I was struck yesterday about how the death of a young man, Henry Miller, on his gap year in South America made news headlines all day. LB didn’t get into national newspapers until nearly 8 months after he died. Funny really. You’d think a young man left to drown in a bath in an Assessment and Treatment Unit two years after the furore around the abuse uncovered at another Assessment and Treatment Unit, Winterbourne View, would be of national interest. As much as another curly topped young man dying unexpectedly abroad.
Nah. Learning disabled people don’t make headlines. It takes the likes of a Panorama documentary to generate headline news (and then, as we now know, the flames are fuelled by a wedgy of bargain firelighters, fizzling out before you can say ‘Jack squit’).
The label ‘learning disability’ too often strips away any consideration of being human for those who have no experience of being or living with a dude like LB. Including those who work in health and social care with dudes and their families. To below pet status.
A second ‘story’, this week, of three young children found dead in Malden has generated the usual shite coverage attached to these sorts of ‘happenings’ (we know nothing of what happened or why). This coverage again reveals the prejudice and entrenched beliefs of some journalists and editors. Barbara Ellen’s piece today is an example; littered with ‘plight’, ‘suffering’, ‘lone parent’, ‘the disabled’, ‘exhaustion’ and sweeping anecdotal statements. She ends with a call for others to do the anger and shouting on behalf of these “exhausted families”.
‘Whatcha moaning about, Moaning Minny?’, some of you may be muttering. ‘She’s saying there ain’t enough resources for families…’
Nope. There ain’t. But couching this story in this way (abject misery, suffering and disempowerment) feeds and sustains a view that having a disabled child is shite. And, by default, the killing of the child/ren is a ‘different sort of killing’ because the ‘disabled child/ren’ (who is/are pushing these families to extremes) ain’t fully human. It’s simplistic, patronising, and completely ignorant.
I’m off to chat with Pat this week as she’s contributing to #107days. Another older parent, Shirley, left this comment here yesterday. Both women are in their 80’s and have dudes whose life experiences have been consistently challenging because of appalling (or non) provision of services. I don’t know if either would describe their experiences as “less of anger and more of terror”. And I wouldn’t want to make such a pronouncement in a national newspaper, based on anecdotes from my partner’s work.
I’d guess, from our experience and families we know, it would be more around despair, rage and bafflement that loved dudes (and others) are judged to be less than human. And treated as such. With no recognition or understanding of who they are, as people. And, as an outcome, a complete lack of appropriate support to help them lead fulfilling lives.
Stuffing these experiences into either ‘not worthy of news coverage’ or, in the rare incidents of parents (allegedly) killing their dudes, rushing for the ‘long suffering parent’ (and, by default, denying the children their humanity) angle, is shoddy, careless and ultimately dangerous.