by Mary Reed, Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living
In 2015 Wiltshire CIL launched Make Someone Welcome, making a foray into Twitter with our hashtag campaign and getting out and about in the community asking groups to sign up to the pledge to ‘Make Someone Welcome’. It was a simple way of showing communities that all people have value and it doesn’t take much to be inclusive. Everyone is welcome to be part of Make Someone Welcome and the range of groups is vast: sports clubs, craft clubs, museums, hairdressers, tire fitters and tattooists to name but a few. We also work with organizations involved in delivering health and social care, encouraging them to think differently about the people they are working with.
We know that words can become slogans with little thought or intention behind them and this ultimately means everything stays the same, it just gets labeled differently. We didn’t want this to be the fate of ‘Make Someone Welcome’ so looked to find ways for the people we were connecting with to be able to think about what inclusion is and what it means. To that end we created an awareness raising workshop and toolkit, designed and facilitated by people with lived experience of disability. So far, we have delivered these workshops to over 300 people including professionals involved in social care (care providers and those in statutory services), voluntary sector organizations and volunteers in the community groups that had signed up to the campaign.
This isn’t training, you can’t train people to look and perceive things differently but through lots of activities and discussion you can show people that we are basically the same, we all want the same things out of life; relationships that matter, hope for the future, something to get up for in the morning.
The workshops are designed to encourage people to put aside their professional identities or preconceived ideas and see people as they see themselves. We also wanted people to see how they can unwittingly ‘other’ people they see as different to them, and that even if this ‘othering’ is done in a positive way it can still have a negative impact; assumptions are made without getting to know the person, and people remain on the outside of communities, catered for in ‘special’ ways but not seen as equal members with equal value. Our workshops are lively affairs with lots of talking points, we use press reports that show disabled people as saints, superheroes and scroungers, include insights from people in the public eye and discuss how we feel when school children support a class mate to win a race because he is disabled. We don’t do absolutes, or right and wrong answers but we do ask people to take a moment and really think about these situations. As with all issue’s worth thinking about deeply it is complicated with blurred lines and fuzzy boundaries, as the actor from the Breaking Bad TV show says; ‘I was called for audition because I was disabled but I got the part based on my acting ability’. This is all supported by facilitators with lived experience of disability and an openness which means participants are free to ask anything without fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’.
A good example of what we do in these workshops is the exercise we call ‘What do we have in our lives’ this is designed to show the difference between what we need to function and survive and what we value in our lives. We divide the page into two; on the Left-hand side are the services we use and on the right-hand side is ‘other stuff’. Under ‘other stuff’ people can include anything in their lives that isn’t a service but which plays a part in their everyday.
People work on this in groups and the lists generally look like this: Left side is all the boring but necessary services people need, anything from bins collected to dentists, the cogs and mechanisms that help us to function but that go on in the background and don’t take up much of our daily thinking. The right side is the fun stuff and includes relationships; family, friends, food and drink, pets, holidays, work, hobbies. We then ask the group to choose a side that gives meaning to their life. No one ever chooses the left side. Our final question is: so, if the right side is what is important to you and your reason for getting up in the morning why is it that when we work with people who need our support we invariably focus on the left side? Having done this exercise with lots of groups we have learnt a couple things as to why professionals provide left side, service solutions. Firstly, services are effectively the easy offer; easy to assess for, relatively easy to sort, they can also be packaged up and costed. To use a factory analogy, they are basically your widgets; easy to produce, count, control and distribute. But more than that services are the professional’s ‘gift’; anyone involved in delivering any kind of support wants to feel that the work they do and what they can offer is of use to the person. Often all they have to offer are leaflets, or a signpost to a service, but this is enough to give a sense of job satisfaction, as a volunteer from a voluntary sector organization said to us; ‘whenever anyone rings in for advice I always set them up on attendance allowance’, this might not be what they asked for or wanted but it was something he was able to give. The result of offering an off the peg service is that well-meaning professionals, looking for ways to do their job, can often end up with preconceptions of what a person wants, limited by what services they know they can offer – so a referral to a day service is easier than supporting people to maintain and strengthen relationships with people that matter to them. However, the fundamental flaw in this is that by focusing on the widgets (services) and not the ‘other stuff’ we end up missing the point entirely, giving people the means to survive but not to live.
This exercise helps us to ask people to take a moment, step back from automatically offering the usual and notice the fundamental importance of ‘other stuff’. We ask them to work with us to find ways of supporting people to build on things that have value in their life, whilst providing the background support to enable them to do this. Abbie, one of our facilitators, will talk about how her PA helps her get her teeth brushed and hair sorted, this service is necessary, but this isn’t whey she gets up in the morning; she gets up to care for her daughter or come to work, she gets up to live her life and to get on doing the ‘other stuff’ just like all the people in all the workshops do.