About Me

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I have been working to support disabled people to live as independently as possible and realising their individual potentials for over 20 years. I am qualified in Health and Social Care Management and Ethics and Social Welfare. All blog entries are my responses to issues I see affecting those I support and indeed myself as I joined the disabled community after surviving a stroke.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Music To Our Ears

Is there anybody in the world who doesn't like music? Tastes and genres go in and out of fashion but pretty much everybody I have come across in a 20 year career has an opinion on music. I enjoy music so much I had a part time career wth my mobile disco for a while and have now combined music with my work supporting people with disabilities when I became a director of Music Alive, a small Wiltshire based charity. During my work it quickly became apparent to me that people with learning disabilities don't actually get to listen to the music they choose. For those that have communication difficulties linked to their disability it's even more apparent.

I have lost count of the times when we have asked carers and support workers what the person with disabilities likes to listen to and we got the answer, 'anything really'.

We have recently run a small scale project with 23 people with learning disabilities with their support workers and carers where the person with disabilties dictated the music that was listened to for an hour. Based on our initial assessments of these 23 people the main music choices would appear to be ABBA, Michael Jackson or the aforementoned , anything answer.

Thanks to the music knowledge and communication skills of Richard, the session leader, we were able to demonstarted that the people with learning disabilities who took part in the project have as wide ranging, eclectic and diverse music tastes as the general population. One extreme case that always raises a smile with me was the gentleman who I will call Gary. Gary lives in supported housing in a house with three other residents all of whom receive 24 hour supervision. He is unable to communicate verbally but will rock in his wheelchair and bite and suck his arm when excited or agitated. He demonstrated this behaviour when he first entered the music room, which was a new room for him so his response was understandable. His support worker said when he gets agitated and has potential to self harm with bites to his arm he was played whale and dolphin sounds to help settle him down so Richard started with that with little or no response.

Richard managed to communicate with Gary using flashcards that he had made up specifically for these sessions and by the end of the session had established that one of gary's favourite tunes was Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. This is in no way disrespectful to the support workers who had put some thought into the music played to Gary as a lot of people do enjoy listening to whale and dolphin sounds to relax, but it did nothing for Gary during his session with Richard and was able to choose songs himself. The support workers have now taken this new information and incorporated it into Gary's care plan.

Now I know 23 people is hardly conclusive, but there is definitely room for further investigation here.

It certainly got me thinking about how music can be used to further enhance the lives of people with learning disabilities. Maybe informally educating people in numeracy (counting rhythms), literacy (using notes and chords to recognise letters). Could we use music to teach people with learniing disabilties about the world around them, or current affairs? Here's a thought; in the news this week a major story has been the airspace in much of northern Europe closed due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Now many learning disabled people may not have understood this story and its meaning, however by using as an example tunes like Airport by The Motors and Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie, would this make the story more understandable. My hypothesis is that it would.

Regardless of whether music can be used in this way it is certainly there to be enjoyed by everybody, disabled and non-disabled people alike.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Did Frankie Boyle cross the Line from cutting edge humour into disability abuse?

Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle upset the parents of a 5 year old girl with Downs Syndrome at his live show in Reading this week. Now I wasn't at the show so am relying on my knowledge of Frankie Boyle's humour and the reports made by Sharon Smith, the offended mother as she spoke to Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 5Live to examine what caused offence and why.

Frankie Boyle apparently made fun of the parents of children with Downs as being old and out of touch. Surely this a comedic dig at parents rather than the disabled child?

He made fun of the way people with Downs speak. Is this any different from comedians using generic accents to contextualise humour, for instance Michael McIntyre using pigeon English as an interpretation of Robert Mugabe on an episode of Mock The week, the programme that made Frankie Boyle's name?

He made references to people with Downs dying early, which isn't necessarily true but he has made similar jokes about the life expectancy of people from his home city, Glasgow.

