Image: LD Today

Learning Disability Today Exhibition, Olympia Conference Centre London, 29 November 2012

This year’s Learning Disability Today Exhibition was held at a new location, Olympia, and as well as exhibitors and the chance to network there were seminars, workshops and influential speakers. We sent Nic Crossley, Association for Real Change’s Information Officer, along for the day and this is her report.

It’s been quite a while since I caught that early train down to London for an event of this nature so I was excited and pleased to see so many people attending. The crowd was varied; people with learning disabilities, people providing support, professionals and quite a few young people; some on a school day out, others, I found out, on social work placements exploring the learning disability sector.

There were many exhibitors with stands, all keen to have a chat and showcase their innovative projects and the work they are doing to improve the lives of people with a learning disability. The seminars were accessible with signing and lots of people with learning disabilities involved in seminars and presenting. Also care had been taken so that most handouts were easy read, the day was very inclusive.

Learning Disability Hate Crime: Stopping Hate Crime Together

I was particularly interested in this seminar as I’ve recently been helping out on the revamp of the Safety Net website – which is our continuing project on mate crime against people with learning disabilities.

First up was Sharon Daniels from the Judith Trust and we were given a questionnaire on hate crime which we discussed with our neighbours and we had to say whether statements were true or false. This was a great way of getting the audience involved and it was memorable. Lots of people in the audience got them wrong. For example, ‘strangers are more likely to commit a hate crime against you’ which people thought was true but in fact is false. But then I always think you remember the ones you get wrong more!

Next was Respond and the Respond Action Group who performed a short drama called Making Plans for Nigel. This piece was about Nigel, a man with learning disabilities who is taken advantage of by his so-called friend Rose. Rose basically comes round when she needs money, knowing that Nigel has just had his benefit money, when he tries to say no to her demands she threatens him with her mate ‘Harry’ and his two vicious Dobermans. The drama was well acted and the guy who played Nigel had a particularly expressive face. It was described as a Hate Crime but really you could class it as a Mate Crime as Rose was pretending to be his friend whilst using him and emotionally abusing him. The drama ended with Nigel going to the police and being seen by a very kind and understanding police officer who had had training in talking to people with learning disabilities and knew what a disability hate crime was. Unfortunately I think that not all cases are solved as quickly as was demonstrated to us but the main message was, no matter what, tell someone, tell the police! Report it!

The Respond Action Group is a group of people with learning disabilities who work for Respond making sure the voice of people with learning disabilities is heard, advise on making information accessible, design easy read web pages, visit homes, advocacy groups and conferences to talk, support people on abuse, bullying, trauma and consent.

Then there was an excellent presentation from Richard Walker from the National Forum for People with Learning Disabilities on ways of keeping yourself safe. This was mostly aimed at people with learning disabilities, although the information supplied was useful for support and professionals to know to pass on to help the people they support stay safe. The main message was that there are actions you can do to keep safe, be careful who you let in, lock your door, don’t risk your safety.

He made an interesting point imploring us to challenge those who disrespect people with learning disabilities. We wouldn’t tolerate someone saying something racist or behaving in a racist manner so why should we when it’s against someone with a disability? And reiterated the main point, help the police to work better, always report it.

Finally, Jo Davies from the Stand by Me campaign, Mencap, spoke about the work of the project and aims for the future. The project has an ambitious goal; to end disability hate crime in a generation, something which we fully endorse. The statistics were shocking:  9/10 people with learning disabilities were victims of hate crime last year. In 2010 there were 65000 cases of disability hate crime (according to Mencap’s survey) and yet only 1500 were recorded. People with learning disabilities deserve to be safe. The Stand by Me campaign has several promises that they are asking police forces to sign up to, nearly all of them have. They are also working with schools, looking at their anti-bullying policies, encouraging them to do work with the kids on people with learning disabilities and hate crime. Jo encourages other organisations to do the same. Mencap will be publishing the Stand by Me Best Practice Guide soon and the newly elected Police Crime Commissioners will be making sure the police are responding to hate crime and the learning disability agenda.

