Day 82 was adopted by the Partnership Steering Group of the Learning Disabilities Studies course at Manchester. They have shared some information about the work they do and why they got involved in supporting #107days and #JusticeforLB:
Learning disabled people have been and continue to be excluded from academia, as students, teachers and researchers. Most of the times, when learning disabled people are mentioned in academia it is as passive research subjects. Non-disabled ‘academic’ researchers measure different aspects of learning disabled people’s lives, write up their results and teach it to students. The disabled people themselves get very little say in determining what should be researched and how. In a similar way, university programmes that prepare staff for working in social, health and educational services rarely include learning disabled people as experts who teach students the realities of their daily lives and their priorities.
This exclusion creates a strong sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. In universities ‘us’, the non-disabled, discuss and determine the life courses of ‘them’, the learning disabled, those who unlike us, cannot know what they want or value, cannot make responsible choices, cannot be part of our expert discussions. ‘Us’ – the group of benevolent experts, will decide what is “in their best interest”, and inform ‘them’ of our decisions (if we are nice enough to bother informing anyone at all). It is this kind of culture that allowed the ‘experts’ at Slade House, the Treatment and Assessment Unit that LB was in, to dismiss his epileptic seizures as attention seeking behaviour. After all, it is only the knowledge of non-disabled experts that counts, and it is only non-disabled people that can become experts.
The Partnership Steering Group (PSG) at the University of Manchester has worked for the last 12 years to challenge this culture of segregation, exclusion, and de-valuation. The group is comprised of learning disabled members, academics, students and supporters who work together to run the learning disability studies programmes as well as carry out research activities. Members of the PSG teach on some of the programme modules, informing students about their life experiences and the kind of society they want to live in. Together we write and publish research that is aimed at making a real difference to learning disabled people’s lives. In 2012 we have edited a special issue of the BJLD dedicated to inclusive research. This was the world’s first academic journal edited by learning disabled people. We believe that partnership work is the only way for promoting social inclusion and equality in our society, challenging the deadly ‘us and them’ culture that permeates our society and produces abuse.
Yet, partnership work in academia is continuously under threat. Ironically, while learning disabled people take part in teaching and research, they are still prevented from being students on many university courses. Further, the increased marketization of higher education in the UK makes universities more and more intolerant to partnership work. After all, there is not much of a market for social justice. In part, this has resulted in the University of Manchester making the decision to close the two learning disability studies programmes. If we continue to ignore and silence learning disabled people in academia, it is hardly surprising that we continue to encounter abuse and neglect year after year. Closing down programmes that aim to challenge the segregation and devaluation culture will clearly impact on the quality of services learning disabled people receive.
PSG adopted today for their conference Learning Disability Studies in Academia: Challenging Attitudes, Changing Lives. The conference is asking the value of Learning Disability Studies, exploring how it can make real difference to the lives of learning disabled people, as well as playing an active role in challenging abuse and improving professional practice, and making universities more inclusive of people with a learning disability.
The conference programme, devised and put together by the group, looks exceptional. You can see what is happening here and we’re delighted that there are many #JusticeforLB supporters on the programme, including Sara. We’d like to thank the Partnership Steering Group for their support.