Today was adopted by Katherine Runswick-Cole; when I asked her why she’d got involved with supporting #JusticeforLB and #107days, this is what she had to say:
I first met Sara at a Disability Studies conference, we were both studying for our PhDs. Meeting Sara was exciting because we shared the same research interests but also because we were both mothers to young dudes. Sara and I stayed in touch, wrote a couple of academic papers together and every so often we would find ourselves at the same conference and have a bit of a gossip about life, the universe and everything! In fact it was Sara who introduced me to the joys of Twitter and, of course, I followed her blog.
Like many other people who have been touched by #JusticeforLB, I never met Connor, but through knowing Sara and reading her blog, I felt as if I had. The stories Sara told with such love and humour remind me of my own dude, and her family stories so often overlapped with ours.
Katherine, has written today’s post with Dan Goodley (who you’ll also meet again on Day 100). This is what she is up to:
I’m now Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies & Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University and I’ve been invited to give a paper on the theme of disability and violence on 6th May, 2014 at the Norwegian Network of Disability Research 6th Research Conference in Lillehammer, Norway. The blog posted today, co-written with my friend and colleague, Dan Goodley reflects on some of the things I’ll be talking about in Norway, including #JusticeforLB.
This is what they have to say:
The Violence of Disablism
Like many people, we’ve been following the #JusticeforLB #107days closely. We’ve been inspired by the actions of others in support of the campaign and horrified by the revelations of the terrible treatment experienced by people with learning disabilities that continue to unfold as the #107days continue.
We’ve followed many of the blogs that have commented on the tragic death of LB including those of Chris Hatton, Rich Watts, George Julian, Jenny Morris and of course Sara Ryan‘s own powerful and deeply moving blog, and we’ve wondered what we have to add to what has already been said so clearly and carefully by many others.
However, it was Jenny Morris’ claim that Connor was a victim of ‘institutionalised disablism’ that prompted us to write this post. We agree with Jenny and her comments made us reflect on what we had previously written about disability and violence.
In 2011, we published an academic paper called “The Violence of Disablism” in the Journal of Sociology of Health and Illness. The paper was written as part of a wider research project focused on the lives disabled children (“Does Every Child Matter, post-Blair?: the interconnections of disabled childhoods”). Violence was not initially a focus for the study, but, sadly, in our work with children and families violence emerged as a distressing and disturbing theme.
We heard about disabled children being bullied on the bus, in toilets and on the street. We heard about families being marginalized and excluded because their children were “different”. We heard about schools where children were man handled and emotionally bullied by staff. We described this as the “violence of disablism”.
The violence that Connor experienced tragically ended in his death: the report of inquiry into his death documented that he was subjected to numerous incidents of ‘face down restraint’ in his 107 days in the unit. In the end his life was rendered so value-less that no one thought it worthwhile to check on a young man with epilepsy while he was alone in the bath.
The report of inquiry made it clear that individuals played their part in Connor’s death. It is right that the staff members who left Connor alone to drown should be held to account, but there is a danger that if we focus our anger at individuals alone, then we will be failing Connor and all the dudes who continue to be subjected to the violence of disablism. Focusing on individuals allows wider communities to distance themselves from the bad acts of few bad individuals. Much of the response of the service provider has been to suggest that focusing on individuals means that we don’t have to pay attention to the multi-faceted, mundane and engrained ways in which the violence of disablism operates in peoples’ lives. We desperately need to address the systems and cultures that contributed to Connor’s death.
Winterbourne View and Slade House were located on industrial estates, how many other Assessment and Treatment Units are located on the margins of their communities? What other group of people, apart from people with learning disabilities, would ever experience a ‘stay’ or, indeed, live on the edge of an industrial estate? Currently, despite Winterbourne JIP, 1,500 people still live in ATUs, 14 of them are children.
As we saw in our research project, the processes that de-value the lives of people with learning disabilities are everywhere and they start when disabled children are young. To recognise that we live in a world that is inherently disablist permits us to start addressing a number of urgent questions:
- Why are adults with learning disabilities endlessly placed in the periphery of our communities?
- What kinds of things do we value about human beings and how might we broaden our values to include those human beings who might not fit with the ‘normal’ category?
- How helpful is it to talk about normal? Might it be more helpful to think of all of us as abnormal, anomalous, different and divergent?
- What needs to be done NOW to honour #JusticeforLB?
Katherine will be sharing this paper in Norway in a few days time; as the ripples of what happened to Connor, and the JusticeforLB campaign, spread ever further, it really is time for change. The final word goes to Katherine (and Sara):
In the midst of the tragedy and devastation that follows Connor’s death, I do believe that change is possible and that through the #107days tweets, blogs, papers, presentations and marathons, we can begin to build that change. So our post is written as we hold on to Sara’s words that “if anyone can effect change in the way in which learning disabled children/adults are treated, I’d lay my money on a bunch of (raging) mothers of disabled children”.