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

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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 7
Skip transcript: Video 7

Transcript: Video 7

NARRATOR
Although the Mental Health Act in 1959 required that more community care should be provided, the number of people in hospitals continued to rise with more hospitals being built to meet demand. But conditions in these hospitals continued to be poor, and in 1969, as Neil Armstrong was taking his giant leap for mankind, the Ely report exposed dreadful treatment of patients. Care was described as old fashioned and custodial.
Two years later, the first white paper concerned with the care of people with learning disabilities was published. It was called "Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped," and said that not enough progress had been made in developing community services and getting people out of hospital.
Margaret Thatcher was elected as Britain's first female prime minister in 1979, the same year that the Jay Report said the lives of people with learning disabilities should be normal and that they should be part of communities. This was based on an idea called normalisation that had been followed in Denmark since the late 1950s. Clearly, it took us a while to catch up.
Finally, the hospitals started to close, and people moved to residential care homes in the community as Bob Geldof and his friends encouraged us all to feed the world. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison. At the same time, the NHS and Community Care Act said that care should be provided by a range of services and individual care packages designed. For the first time, people with learning disabilities were also entitled to direct payments, meaning they could choose the services they wanted.
In 2001, when the world was falling apart elsewhere, "Valuing People" was published. It was the first white paper in learning disabilities for 30 years. It was based on four key principles-- rights, independence, choice, and inclusion. Meanwhile, 2006 saw EastEnders including a character with learning disabilities. Janet Mitchell was born, and she had Down syndrome.
"Valuing People Now" was brought out in 2009 to set new goals to support more people with learning disabilities to get homes and jobs and lead fulfilled lives. In the same year, the last hospital closed, and Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States of America.
The Equality Act came into force in 2010, providing a law to tackle all forms of discrimination. Despite this, in 2011, a panorama investigation exposed the abuse of residents at Winterbourne View Hospital in South Gloucester. It showed the cruel treatment of vulnerable adults and resulted in six members of staff going to prison and five more receiving suspended sentences. It was a shocking documentary and revealed how care can go horribly wrong.
WOMAN
So this history has shown that many good things have happened to help change attitudes and improve the lives of people with disabilities. But this isn't over. There is still work to be done.
End transcript: Video 7
Video 7
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  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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