I’ve never thought of my sister, above, as a saleswoman – she can be engaging, encouraging, persuasive and talkative, but she’s never actually sold me anything other than an idea (usually about what film to watch; invariably a Bond movie).
So my family and I were impressed – and proud – to see Raana in marketing mode (above, resplendent with pot for raffle ticket cash) for the first time on Saturday (scroll down for a gallery of snapshots).
Raana, along with some of her peers, formed a veritable raffle mafia – but not only was parting with cash in a good cause, it was impossible to say no when the ticket sellers assured you “this one’s a winner!” (this was clearly a sales spiel – neither I nor anyone in my family won a single thing…).
The open day in the Lantern’s grounds – with flowers, plants and fruit and veg in early autumnal bloom, stalls, food and live music – marked the opening of a new house, Silver Birches, for adults with learning disabilities. The day was also a celebration of the charity merger between the Lantern and Seahorses. Seahorses is four-star holiday accommodation on the Isle of Wight run by, with and for people with disabilities (as well as for those without) – a B&B with a bonus, as I explained in a recent Guardian piece.
From the fruit, vegetables and plants on sale and display to the bakery produce and the range of arts and crafts including pottery and woodwork, the day showcased the talents of a creative and inspiring group of people. And one of them, running from stall to stall with a book of pink tickets and a broad smile, refusing to stop to chat to me (“I’m busy! I’m working!”), was my saleswoman of a sister.
Talking to my eight-year-old daughter about the fact I was going to blog about our day with Raana, she immediately suggested a title for the story. It’s so neat and accurate, I think it rounds off the post and sums up the event perfectly: The Lantern Stars.
How many people aspire to be ordinary? Success is usually defined success as standing out from the crowd, being the focus of attention or doing something extraordinary.
But Shairaz’s wish is different.
Shairaz wants to be regarded as ordinary because, as he says, he and his peers are usually regarded as scroungers or superheroes.
Shiraz, who has a learning disability, says of the stereotypical perception of disabled people: “We shouldn’t only be portrayed when we do something amazing or something bad. We should also be portrayed when we are doing ordinary things. Most of us are not scroungers. It’s the government that has decided to offer us support, it’s not us begging. Many people can’t work and that’s not their fault, we shouldn’t be called scroungers.”
Shiraz is taking part in a new campaign launched today by the social care charity United Response. Along with a survey and a new report on attitudes to disability, there is an art project and exhibition from next week, Postcards From The Edges which focuses on the everyday lives and achievements of disabled people (see the examples on this page, view more on the charity’s dedicated project site and via this Guardian gallery).
The survey, report and artworks coincide with National Paralympic Day on Saturday, marking a year since the Paralympics – but the event’s impact may be fading, according to United Response’s survey. The aim of the survey, report and art project is to transform how the public sees disabled people.
For example, two thirds of the 1000 people surveyed say they see more disabled people in the real world than in the media, while four out of five say that the public does not know enough about disability.
While the research shows the Paralympics was a memorable event – Ellie Simmonds’ four gold medals is named as the best memory by 31% of respondents – less than one in five of respondents could name a disabled person who has become well-known in the year since the Paralympics. Meanwhile, 40% found it difficult to name a well known physically disabled person and only one in five could name a person with a learning disability.
The postcards, many of which will be showcased in an exhibition at Bankside Gallery in London, complements this research. The charity asked people – well-known or “ordinary”, with or without disabilities – to write or draw cards in any creative style. The only proviso was that the card design in some way responded to the question: “What do you want to tell the world?”.
United Response has collated the cards over the last eight months and the results – more than 550 pieces of art – are a snapshot of thoughts, hopes, fears, ambitions and everyday experiences of a wide range of people. There are submissions from older people with mental health needs, parents of children with autism, people with physical disabilities, children and social workers. Among the postcard designers are Paralympians Hannah Cockroft and Dame Sarah Storey, Olympian Sally Gunnell, Suede singer Brett Anderson and actor Emma Thompson.
The report from the charity’s campaigns panel (which Shairaz is a member of) underlines the messages from the survey and the art project. The publication, Superhumans or Scroungers, reveals the gap between the portrayal of the superhuman Paralympians and media coverage of disabled people.
“We shouldn’t be portrayed in just one light, as superheroes or scroungers,” says Shairaz about the report. “People should know more about our lives overall… I would just like to see us portrayed more as ordinary people. Yes we’re special in some ways, but so is everyone. It would be good to see television not just concentrating on our disability but on who we are and what matters to us, like the place we live. That would give everyone a chance to learn from different experiences and that might help everyone to stop generalising.”