He made jokes about people with Downs haircuts. Now over the years I have worked with several people with Downs Syndrome and each and everyone of them has commented on my lack of hair and I have shared a joke with them on their hair in good natured fun. Now the context may be different but my interactions their could be construed as either me mocking them and being abusive, or sharing humour in a two way communication to develop and maintain a therapeutic relationship. The context is different, true, as Mr Boyle is basically performing a monologue but then people aren't paying to watch me on stage talk with a dsabled person.

As a parent myself, I fully understand Mrs Smith's feelings towards his routine that referred to something affecting her child, and I may have felt the same way and felt the need to defend my child, however I have to take issue with a further comment she made in her interview. and I quote;

"We had obviously heard him making fun of other people, but quite often his humour appears to be clever humour or making a point about something.

"OK, he can be cutting, but he will often be using his humour to make a point, whereas the type of jokes he was making about people with Down's syndrome I don't see there was any point being made."

The first paragraph gives me reason to believe she has laughed at his jokes aimed at the Scottish, old people, royalty etc, but its not okay when its something that affects her and her family. In the second paragraph she refers to the nature of Frankie Boyle's performances and his cutting humour making a point or being clever. I have to say I thought it was funny but not particularly clever or thought provoking when he made a joke (again on Mock The Week) about the Queen being so old her vagina is haunted. Taking her own words into account I find it difficult to accept her taking the moral high ground.

It was unfortunate that Frankie Boyle picked up on Mr and Mrs Smith's discomfort about the routine when he thought they were talking and texting during his performance, and followed it up and putting himself and Mr and Mrs Smith in an embarrassing situation. Mrs Smith continued;

"He then went on to say that it was the most excruciating moment of his career but then tried to claw the humour back by saying we had paid to come and see him and what should we expect?"

This would indicate to me that he acknowledged that he had put himself and members of his audience in an embarrassing position, and of course he tried to pull the humour back, he is a professional comedian its what he is paid to do.

While I appreciate that Mrs Smith tried not to draw attention to herself during the performance, the fact that she has since seen fit to go to the press about it for what I see as an unfortunate incident again doesn't really sit right with me.

I will sign off with one more comment regarding this incident. All of us working with disabled people work tirelessly for an equal society, Frankie Boyle pokes fun at everybody in society, if he pokes fun at everybody but disabled people, is he treating them equally?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Think Through National Insurance Increases

Now I have no particular political axe to grind but I have something to say about the proposed increase in National Insurance to come in April 2011 under the current Labour government. Several big businesses have come out against this plan as it will hit employment, which is true, the more employees you have the more National Insurance Employer contributions you pay. Many employees (but not all) are unaware that their employer pays a NI contribution as well as the chunk that is taken from their wage as an employee.

Lord Mandelson has said that businesses have been 'victims of a cynical deception' by the opposition. I don't know or really care that much if this is true or not because I feel more salient points are being missed here in all the big business talk.

There are thousands of us out there who work in the public and voluntary sectors for whom the story of proposed National Insurance increases is very different but no less damaging. The key component of this damage is that National Insurance is not based on profit and as public and voluntary organisations usually do not make a profit, they cannot increase trade to absorb the increase. So what does this mean?

Well for public sector employers this would mean to keep the same number of employees, there would be a likely increase in Council Tax to maintain current service levels, without that there is likely to be a dramatic cut in service provision in the public sector, with as usual; health and social care bearng the brunt.

For people like me, the director of a small independant charity employing 6 people the affects could be devastating. With charitable funding becoming harder and harder to find as the country recovers how on earth am I going to find the extra money to pay higher National Insurance contributions for my employees. Yet this seems to have been forgotten about.

This is far from a party political blog for the Conservative Party as their record with health and social care provision is hardly glowing, but what it is is a plea to review this proposition and stop just looking at business. Listen out for the quieter voice of us social entrepreneurs who don't make profit, but provide extremely good value for money providing professional service at grassroots level direct to those that really need it, on the shoestring budgets