Connecting to make a difference

May 18, 2020 CEO blog Theresa Shearer - Group CEO

Today marks the beginning of Scotland’s Learning Disability Week, and perhaps especially during lockdown for us all, a good opportunity to reflect on how life has changed for people who have a learning disability in Scotland over the years.   In our current unique circumstances, we also have the opportunity to think about how things might look going forward – and what we definitely need to avoid.

Change through the years

Without a doubt, society has made huge progress in realising the human rights of people who have a learning disability, and I am proud that ENABLE Scotland has played a major part in that progress since the charity was founded in 1954.

We have seen the right to education secured for children who have a learning disability, a dedicated Government learning disability strategy adopted, the closure of residential institutions, support to get and keep work, and the right of individuals to choose and direct their own support to live in a home of their own.

Yet there is still much more to do to achieve the equal society we believe in.

Around 120,000 people in Scotland have a learning disability. Surveys have consistently found that many are lonely and isolated, are vulnerable to bullying and hate crimes, are unable to find work and have lower life expectancy than the general population.

Staying connected

So whilst we have made huge progress, how we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic as a nation will dictate whether life becomes more difficult for people who have a learning disability as a result, or whether we come out of this challenging period with a renewed understanding and focus on embedding the values of fairness and inclusion in our society.

My experience of my regular virtual catch-ups with our Personal Assistants (PAs) on the frontline of the country’s response fills me with optimism for how things will look when we come out of this pandemic.

Whilst we are physically apart, we in many ways feel more connected than ever as we are all united by the common cause of keeping the people we support safe and well at home. I think that unity of purpose feels clearer to everyone now, having been brought into sharp focus by the historic challenges we face.

Staying connected with our frontline keyworkers is extremely important to me, and in the regular Zoom calls I have with our teams around the country every week, I always ask them to raise any questions or issues they have with me as I’m keen that we do everything we possibly can as an organisation to help them deliver the highest quality care and support for the people they work for.  I work for them.

Making a difference

A couple of weeks ago, following a Zoom call, one of our Service Managers in Stirling took me up on my offer and contacted me with a request for help.

She explained the circumstances of the little boy we support and his family in the hope that there was something ENABLE Scotland as an organisation might be able to do for them.

7 year old Matthew is autistic, and he has been closely following the First Minister’s daily briefings on Covid-19 and keeping to all the rules to keep himself and everyone else safe at this time.

However, the rule that you should not have people coming to your house during the lockdown made him stressed and anxious about his PAs coming into his home. He did not understand that this is an exception and was not persuaded by the explanation because it did not figure with what he had heard the First Minister say on television

So the request for help was a simple one – get the First Minister to record a personal message to Matthew reassuring him that this was ok!

I am proud that the culture at ENABLE Scotland has always been that we look for solutions and do whatever we can to make things happen – no matter how ambitious!

So our campaigns team duly put in our ambitious request to the First Minister’s office, and we were absolutely delighted to duly receive a personalised message for Matthew reassuring him that: “It’s ok to let (your PAs) in your house because people like that are doing really essential jobs; they’re there to help you and your family.”

This heart-warming story really captured the public imagination. It featured on the STV News last Wednesday and was picked up by a number of newspapers. We shared the video on our social media channels, and incredibly, it has been viewed more than 250,000 times across all platforms – which is lovely news for Matthew, but also for thousands more people who need social care support in their own homes, especially during lockdown.   You can read more about Matthew’s story here.

Had we not been holding our regular Zoom calls with frontline staff, I doubt it would have occurred to our team in Stirling to think it was possible to get the First Minister to record a message to reassure Matthew, let alone to actually ask us to try and make it happen.  I am so proud that we did.

For me, this story is a perfect example of what ENABLE Scotland is all about.

We are a national charity with a dedicated local focus, and I am proud to work with a connected team across the whole organisation that is prepared to think big and really go the extra mile to make life better for the families we support.

I am hugely grateful to the First Minister for recording her message to Matthew at a time when she of course faces exceptional challenges and demands on her time. Just as this little act of kindness reassured Matthew, it has reassured me that working together, it is within our grasp to ensure we exit the Covid-19 pandemic with a fairer, more inclusive and equal society for every person who has a learning disability.

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