The aim of the report and panel, Shairaz adds, is “to make people more aware of what disability is about…A lot of people have the wrong impression of people with disabilities. They think disabled people are all the same and should be classed under one branch. They don’t understand hidden disabilities, like my mental disability. A lot of people think that people with mental disabilities are crazy or stupid, but that’s not true.
“People make assumptions because they don’t understand. So I think the panel is about helping people understand and also telling them that we have rights and views and opinions. Our opinions count as much as able people’s opinions.”
The report stresses that media coverage of disability tends to focus on people with physical disabilities, meaning that people with learning disabilities, autism, mental health needs and other hidden disabilities are “almost invisible”.
Shairaz and his fellow campaigns panel members also worry about the growth in news stories about welfare with, as the report states, a simplistic representation of disability creating “a polarisation of who is ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ of support”. The report explains, “it means there is very little attention given to ordinary disabled people or the positive contributions that they make”.
The postcards project ties into this, says Shairaz, because it offers people a wider vision of disability and of the achievements of disabled people in a positive, creative way. He adds: “It’s also good to tell people your experience, but nice to do it in a fun way… Life isn’t always serious and spilling your heart out. When people ask about my life I don’t say “Oh, I just mope about and feel sorry for myself”, I say I have fun too.”
Su Sayer, United Response’s chief executive co-founded the organisation 40 years ago when it was the norm for people with learning disabilities to be hidden away in large institutions. She adds: “While the last four decades have seen huge changes for many people with learning disabilities, there is still widespread prejudice and lack of understanding from the broader public. Many people still don’t understand much about disability or the lives of disabled people, let alone their achievements.”
Sayer adds that the two extremes of how disabled people are portrayed – lionised as superhuman or criticised as scroungers – is “far, far from the reality of the overwhelming majority of disabled people today…’ordinary’ disabled people are still very absent from public life”.
Shairaz agrees. “It’s important to know that it’s not just the people who can do great things at sport who are important,” he says. “Everyone is a hero in themselves. My girlfriend says I can be a hero sometimes, because of the support I give her.”
* The Postcards from the Edges exhibition opens at Bankside Gallery in London on Tuesday 10 September and runs until Sunday 15 September. It will be followed by a showcase at the Sage in Gateshead (1- 4 October), the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol (private view on the evening of 23 September) and the Camp and Furnace Gallery in Liverpool (4-10 November).
* Find out more about the project by visiting the Postcards website.
Society often fails to realise that people aged 65 and over currently represent a sixth of the UK population responsible for £120 billion worth of spending power a year – over 18% of total spending in the UK. And the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by nearly 50% in the next 20 years to over 16 million (figures from the Office for National Statistics).
As Britain adapts to an ageing population, the marketplace for assisted living aids and adaptions such as stairlifts, adapted bathrooms, wheelchairs, mobility scooters and pendant alarms will become a dominant area of spending. Market forces will encourage producers and distributors to sharpen up their communications to older people but it would be a very positive development if we were to address this now rather than later.
The government’s 3 million lives initiative, announced last year with the aim of improving access to telecare and telehealth, is an important step towards transforming service delivery for people with long term conditions, and/or social care needs, by utilising telehealth and telecare within health and social care services. Telecare and telehealth relate to the use of technology-related devices, from high-tech equipment to simple sensors, that help people maintain their independence and boost their safety. And during a recent debate on the Care Bill in the House of Lords the government announced that it intends to maintain existing entitlements for older people regarding aids, minor adaptations and intermediate care.
These developments are warmly welcomed. However recent research by Age UK Enterprises, the commercial arm of the charity, found that there is still a way to go in ensuring that knowledge about these developments is passed to those who most need them. The survey revealed that 20% of over 65s feel there is a lack of information available about independence aids for the home.
The low consumer awareness amongst people aged 50-70 of the very products which can aid independent living at an older age can be addressed. But there are also social perceptions that we need to tackle too. A key finding from the research conducted by the Health Design & Technology Institute (HDTI) at Coventry University in partnership with Age UK and campaigning charity Grandparents Plus, is that while some in later life would benefit from independence aids, many older people do not want to be stigmatised or singled out as being in need of “assisted” products or “equipment”.
Age UK Enterprises is interested in this as we provide personal alarms (one of many aids that help older people remain independent within their own home). It is imperative that the utmost is done to prevent falls and accidents within the home and these aids are a step in the right direction to ensure the protection of this demographic (NHS figures show that around 30% of adults over 65 and living at home will experience at least one fall a year and this rises to 50% of adults over 80 who are at home or in care).
So we need to collectively tackle these issues by thinking comprehensively. From their inception and design these products need to help avoid stigmatising older people by ensuring good, attractive, non-medical design. Their availability needs to be considered too.
