Learning Disability Wales held their annual conference ‘All our futures. Doing different things for a better future.’ at the Holiday Inn Newport on Wednesday 14th November 2018. I was very excited to attend this conference as it was my first learning disability conference as a first year University of South Wales Learning Disability Nursing student.
The conference gave me an opportunity to learn about and have a better understanding of learning disabilities. This included topics such as the barriers in which people who have a learning disability face and the strategies they use to break these barriers. An example of this was the inspiring young man Jordan who chaired the event who said “without the support of Hijinx Theatre in Cardiff he would not have be able to facilitate the role as chair for the event, as Hijinx has given him amongst other things the confidence and the skills to be able to achieve this.”
As Jordan stated to me he was “excited and anxious,” he relished the opportunity to chair the event and was pleased to be given the chance as having this experience empowered his future choices. The theme that appeared throughout the conference for me was that of choice. Choices that are important to an individual, however it seemed that there was rather a limited choice at times. Other examples were, I have a learning disability and I can be placed on a volunteering scheme and do this role however, when this scheme ends I am not able to be employed to do the same role, therefore my choices of paid employment are reduced. Also that at times professionals, carers, family and government appear to make choices for people instead of asking ‘What is it you want to do? What skills do you want to learn? Where do you want to go? When do you want to do it?’
Huw Irranca-Davies AM, Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care attended the conference and gave a speech, he also appeared to answer some of these questions directed from the audience on employment and volunteering. We need to wait to find out if these changes discussed take place, that an individual who has volunteered then is given the paid employed job. He also Launched the Special Schools Nursing Framework, which sounds amazing. In which I am looking forward to reading the policy, especially if the transition process from child to adult is seamless, with the services young people receive as children still being available to them as adults, teams working together to achieve this, reducing the stress on the young people, parents and carers alike.
However, Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales raised the point not every child who has a learning disability is in special schools, therefore, it will be interesting to find out what this framework will mean to them. Sally Holland also spoke of the rights of children and demonstrated with audience participation that there is gap in adult’s rights and children’s right. This appears to be due to the lack of understanding and awareness of children’s rights, something Sally Holland is working hard to address.
Speaking of awareness, Hijinx Theatre then performed a piece of the rights of an individual with learning disabilities, there were three actors, a social worker, the young aspiring actor who happens to have a learning disability, a young man who played two parts that of the film director and the boss of the social worker. The social worker received the news that the person they are supporting had secured a part in a production, however they needed to have support whilst on set. This was again an interaction piece with the audience saying stop when they disagreed with a point, the delegate then swapped places and the scene was run again, with the other points often due to stigma, prejudice and assumptions. An example which is often the case that the individual that has a learning disability needs support in this instance, whilst on set. Have they been asked if they need support, do they know the individual to make this assumption and most importantly why should a learning disability be a hurdle and limit opportunity Therefore, why does society keep looking at what an individual can’t do and not start looking at what they can. There was, a lot of times when the scene stopped and a delegate switched the role of the actor. It did make me think as the delegates themselves when saying stop were passionate as they have a learning disability and appeared to have come across the injustice already.
I was also made to think when I attended the workshops, again these were about attitudes, stigma and prejudice, the first one ‘Changing Attitudes’, the perceived attitudes on work, college and school, to that of friends and families and then the community. With stigma, prejudice overlapping in all the areas and again the theme of limited choice in which society needs to change to empower people with a learning disability.
My second workshop was ‘Working with, not for’ in which we looked at the start and finish points of getting a job. I found some terminology confusing in what the companies were looking for, the application form would take a while to fill out and as it was pointed out, what would the actual role be within a company. It was discussed that maybe it would be easier to revert back to having the ability to upload a CV as all the demographic information would be the same, name, qualification etc. It would also be useful to use a different format to interview, which could include face to face or face time. Also when it came to induction, short video clips on generic things such as health and safety could be used which do not overload with too much information.
In the foyer was various companies in which I learnt many things which I take for granted. From aids to make life easier including how to make a cup of tea, to alarms and brightly coloured interactive buttons in which you can record a message and then when you press could for an example say kitchen, which could support visual impaired individuals, to a step by step guide on how to call an ambulance. How to use a welsh ambulance communication app to the hospital passport. Various companies that offer support like ‘My Mates,’ ‘Leonard Cheshire,’ ‘United Response,’ ‘Able radio,’ ‘First Choice Housing Association,’ Education courses, ‘All Wales People First’ and ‘Marie Curie.’ and Hijinx Theatre Cardiff.
There was a talk then from an organisation called ‘Gig Buddies’ which is a brilliant concept as I never realised that support stops at 9 o’clock in the evening. Therefore, this organisation is providing a link for individuals who need support to go out in the evening after nine for example they want to watch a theatre production or rugby match.
The results of a photo competition and award ceremony then took place, with closing remarks from Martyn Jones CEO Learning Disability Wales and the final address from the chair Jordan. An inspiring and thought provoking conference one of which left me a better understanding of learning disabilities and a thirst to learn more.
Lisa Kirby is a first year student learning disability nurse at USW
You can train to become a Learning Disability Nurse at University of South Wales, you can find more information on the USW website: https://www.southwales.ac.uk/courses/bachelor-of-nursing-honslearning-disabilities/
You can also contact Rachel Morgan (Specialist Lead) via email: firstname.lastname@example.org