Lessons from Winterbourne: Action not more words!

I was so worried that I wouldn’t get a seat in the auditorium for this one because of how popular I knew it would be that I stayed in my seat. I definitely made the right call as the room was packed, people were eager to hear what went wrong at Winterbourne and how a nationally led programme of change is the way to make a real, lasting change.

David Congdon, advisor to Mencap on the abuse at Winterbourne View, spoke about the anger and frustration felt over what had happened. That the CQC were told and did nothing about it, Safeguarding Adults were told and did nothing. He said that commissioners are buying care and not caring about the quality. The “individual was let down by the system that failed them,” and asked why has it taken so long to bring about change? More could’ve and should’ve been done. I don’t think there was anyone in the room that disagreed with him. The sad part is that since the Panorama programme aired in 2011 the circumstances of some of the people that were abused haven’t changed a great deal. David also talked about the Serious Case Review written by Margaret Flynn and that it was a detailed report but that the time for reports and words is over, now there needs to be something done.  He made two recommendations:

  1. The closure of ALL large Assessment and Treatment units
  2. A significant reduction of in-patient beds, replacing them with support services in the community.

This can be made a reality by a strengthened community and learning disability teams, integrated support and budgets, working to prevent admissions and starting early with younger people supporting them through transition. The Department of Health needs to show real leadership and Clinical Commissioning Groups should work with local authorities so that vulnerable people receive safe local quality care.

Viv Cooper, CEO, Challenging Behaviour Foundation echoed David’s words by listing the sheer volume of reports published on Winterbourne and yet none of the people abused were offered counselling. No new laws have been passed and whilst the perpetrators are facing justice many feel the sentences don’t fit the crime. The CBF feels that for too many people we simply don’t get it right.

Finally Karen Flood, National Forum for People with Learning Disabilities, gave a passionate speech that stirred up the crowd. She used phrases like ‘fight for my people’ and emphasised the need to protect whistleblowers. She is an extremely articulate and intelligent speaker and she has great enthusiasm and knowledge about the subject. Listening to Karen was the highlight of the day for me and I only hope that we can live up to the goals that she wants us to reach for people with learning disabilities.

They had a question and answer session at the end and there were a lot of people who wanted to share their stories of abuse and ask for advice. A gentleman in the front row broke down in tears because he was overwhelmed telling us his story. It was heartbreaking to listen to so many stories, how no one was offered counselling, how long some people had been abused for and to think how appalling it was that this is still happening today, right now because we’ve not acted swiftly enough. There are so many people out there with stories to tell but are we listening hard enough?

Personalisation: One size does not fit all. Having the confidence to hand over choice and control and having the confidence to take it

Lastly I went to the personalisation seminar. David, who has learning disabilities, told us about using person-centred tools in his life such as:

  • One page profile
  • Circle of support
  • Hopes and dreams
  • Person-centred plan
  • What I choose to do
  • Good days, bad days and next steps

The feedback was very positive and David has already achieved some of his goals, he was pleased to show us the photographs of his new golf clubs and him on holiday in Spain.

Kate Bruton from the Learning Disability Community Team, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, spoke about how they had implemented person-centred plans and pathways and got great results. That personalising support across health and social care is possible by creating bespoke plans around needs.

And Stephen Stirk, Director of HR at United Response and co-author of the publication Creating Person Centred Organisations gave us a treat by giving us a brief overview of his book. The key principle being, make the thing we believe in the heart of the whole organisation.

I found the day really useful to see what issues people with learning disabilities are currently facing and hear their views first hand, something which I often miss out on in my role. I learned there are many committed and dedicated organisations and individuals out there working tirelessly to improve the lives of people with a learning disability but that there is still much more to be done.

Nic Crossley
Information Officer
Association for Real Change