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Think Piece: 1. What does good inclusion look like?

Please note that these are the thoughts and views of an individual working in Suffolk, and don’t necessarily convey the thoughts or views of the Suffolk Learning Disability Partnership as a whole. Names and identifying details have been changed / omitted to protect the privacy of individuals.

I support a young man to go swimming once a week. I have often thought about the question: ‘what does good support look like?‘ For me, it goes without saying that you support the individual, tailoring that support to them as best you can. And always to stay away from blanket rules and processes that unnecessarily group people. In general, I think we should steer clear of grouping anyone. I have recently become uncomfortable with phrases such as ‘the disabled community’ or ‘the learning disability community’. That, however, is for another post.

What does good support look like? or what does good inclusion look like? I believe any good support involves a high level of consideration given to the second question. As I said, I support a young man to go swimming. We go at a similar time each week. He meets me at the bus station. We drive to the club. We swim. We exercise. We eat. We chat. We listen to Justin Bieber. My role as a support worker is to make the whole experience fun, meaningful and safe.

I would like to share a conversation I had with a receptionist at the club recently. I was asking for a colleague who has a young son with a physical disability.

Do you have any concessional rates for a person with a physical disability? 

No, we don’t.

But people can support an individual who is a member and they come in for free? 

Yes, but only to supervise. You are not allowed to use any of the equipment, use the courts, or swim. 

OK…

Because then you wouldn’t be supervising. 

Right…

Because your role is to supervise. So for example, if you’re in the gym you would be there to supervise, and to be there if anything went wrong. 

I see. 

And as you’re swimming today, you (supporter) can go in the pool. But you’re not allowed to swim. Because if you were to swim, you wouldn’t be supervising, would you? You are there to be there in case anything goes wrong. So you can be in the pool, but you can’t start swimming. 

I’ll pause here for a moment. I have questions.

‘Supervise’

  • What does this mean exactly? To me, this indicates more of watching from afar in case someone needs some help or assistance. “The children are supervised at all times whilst playing in the playground” – How is an adult going to feel being ‘supervised’? 
  • “You are not allowed to use any of the equipment” How would you feel like to be watched whilst running on a treadmill?
  • “You are not allowed to use the courts” How would it feel knocking a tennis ball into an empty court?
  • “You are allowed to be in the pool, but not to swim” What are we trying to achieve here? Cold support workers?

Exercise

  • I support a very active young man, who likes to exercise and keeping fit. This is for a variety of reasons. He knows it’s good for him. He enjoys it. He knows it will give him muscles (which ‘girls like’). Good support means supporting him to exercise and keep fit, and not to make him feel like he has to be supervised, which surprisingly, he doesn’t. 
  • We need to start looking at ability, and focus on what people like doing, can do, or can learn to do to ensure they are as independent as possible. Part of good support and inclusion involves risk, but also involves common sense and non-blanket-rule-thinking. 
  • I often think of Suffolk’s vision – ‘the right support, at the right time, from the right people’. It’s so true. Part of the vision is for ‘good lives’. This involves everyone understanding the subtleties of the ‘right support’. This only comes with intelligent, considered ways to educate people.  
  • I support Alex to go swimming. The whole activity. And his parents & I look at the things Alex can do, or can look to learn, and support him at just the right level. 

Normalisation

  • Funny how we still have to use this word, but, it’s not all terrible. To me, it means that we don’t build special schools, have special dance classes – we include everyone in everything and adjust as appropriate. 
  • The normal, ordinary, way for this to play out is we go swimming, together as two men, of similar ages, with similar interests. Alex swims lengths, so we swim lengths, together. If Alex wanted to mess about and practice handstands, we would mess about and practice handstands together. 

If the point of joining a leisure club is to exercise, socialise, practice or compete, how many of those things are happening if I ‘supervise?’ 

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