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

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4 The late twentieth and early twenty-first century - things getting better

As Bernie’s life story shows, things were still very difficult for people with learning disabilities and their families in the 1950s. But thinking and policy were slowly beginning to change. You learned about two things that contributed to this improvement in the previous timeline in Activity 1:

  • Judy Fryd started a parents’ campaigning group which later became Mencap (1946)
  • The NCCL criticised the practice of keeping people locked away (1950).

Other factors also began to make institutions seem like an old fashioned and inhumane form of care:

  • New ideas, like ‘normalisation’, began to circulate. Normalisation is the view that people with learning disabilities are entitled to a normal or ‘ordinary’ life, just like anyone else.
  • It became costly to staff and run hospitals to what the public considered to be an acceptable standard, particularly after the press began to expose the appalling conditions in some hospitals, like Ely, South Wales, in 1969.
  • Families working together in organisations like Mencap, Enable, Downs Syndrome Association and National Autistic Society campaigned for community services and for people with learning disabilities not to be discriminated against.
  • Research began to show that people with learning disabilities did better and learned more in homely environments than in large, overcrowded hospitals.

Gradually from the 1970s hospitals began to close (that was when Mabel Cooper left St Lawrence’s). Governments invested in community services, like day centres, where people could go to spend the day, and residential homes, where they could live as alternatives to hospitals or the family home.

In the next activity, you will continue this story and review the timeline from the mid-twentieth century to the present.

Activity 6 Learning disability through time

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch Video 7 and then answer the questions below.

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Video 7
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  1. In which year was the Ely Report, which exposed the poor conditions of people with learning disabilities living in long-stay hospitals, published?

a. 

1959


b. 

1969


c. 

1979


The correct answer is b.

  1. The Jay Report, published in 1979, said people with learning disabilities should be able to enjoy ‘normal’ lives, true or false?

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

  1. Which soap opera introduced a character with learning disabilities in 2006?

a. 

Coronation Street


b. 

EastEnders


c. 

Hollyoaks


The correct answer is b.

  1. The Panorama programme in 2011 revealed details of the abuse people had experienced in a private hospital, true or false?

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Bernie’s experiences mirror these social shifts. After leaving Cell Barnes in the 1950s, she initially moved back in with her family and then progressed to living in her own flat, which, at the time of writing (2019), is with support from staff who have known her for 15 years.

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