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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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1.1 Assessment and treatment units: the new institutions?

In 2018, the Rightful Lives online exhibition was launched in the UK, arguing that the rights of many people with learning disabilities were not being upheld. This included people who live in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) or private facilities where people are sometimes locked away for years, with no say about what happens to them.

ATUs were brought to public attention in 2011 by a BBC Panorama programme that exposed the abuse happening in the Winterbourne View private hospital. This led to six members of staff going to prison, in recognition of the seriousness of their offences. The government then set up the Transforming Care programme to get people out of ATUs. But at the last count (2018) there were still over 2,300 people living in such units.

In 2019, Panorama broadcast a second programme which showed disturbingly similar abuse happening in another ATU – Whorlton Hall – eight years later.

The lack of suitable community-based services means that even when people are discharged, they often find themselves back in these private hospitals within a matter of weeks or months. On a range of counts, the situation facing many people with learning disabilities and autism in these units represents a fundamental breach of human rights.

Activity 2 Eden’s story

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes
  1. Watch this video about Eden, who has autism and mild learning disabilities. After you have finished watching, note down your immediate reaction to the video.
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One person who watched this video said:

I was utterly shocked by what Eden and his family have been through. How can this be happening to people in 21st-century Britain? Mistakes being made over and over again. No one listening to Eden and his family. The fact that Eden was moved so far from home, and then moved back without proper support in place. And the conditions in the units that his mum describes sound inhumane.

  1. Complete the drag and drop activity below to identify the breaches of Eden’s human rights that were described in the film:

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1)

  2. Right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way (Article 3)

  3. Right to liberty (Article 5)

  4. Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8)

  • a.Kept in secure units for many years with no effective planning for his discharge home

  • b.Being placed hundreds of miles from his home and family

  • c.Eden left without a school place for two years

  • d.Eden put on high levels of anti-psychotic medication, denied opportunities to exercise, fed through a hatch, kept in a secluded room with no toilet

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = b

You may have found it shocking and distressing to hear about Eden’s experiences. Sadly, his experience is not unique and there are many other people in similar situations. You can find out more on the Rightful Lives [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website.

In the next section you will explore how people with learning disabilities have learned to speak up for themselves and fight for their rights.