This week is Learning Disability Week, and Dan Parton believes it is time to celebrate everything that is good in learning disability services – but also to focus on the continual need to improve them.
I like weeks like this. It’s when there is a lot of positive news about people with learning disabilities, and the services they use. For once the bad news, which generally seems to dominate in the media , takes a back seat.
The news stories on the Learning Disability Today website this week include the launch of a new initiative to challenge stigma and discrimination, and a project receiving a funding boost, all timed to coincide with Learning Disability Week.
These are positive stories and show that there are new initiatives being set up all the time that seek to improve services, despite the on-going cutbacks to local authority budgets and the general financial struggles that face many charities and independent service providers.
It has also been noticeable that local newspapers have been carrying positive stories about people with learning disabilities and events that have been held to celebrate this week. As I said in my blog last week, in general, people with learning disabilities, and learning disability services, only tend to get noticed by mainstream media when something has gone horribly wrong, so it is good to see the other side of the story is being given its – much deserved – prominence.
Of course, it shouldn’t be that these good news stories are only heard about for one week of the year – they should be reported on for the other 51 weeks as well.
But, while celebrating the new initiatives and best practice, we also need to remember that there is much that needs to be done to improve services and this is an ideal time to make the point. For instance, last week, statistics from Scotland painted a mixed picture of life for people with learning disabilities there.
While more people are living independently, fewer are in employment and in further education. It also appears that while fewer people with learning disabilities are attending day centres, there are not enough alternative opportunities available to fill the gap.
This is a worrying trend – it’s something I’ve heard about in other parts of the UK as well – and the issue needs to be addressed. Moving away from day centre provision will only work if there are alternative options available – otherwise people end up stuck at home, which would be a wholly unwelcome backwards step.
But, as this week has shown, there are some great examples of the best practice that goes on around the UK – including the provision of alternatives to day centres – but best practice has to become standard practice. With the prominence that all the good work has been given, hopefully others will see what can be achieved and attempt to recreate that kind of success in their own areas.