Out Age UK Engage Business Network aims to share knowledge and insight about what the ageing process means for business best practice. It encourages better design of mainstream products and services to meet the needs of our ageing populationThe Network is seeing more and more businesses waking up to the idea of making services and products easier to engage with and inclusive; not just subsets of their product range aimed at the older market but their entire offering. If done well, this will naturally make brands accessible to all customers, including people in later life.
We must help older people realise how much support is available to them. There are solutions available to help improve their independence, as well as their confidence in the support available to them. This support network is substantial and includes everyone from charities and businesses, through to local authorities and the government, and each element has its part to play in raising awareness of independence aids.
* Gordon Morris is managing director of Age UK Enterprises. Age UK’s ‘Adapting your home’ guide includes information about the aids that can enable older people to stay independent in their own homes for longer; for a free copy call Age UK Advice free on 0800 169 6565 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk to download a copy.
Public transport – by definition involves “buses, trains, and other forms of transport that are available to the public, charge set fares, and run on fixed routes”. While the network is meant to be for the use of the general public, a significant section of that population – people with a learning disability – faces challenges when using the system.
While people with a physical disability are often literally unable to get onto vehicles, someone with a learning disability might be physically capable of stepping onto a train, but might find the system as a whole impossible to negotiate.
My sister, for example, likes using buses, trains or Tubes but it would be impossible for her to safely work her way round any of those modes of transport alone; her anxiety would leave her rooted to the spot and she’d be unable to cope with making sense of the numerous changes and confusing timetables..multiple folded leaflets, tiny print, lots of abbreviations..forget it, it’s difficult enough for the rest of us, let alone someone with Fragile X syndrome. So her journeys are accompanied or she’s driven from A to B by us but for other people with learning disabilities, there are not many other options for getting about.
Take Kevin Preen, without public transport, he says he would be “stuck in doors all day”. Kevin, 52, has a learning disability and Perthes’ disease, which led to a hip replacement when he was seven-years-old.
Kevin is supported by and is a peer-advocate for Oxford-based learning disability charity My Life My Choice (he has also represented Oxfordshire’s learning disabled community at the National Forum). He is now spearheading a travel and transport campaign for My Life My Choice during Learning Disability Week, which starts today.
The 52-year-old, who is currently awaiting an Atos assessment for work capacity, adds”: “Without public transport…I could make a few short journeys a week by taxi but I couldn’t afford to do much.”
His awareness-raising mission, known as the End to End trip, involves Kevin and a fellow peer advocate, Michael Edwards, travelling by train from John O’Groats to Lands End to highlight the importance of public transport to learning disabled people amid the cuts.The social exclusion often faced by people with learning disabilities is being exacerbated by the cuts as day services close and public transport becomes even more important in boosting people’s independence.
Kevin adds: “It will be a new experience. I’m getting excited about meeting people on the train and raising awareness of how important public transport is to people with learning disabilities”
Kevin and his fellow “transport champion” Michael will stay in B&B’s and hotels along the route with travel passes issued by train firm First Great Western. Accompanied by the charity’s champions coordinator Dan Harris – who will be capturing their journey online – the aim is to record the good and bad aspects of the trip. Dan adds that even if the experience involves getting on the wrong train, “as long as it isn’t going to seriously impact our journey, it would be good to capture that and explore the challenges that led to the mistake”.
Michael, 59, who has very limited vision, epilepsy and a learning disability. He lives with his brother who acts as his carer. Michael helped found the self-help charity and is a trustee of My Life My Choice. He says: “Trains bring me a lot of pleasure. I have been planning my own routes and taking trips as far away as Devon for 15 years. I’ve been watching trains on platforms since 1967…I like trains, I’ve got myself a hobby.”
According to the charity, among the main travel issues faced by the people it supports is the difficulty in being unable to understand timetables and dealing with confusing platform changes. Kevin, for example, once ended up getting on a train heading for Penzance instead of his home area of Oxford because of making a wrong platform change. Another major problem is that of bullying on public transport.
Bus and train drivers are also not always aware of the needs of disabled passengers. Just last month, for example, Jackie, who is also supported by My Life My Choice was travelling independently on a bus. On boarding, the driver asked her to reverse her wheel chair into the disabled space, but didn’t give her time to reverse before moving off. The jolt as he pulled away meant Jackie’s jacket got caught and tore. She pressed the bell well in advance of her stop but the bus driver didn’t stop until she was past where she wanted to get off (he told her she hadn’t pressed the bell well enough in advance).
The End to End trip schedule takes in Glasgow, Manchester, Swansea and Paddington before arriving in Land’s End on Sunday August 25th. In each place, the travel champions will meet local learning disability organisations.
