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HIJACKING THE LANGUAGE OF DISABLED PEOPLE


Increasingly, Government and public bodies are adopting language used by disabled people and the disabled peoples’ movement. The disabled people’s movement has been built around shared understanding of particular concepts such as independent living, self-directed support and the 12 pillars of independent living and the social model of disability. However, over the past decade or two, we have seen a revolution, the state taking and adopting our ideas to inform service delivery within a neuro- liberal ideology which I believe has led to distortion of the ultimate goals of disabled people’s independence.

Back in the early 1990s, disabled people were strongly advocating for designing their own services, to be delivered by disabled peoples’ organisations. Greenwich Association of Disabled People was one of several organisations who were designing services which allowed disabled people to employ their own personal assistants before the Community Care Direct Payments Act was passed by Conservative Government in 1996. Subsequently disabled people’s organisations were successfully gaining contracts. However, co-production was meant to build on user-lead expertise by placing disabled people’s involvement in the strategic planning of services. The idea is that there was a strategic partnership between public bodies and disabled people’s organisations. To achieve good quality services, service commissioners and disabled people should be working together to co-produce services. Whilst co-production may be possible, it very rarely happens because it’s the Local Authority rather than disabled people and their organisations holding the budget and the Local Authority makes the final decisions about which services will be commissioned and provided for the community. So whilst disabled people may have been involved in responding to consultations about services, the question remains is to what degree that we have been involved in service design and the strategic direction of service provision that is implied in co-production.

Under Labour, the Government used language to not only attempt to let us think that disabled people were involved in the strategic direction of service provision, but services themselves will be person-centred rather than institution-centred. Many service providers will market themselves as providing “personalised” services for their clients. However on closer examination personalisation of services is couched around what the LA can provide within their budgets and how the services are commissioned. For instance, service specifications can limit what Personal Assistants and Support Workers can do whilst working with their clients. Further, disabled people may not have any choice over who and how services are provided to meet their needs.

Not only has language been hijacked at a strategic level, but also when public service providers are working with disabled individuals at the cold face. The use of independent living concept was recently used to argue that disabled people require less personal assistance. In the recent Davey’s case, Oxfordshire County Council argued that reducing the number of hours of PA support would promote Davey’s independence. Somehow, Davey will be able to maintain oneself without any personal assistance. Not only are disabled people with physical impairments but those with learning difficulties are affected, too often the goal of independent living for people with learning difficulties is to furnish them with daily-tasks with the aim of reducing or removing personal assistance. So whilst for disabled people independent living embraces support, this is not the case for cash strapped local authorities.

Policy and Legislation and the definition or the lack of definition of language that is meant to promote disabled people’s inclusion can also distort our concepts. For instance there is a “presumption” of mainstream education for disabled pupils and students. However, the law makes it clear that presumption of mainstream education is limited to a mainstream school or post 16 institution building. And as such the word includes anything and everything – from disabled children being successfully included throughout the whole student experience whilst through being educated in full-time segregated facilities such as an SEN units on a full-time basis which so happens is on the grounds of a mainstream school or college

The problem with language is that there are multiple ways of conceptualizing ideas around disabled people’s rights, engagement and service delivery. Ideas can be enabling or disabling in promoting disabled peoples experience of independent living and emancipation. Too often language around independent living is often couched in terms that can justify the cutting of disabled peoples’ budgets and neoliberalism


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