Cripes. I didn’t anticipate this blog would become overtly political or polemic. Sorry. Though maybe it was just a matter of time. I’ll create a new category so fun-loving, chilled readers have the option of ignoring these more confrontational, thornier, issues.
So, what’s the story? Well, here’s the Daily Mail, and Guardian blog version of what happened this week. To summarise, three guys with learning disabilities were refused the opportunity of taking part in a karaoke evening in their local pub because one of them in particular, James, ‘shouted instead of singing’. They had taken part in karaoke evenings for six months before the landlord changed and their involvement was blocked. The new landlord sticks by his story that his decision to exclude their participation relates to their (in)ability to sing, rather than their (dis)ability.
This story raises challenging, problematic and potentially offensive issues. Not least that karaoke isn’t generally quality appraised and, for many people, the diverse quality of singers is part of the appeal and fun of the event. We don’t tend to hear about people excluded from karaoke because of their singing ability. Shows, such as XFactor, feed into the ‘anyone can have a go’ discourse. So was the exclusion an outcome of discriminatory practice?
Mmmm. Not sure really. For the landlord the issue is presented as one that involves the ability to sing. Whether or not his views relate to the boys having learning disabilities isn’t clear. Part of the problem, for me, is that no one in the press has actually spoken to James and his mates. The discussion has all been via the care home manager, Alex Duggan. The landlord states that he tried to discuss the situation with Alex Duggan who refused to engage with him. He has also underlined the fact that the boys are welcome in the pub.
Historically, that the experience of James and his mates, is being discussed in mainstream press is a positive development. But it is just as important not to stop, or obstruct, this dialogue (facilitated by a combination of people with learning disabilities, care managers, parents and other other advocate/activists) by not acknowledging or recognising thornier, interactional issues that are often brushed to one side. Such as what is acceptable behaviour? What issues could be circumvented or managed? What does inclusion look like?
We should avoid interpreting situations with only a learning disability lens, when people with learning disabilities are involved. I don’t think these young men should have been excluded from karaoke but I think that sometimes, behaviours (by anyone) may be less than acceptable. Just because someone is labelled as learning disabled, doesn’t mean they have a blank canvas to do anything. A more realist engagement may facilitate a more productive interaction with difference.
I’m sure my views will be interpreted as abrasive, harsh, uncomfortable and unacceptable by some. And I can understand why. But until we acknowledge that people with learning disabilities can behave in ways that aren’t acceptable (like other, non disabled people can), then barriers will entrenched. Matey from the karaoke pub seemed to demonstrate engagement that should be encouraged, not necessarily, stamped on. A realistic, open and reflective approach, rather than a diktat, may enhance and support greater acceptance in the longer run.