biggest change we need to make is to let go of our personal desire for power over others even in the most benevolent manner. We, professionals and service providers, still retain too much control and say over the lives of people with differences. We use our models very rigidly and we don’t let go. We need to explore why we need this power and why we can’t simply say, ‘How do you want to live? How can I help you?’ We have a tendency to make these questions into technical service models. We all do plan but would probably rebel if some-one tried to plan our lives in the same manner as experienced by people with differences.

How can we let go of our power? Firstly by constantly asking intelligent questions of ourselves. Some are available in the book, True Citizenship by Civitas Vera:

Questions for Professionals

Support and care

What is the quality of your support? How does the person with learning difficulties experience this? What choice do they have in how they live? Who influences them? When did you last ask them to evaluate your care? Who benefits from your care and support? Who has the power in the relationship? How are you using your professional knowledge and training? How much do you have to be “the expert”? How do you listen to others?

Respect

How do you treat people with learning difficulties - as equals or those to be cared for? How do you respect the choices that they make? What do you do if you disagree with their choices?

(True Citizenship by Civitas Vera, available through www.troubador.co.uk)

Asking ourselves questions is not enough, we need to follow through in our thoughts, words and actions. We can remind ourselves daily of this need by having artefacts around us, e.g. carrying around a picture of an important person to remind us of the cause. 

The only technical models that we should use are the ones created by people with differences themselves. We need to let go of our personal and professional need for clarity through models. We have, in True Citizenship, created questions for services to ask if they are truly working for citizenship. People are free to adapt or change the questions and processes. 

We also need to remember to remain free and open in our thinking especially in these times of cuts and cutbacks. Economic scarcity can bring about closed thinking and a lowering of expectations. We need to protect the basic rights of people with differences and we need to do this with people and collaboratively. We must avoid being protective of our own and forgetting to think about possibilities. 

We need to remember that it is always possible to be creative and free and think about how we can live and learn together to be citizens, each in our individual way. We need to argue for an absolute minimum standard of what is acceptable in lifestyles, resources and support for people with differences. We need to use more informal sources of help but this should not become a substitute of what should be available formally. 

Historically, even in the darkest of days, the ones who get through are the ones who collaborate, work together and respect each other as true individuals and citizens of the world.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Together On Common Ground © Anna Eliatamby 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.