My Life My Choice hopes to publish an easy read document about learning disability and public transport as a result of the End to End campaign and you can follow the trip on Twitter.
* More information about the trip can be found on the charity’s website and you can view a gallery of photographs about the trip here here.
Timothy Baron was among the first children in the UK to be diagnosed with autism just over 50 years ago. Timothy was in need of specialist education but autistic children then had no right to schooling, so his father, Michael, opened his own school, the movement became the Society for Autistic Children – now the National Autistic Society (NAS).
That was the 1960s; today, Timothy, who lives in residential care, is nearing 60. The first generation of children to be diagnosed with autism is now moving into older age. Ageing with autism brings not only the particular challenges of the condition – communication, social interaction or sensory issues – but the social, physical and mental health issues often experienced in old age.
Policymakers are aware of the impact on society of the ageing population, but the same focus has not been given to people with learning disabilities and autism.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take down more of my mother’s stories before her slide into dementia accelerated. I would have liked to know more about her brief engagement to a Vietnamese diplomat, or the time she visited Benidorm when it only had two hotels, or what more she could tell me about her older brother who was killed in the war.
That’s why I was fascinated to meet David Clegg, the man behind an inspirational project dedicated to collecting the life stories of people with dementia. His Trebus Project has collected a huge range of stories, some of which have been published in two books and collected on a record and some of which have formed the basis for a Radio 4 series, produced by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. He’s now working on a short film.
The prime minister is due to announce a major funding boost for dementia research, reaching £66m by 2015, from £26.6m 2010. He is due to say that “the quiet crisis” is one that “steals lives and tears at the hearts of families”
David Clegg’s Trebus Project is about revealing the fascinating and rich histories of people with dementia; it is about celebrating the lives that appear to have been lost.
Trebus began after Clegg closed down the art gallery he used to run and began working on art projects with care home residents. The very first person he met happened to be a woman with a fascinating tale to tell: she’d once been the girlfriend of the notorious acid bath murderer John Haigh.
“Nobody knew it,” he recalls. “They saw to her needs – it took two people to get her into a hoist for example, but they didn’t know anything about the fact that she was bohemian beyond belief. She would have given William Burroughs a run for his money – she’d hung around with Princess Margaret and made her way back from the south of France wearing only a fur coat and high heels.”
Clegg is full of anecdotes about the people he’s spoken to. One of my favourites comes from an elderly gay man, who remembered celebrating VE day in London. “I asked him: ‘Did you go to the Palace and see them on the balcony?'”, Clegg says. “He replied: ‘No I was in the toilets – I got off with seven soldiers that day and one more in the tube.’”
It’s a perfect illustration of Clegg’s point that far too often we try to sanitise the lives of people with dementia. “A person with dementia is presented as someone fading away, leached out, who’s a shadow,” he says. “But many of the people I’ve worked with are not shadows – they are trying to make sense of their lives in difficult circumstances. They are not any less as people – they can be as funny, vibrant, passionate and randy as they ever were.”
His is a refreshingly unsentimental view of dementia. “We need a new story on dementia. We either present it as a global epidemic or a tragedy,” he says. “But we have got to get the message across that these are people who were not always old, who have lived lives that were full and eventful. Sometimes we might disagree with what they did or the opinions they held but dementia care needs to grow up and embrace some of the complications.”
Clegg, who did a stint working as a carer to see what it was like, plays down talk of being an agitator for the human rights of people with dementia. “I go in and listen and keep coming back,” he simply says. But his project does shine a light on the appalling way older people can sometimes be treated.
Take the story of John, a man with no living relatives, who when Clegg first saw him was lying on a bed staring at the ceiling, in a completely bare room without even a clock to mark the passage of time. When care home staff were asked by Clegg to bring him a clock they did – but then fixed it on the wall behind his head.
Clegg says the vast majority of care workers do their best, reserving his ire for the lack of resources to stimulate residents and the managers or directors who only want to fill their beds – and who have sometimes banned him from their premises because they were nervous about what he was doing.
His main motivation, he says is to collect words that would otherwise be lost. In the process, he is putting together something incredibly powerful: stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes moving, sometimes, as he recognises, almost like a Samuel Beckett play in their bleakness.
It also, says Alison Wray of Cardiff University, has very real benefits for the person with dementia, putting them at the centre of the process and allowing both them and their carers to reconnect with their identity. In Clegg’s recent work, he has been doing less editing to give the stories a traditional narrative structure. Instead they are presented as fragments. Says Clegg: “It can show what dementia is like from the inside.”
To buy the publications or to donate to support the work of the Trebus Project, go to the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org