Do you know what week it is? (Next week)
In the past Learning Disability has had ‘a week’ like many things do. This year things are different. There seem to be ‘weeks’ all over the place. And if you’re confused, it’s hardly surprising.
What kind of a way is this to get a message across?
Traditionally the ‘week’ has been held in June. In Scotland where SCLD take the lead this is still the case, with Learning Disability Week being held June 17th – 23rd. In their wisdom, Mencap ‘the voice of learning disability’ in England and Wales is running the ‘week’ in August from 19th-25th. This is the official ‘week’ for England/Wales, but the message does not appear to have got through to local levels. For example Leeds Learning Disability week (affiliated to Mencap) is June 17-23rd, while Sheffield City Council is holding it from 24th-28th June. To further complicate things Enable Scotland (which is the Scottish rebrand of Mencap) will hold the week at the same time as their English counterparts in August.
The lack of joined up thinking here is less funny than sad. When all those dedicated to ‘giving a voice’ for those with learning disabilities who find it hard to shout for themselves, cannot present a united front, it gives one pause for thought. In the context of Disability Living Allowance being shelved in favour of Personal Independence Payments and the rolling out of Self Directed Support in Scotland, it is particularly worrying that those tasked with standing up for some of the most vulnerable in our society don’t seem to know, or at least can’t agree, what day of the week it is! At grass roots level it makes it very hard to get the message across.
I've never managed to get any personal contact or interest from any of these organisations for anything I've ever done in the field of advocacy drama - over the last 10 years. However politely I approach them, it seems they are far too busy (or disorganised? or disinterested?) to respond to grass roots advocacy which comes from outwith their own organisation. Draw your own conclusions. I'm sure they are doing a fine job but it just makes me think that perhaps, just perhaps, they are missing a trick. Or a chance to spread the word further?
I have worked in advocacy drama for some ten years now. I first encountered the Learning Disability label in 2003 while undertaking a drama residency post. As part of this three year tenure I ran and built a legacy programme from workshops funded as part of a European Year of Disability Project. One strand of this project saw a group of adults labelled with learning disability start their own advocacy drama group, adapting the work of Brazilian dramatist and provocateur Augusto Boal to suit their own needs. The aim of the group was to cut through the complexities and simply present their views and life experiences directly to an audience. Where service providers claim to speak ‘for’ them, the group decided the best way to get their message across was to speak for themselves. Drama provided them with this forum.
Throughout this process I also embarked upon a ‘dramatic’ journey which was quite life changing. I ran a drama company, I won an entrepreneur award, I had a play performed at the Scottish Parliament I obtained an MSc and I set up an advocacy publisher. All things I would never have done without meeting my labelled friends. But have I ever come into the radar of the Learning Disabilty organisations? No. There I remain firmly invisible.
Last year for Learning Disability Week I wrote a novel – a fictionalised account of a drama group run for and by adults who have to carry the learning disability label with them through life. It’s funny, sad, serious and thought provoking and was described by author Julia Jones as ‘perhaps the most significant book I’ve read on my Kindle this year.’
Originally published in 5 ebook ‘episodes’ for Learning Disability Week 2012, with the addition of a further two days ‘A Week With No Labels’ was born and is now published both in paperback and ebook formats in the hope that it can reach the widest audiences.
This year for Learning Disability Week #1 I'm giving away a ‘sneak preview’ of my new work in progress ‘Jock Tamson’s Bairns’ which is a collection of short stories and vignettes about other experiences in the world of learning disability and advocacy drama. It is available from advocacy publisher Guerrilla Midgie Press FREE online NOW. The whole thing may be ready for the #2 Learning Disability week.
One thing I've learned in advocacy in general is that you can't make people sit up and take notice. All you can do is put the work out there and hope for the support of people with a conscience. Hopefully some folks here will be able to spread the word further - that labels are for tins not for people.
You can get hold of a free copy of Jock Tamson’s Bairns sampler HERE
Or purchase A Week With No Labels as Kindle, epub (for ipad etc) or paperback.
Find out more about advocacy publisher Guerrilla Midgie Press and Cally Phillips