While a majority of disabled people appear to enjoy a level of self-autonomy, if not independent living, I worry that a group that has been woefully left behind is people defined has having a learning difficulty. This is a broad label that covers a wide range of impairments that are regarded to affect someone's ability to understand the world around them and so their capability to make their own decisions is rightly or wrongly questioned.
I believe that due to this need for support making decisions, people with learning difficulties are treated as a cultural minority by a range of services in a manner other disabled people do not experience. By this I mean they are expected throughout their lives to live, work and play together and make decisions together as 'people with learning difficulties'. I believe the main reason is that there is a huge collection of organisations providing services that profit from warehousing people with learning difficulties from special schools to residential care, day care and group homes. The only other option to not living in a warehousing service seems to be living with family, which has its own restrictions.
The last decade as been full of the government and services claiming to want to offer people with learning difficulties 'choice and control', but despite the grand language and the many 'manifestos of change' written with 'groups' of people with learning difficulties, the whole exercise has been carefully stage managed to keep services in control. People with learning difficulties may now be able to have a choice of what colour the walls of their cell, sorry room, are or what they can have for breakfast, they certainly do not enjoy the many freedoms other disabled people take for granted, including myself.
What I find most sickening is the whole hypocrisy in the representation of people with learning difficulties. The recently launched Learning Disability Alliance England is supposed to be the new voice of people with learning difficulties and so you would expect it to be made up of organisations of people with learning difficulties? While there is a few on board, the vast majority of its membership is service providers, those who profit from warehousing people with learning difficulties despite their claims and pretty wrapping paper. This would be no different than an anti-slavery organisation being made up of slave traders debating how best to humanely transport slaves!
The horrible but sadly not unusual events at Winterbourne was supposed to be a catalyst for change but as services fight to keep their power and profits, nothing but hollow commitments has been achieved, I believe partly because the mind set of regarding people with learning difficulties as a cultural minority has not changed or been challenged. Until there is a radical shift in how people with learning difficulties are perceived, will there ever be a change to what remains a service led environment.
People with learning difficulties must be seen as individuals and as disabled people, as well as just people. Their labels should not dictate who they have to live, work or play with as they must have the choice to create their own friendship and support circles without preconceived ideas or pressure from services. Disability groups, who claim to represent all disabled people, must do more to include people with learning difficulties, and not just those who can speak for themselves, and design more inclusive specialist services, as well as ensuring inclusion and independent living includes people with learning difficulties and other previously excluded impairment groups.
I have lived, worked and played with people with learning difficulties all my life and as someone with a speech impairment, I have experienced a similar level of prejudice as they can face for being regarded as less able of understanding. I believe inclusion should include everyone and it is time people with learning difficulties were supported to catch up to other disabled people in the liberation we should all enjoy. For this to happen, the warehousing services society can no longer regard as tolerable should cease trading as people with learning difficulties' needs and desires are catered for by the mainstream.