By Shaun Webster, CHANGE
I want to share with you some thoughts about how I would like to see people with learning disabilities contributing as paid employees in the field of social care. I think about people with learning disabilities not just as service users, but also as paid professionals working for our rights.
Professionals, have you thought about working together with us? We have invaluable skills and experience that could be a major contribution. At the end, we are the experts about our lives! What about if all of us share power and work together?
I know that many people with learning disabilities feel that we have no power and no confidence in ourselves, and that we are isolated. But this needs to change. The society needs to look at us as equals, and from the perspective of what we can do, and not thinking about what we can’t do.
In the future I would like you, professionals, to see us, people with learning disabilities as your working partners. We can learn from each other and share power. Real power sharing means that all of us are paid the same wage! At CHANGE, we work with a co-working model. This means that people with learning disabilities, and without learning disabilities, work together.
At CHANGE, we also believe in peer to peer support. This is why we are working alongside the University of Leeds (and other partners) on a project that aims to create paid job roles for people with learning disabilities as peer support workers. This project is funded by DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning).
For example, I would like to see us being paid to work in communities as community peer to peer support workers, supporting our peers with learning disabilities to build their confidence, start looking for jobs and joining in with their community. We can support each other to become less isolated and not so lonely.
Some good examples of co-working and peer to peer support come from my work at CHANGE. For example, I am a person with a learning disability and I am employed as the volunteer coordinator. This means that I am employed to support and involve other people with learning disabilities who come to CHANGE as volunteers. This means that people with learning disabilities have support from another employed person with a learning disability.
Another person with a learning disability called Craig, has better reading and writing skills that me, so he sometimes supports me as my personal assistant.
A different example is when Catherine and Ana co-work on the DRILL project at CHANGE. Catherine has learning disabilities and Ana does not. But they are equals. Catherine and Ana are contributing to this project with their unique set of skills and experience.
This is my dream for a new social care future in terms of jobs…..to develop paid job roles for people with learning disabilities, including as peer support workers. My dream is to see people with learning disabilities working with others on an equal basis and values. People with learning disabilities must have the opportunity to be paid to use our skills to make things better.
If this happens, successful stories like mine will not be an exception in our society… They will be the norm!