Today we find ourselves in the middle of Learning Disability Week 2015 #LDWeek15. We thought we’d use Week 13 to ask a question which many seem very uncomfortable with, are charities part of the problem? We’re starting off with questioning awareness raising.
So, what is Learning Disability Week I hear you ask?
It’s an awareness week run by Mencap, who simultaneously advertise themselves as ‘the UK’s leading learning disability charity’ and ‘the voice of learning disability’. Quite some accolade to give yourself, and quite a claim to live up to.
Each year for Learning Disability Week Mencap pick a theme for the week and seek to ‘raise awareness’ of the issue in hand. The week has traditionally been in June, although there was a slight detour into August in 2013, but business as usual returned in 2014.
What does LD Week focus on?
Each of the issues that feature in LDWeek are an existing Mencap campaign or priority, so if you were to take a cynical view one perspective could be that they are using a national awareness raising week to raise the profile of their organisation and do work they’re committed to doing anyway. Regardless of that, let’s take a look at the focus for the last few years:
2009 saw a focus on accessible toilets and Changing Places
2010 was equal healthcare and ‘Getting it right’
2011 turned the spotlight on Disability Hate Crime
2012 stuck with Hate Crime; perhaps there was a delay in planning, or no other issues that needed attention given toilets and healthcare were ‘done’.
The CEO at the time stated: “The reason we went back to the issue this year, is because we’re making good progress,” he explained. “We’re making great progress on working with the police in a way that will lead to a steady reduction of hate crime and a tackling of the perpetrators. There’s much more to do, though”.
2013 took a slightly surreal turn about, where presumably having sorted hate crime, healthcare and toilets it was time to celebrate. The August week focused on, wait for it, superheroes!
Who is your superhero? Celebrating families ‘amazing, brave and selfless people’. Which is an interesting way to frame learning disabled people and their family members! We’ll come back to that later.
2014 stuck with a theme of celebration, after all there were obviously no burning issues that needed raising awareness of in these two years.
The billing for the week asked: Do you remember your first? We asked you to celebrate people overcoming adversity, and people’s prejudice and ignorance to experience their incredible firsts.
2015 Bringing us up to date, this year the tone is less party and more traditional with a focus on Hear My Voice and listening:
We’re reaching out to the newly-elected politicians and people in a powerful position to tackle the myths and misconceptions about learning disability that fuel prejudice and inequality.
What format do these awareness raising weeks take?
A quick search on the internet will provide you with a range of approaches to raising awareness during LDWeek, with some grassroots activity across the UK.
That said there is also a bit of a format at play, whereby every year Mencap Head Office beam with pride as they celebrate the success of learning disability week (usually by the Friday on their website or early the next calendar week) that involves:
a) a London launch event or soiree at Westminster
b) a few mentions in the media
c) a new film or media soundbyte to use
d) some airy celebrity promises of support
e) a Charter or commitment for people to sign up to.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of measuring impact would be able to see that these blogs ‘celebrating success’ are focused purely on activity and not on impact or outcomes.
The other consideration is positioning; what message is being shared about learning disabled people and their lives? Are we celebrating them as superheroes? Really? I’ve yet to meet a superhero, learning disabled or otherwise. Are learning disabled people and their families brave, overcoming adversity, pioneering?
Or are they just like you and I. Human beings, wanting human rights. No more, no less.
A question of impact
So all of this activity leads to what exactly? It’s not for us to offer an answer, we’re simply asking the question, but we would like to hear about the impact of such a large amount of focus.
While it is no doubt reassuring to the senior management team to tick a box on the annual strategic plan, and external profile raising never goes a miss, one can’t help but wonder whether all this talk and awareness raising leads to very little change.
Later this week we’ll take a look at charity accounts and some of the positioning of charitable activity. All thoughts and contributions very welcome as ever, drop us an email if you’d like to blog on this.