Roxy, from our Activity and Resources Centre in Perivale, is raising money for Certitude by leaping from a plane. Why? Read on, and donate here.
From a very young age, we’re told to figure out our career path as soon as possible, and that people who don’t will spend their lives in a pretty miserable state. By the time I finished studying, I was faced with the most confusing day of my life: I wanted to support people, but where to start? And how could I even begin to understand a person’s needs that are so different to my own, especially when trying to fully understand myself?
I questioned the sincerity of how empathetic a person could truly feel when supporting someone with learning disabilities. So, I tried to think a little differently. When someone is able to jump rope or write with real heart, they are said to have an ability of sorts. Addressing a person’s inability to do something, therefore, suggests ‘disability’: they are unable to achieve the same thing.
I thought of a person’s confidence, too. When you lack the ability to be confident, your ears and cheeks turn a fiery red, the world seems to stare at you and you trip on your words. Something like confidence, however, can be accomplished, just like jumping rope. You work at it, and you develop a skill.
So, how about a disability that we carry for a lifetime?
A totally different kettle of fish, right? Learning disabilities are not something you can just work on, solve and get rid of – there’s longevity of struggle. I decided to spend more time with a young boy in my life who had learning disabilities in an attempt to understand; he could not walk and had not yet acknowledged this.
One day, we passed an adult in a wheelchair on the street. The realisation in the young boy’s eyes was painful, as he suddenly seemed to understand everything. This was a significant turning point in my life. I met more and more people, 10 fingers and 10 toes, who had substantial ailments in their lives to consider with every movement, every breath. Pretending I could ever fully comprehend what it was like to be the person being supported wouldn’t suddenly make their disabilities nor difficulties go away. It may not even help.
I shifted my approach. I don’t need to focus on the disability. Instead, what can that person do?
An elderly lady with learning disabilities, for example, may never be able to live her life with full independence. Does this mean you can’t support them to be in control of their own life? Of course not. You focus on what they could achieve and, one step at a time, you chip away and work towards it.
Focusing on a person’s ability is an approach we carry across the whole organisation, and I would not have chosen to work here if that was not the case.
By adopting methods of creative communication, trying new ways to support someone and understanding as best we can whether the person we are supporting is happy and living a good life, we acknowledge that the people we support are, in fact, human too. They matter.