Support the #7Daysofaction on twitter – Monday 18th April 2016
by Dan Goodley
In 1993 I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a psychology degree. My Mum and Dad were very proud. I was … unsettled. Not simply by the prospect of post-student life but by the discipline of psychology. One of the things I learnt on graduating was this: there were a helluva lot of psychological ideas that viewed disabled people as nothing more than pathological conditions. These ideas seemed to go against my understanding of disability that I had learnt from families and friends. Disability was, if anything, a complex phenomenon where people with physical, sensory and cognitive impairments were excluded from mainstream life. I did not get these words from thin air: in 1992 I had learnt about the social model of disability. This seemed more in line with my personal experiences of disability (and, for that matter, my politics). At the heart of this model is a simple but important idea: people with impairments are excluded from mainstream society through a host of economic, social and cultural barriers. Disability was and remains a social and political concern for all of us – whether we are disabled and non-disabled – and the exclusion of disabled people is a stain on our society.
During my psychology course I did come across some thought-provoking ideas including the work of Erving Goffman. He was pitched to us as a social psychologist; someone interested in the rules and conventions of everyday life and how these shape how people do being people. But also there was his work on stigma and on institutions. If you are looking for a good disability studies angle on Goffman check out this out here:
Goffman said many important things. One of these stuck with me, the problem of total institutions.
A total institution is a place of work and residence where a great number of similarly situated people, cut off from the wider community for a considerable time, lead an enclosed, formally administered life together.
I was reading Goffman’s work in the 1990s when the Tory government was pushing for de-institutionalisation and community care. While some observers put the Tory reasoning down to reducing expenditure on institutional care there was an unholy alliance with disability activists who also called for the closing of institutions in which many disabled people, including people with learning disabilities, were housed, cut off from the wider community, leading enclosed, controlled, lacking, poor and unhealthy lives. Goffman provided theoretical language and empirical data to help articulate a politics of deinstitutionalisation. Yes, there were massive problems with community care. But, the process of deinstitutionalisation invited a consideration of how society at large responds to people with learning disabilities. Indeed, one of the knock on effects of closing down these institutions was an immediate growth in self-advocacy groups across Britain.
In 1995 I was lucky enough to become involved with the self-advocacy group Huddersfield People First. I met Elaine Hogg who was an incredibly vibrant soul. Elaine had spent over 20 years of her life in a well-known institution in Yorkshire, England. She told me about being made to wear weighted boots to stop her from running around the institution. She remembered being hit with the keys of one of the staff if she ‘misbehaved’. There were many doors to lock, many keys, and this was therefore a painful experience. On leaving the institution – as just one example of the streams of people that left these horrendous places as a consequence of deinstitutionalisation – she moved into a supported home. Shortly after ‘re-entering the community’ she joined an Avant-garde dance troupe. Her weighted boots were no longer a problem. And so, while problems persisted with community responses to people with learning disabilities (which ranged from hostility to indifference), I remember thinking that maybe Goffman’s ideas had been useful, perhaps even, trickled down into the mind-sets of policy makers and Tories. And maybe not all psychology was a pile of shite.
Fast forward to 2016. And the. #7Daysofaction on twitter – Monday 18th April 2016. The press release is reproduced below.
Press Release from 7 Days of Action Campaign
Monday 18th April 2016 sees the launch of the 7 Days of Action Campaign. The campaign is launched by the mothers and family members of people with learning disabilities who are currently trapped in Assessment & Treatment Units. These people have committed no crime. They have rarely been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Yet, they remain in Units for years at a time.
There are currently 3000 people in ATUs. 43% of the people are in Units more than 50K from their homes.
72% are being prescribed anti-psychotic medication as a means of containing them.
30% of people have been in ATUs for more than 5 years.
The average cost of being kept in an ATU is £3500 per week.
All these people want is to be living back home with their families or living in their own homes with support. And that is the aim of this campaign. To shine a light on the lives lived in ATUs but ultimately, to get people back to their own homes. On Monday 18th April we will be launching a blog that each day for the 7 Days of action will tell a different story of someone who has experienced life in an Assessment and Treatment Unit. You can find the blog here: https://theatuscandal.wordpress.com/
+++++ End of press release ++++++
Has nothing changed? How can there still be so many people in these places? Did I dream what happened in the 1990s? It would seem that Goffman’s work is more important than ever. But, of course, social psychological ideas are only one element of how we articulate our passionate rejection of the institutionalisation, segregation, drugging and pathologisation of people with learning disabilities. We need to ask some serious questions.
- In times of austerity how can we come together to support one another to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not marginalised, excluded and cast off to the edges of our communities?
- How can we galvanise the #7Daysofaction campaign to connect with our comrades with and without learning disabilities to challenge the dehumanisation of people so-labelled?
- How do we keep the pressure on key players including government, to service providers and commissioners of services?
- How is it that we continue to incarcerate people with learning disabilities and WTF does that say about our society?
- How many more campaigns like @JusticeforLB @Justicefornico have to be launched before society starts viewing people with learning disabilities as fully human?
- And how much more pain and anguish do people with learning disabilities and their families have to endure?
- Just as many self-advocacy groups are folding in these austere times how can we support self-advocacy in the lives of people with learning disabilities?
I think Goffman would be fully behind #7Daysofaction on twitter, Monday 18th April 2016. I hope you are too.