The keys to life - Improving Quality of Life for People with Learning Disabilities

The new learning disability strategy in Scotland, following on from, and building on the principles and successes of The same as you?, the original review of service for people with a learning disability, published in 2000.

The human rights of people with learning disabilities

This renewed and refreshed policy has the human rights of people with learning disabilities at its heart. Also integral to it is The Healthcare Quality Strategy for NHS Scotland2, published in 2010, which makes clear that whatever the individual circumstances of people's lives, including age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, mental health, economic or other circumstances, they should have access to the right health services for their needs.

People with learning disabilities and their families represent a diverse group and come from all backgrounds, cultures and walks of life.

The same as you?, the first national learning disability review for over 30 years, articulated a number of human-rights based principles that were to be taken into account in fulfilling the recommendations of the original policy. These principles formed the bedrock of much of the activity that was undertaken to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities. Thirteen years on, these principles of valuing people with learning disabilities still hold. Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to the communities in which they live, work and socialise. The need for people with learning disabilities to live independently, having the same choice, control and protection as all other citizens of Scotland in terms of the age-appropriate support they receive, is more relevant than ever.

The formal evaluation of The same as you?3 was led by Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability (SCLD) and involved asking people with learning disabilities what they thought had changed as a result of the policy. The findings, published in 2012, endorsed the criticality of taking a rights-based approach. Some comments concerned simple things like accessible information becoming the norm. Others stressed the importance of equality legislation being fully implemented to make sure that people with learning disabilities were not unduly disadvantaged. A plea was also made for strong responses to be made to discrimination and abuse.

The realisation that aspirations have to translate into positive outcomes for people is ever more pressing - particularly in the current financial climate where the distribution of available funds is under yet more individual and societal scrutiny and where mutuality and striking a balance between the rights and the responsibilities of citizens is constantly being re-examined. The complex question of the extent to which it is both legitimate and appropriate for the State to intervene in the lives of individuals is ever present, especially when this is to be counter-balanced with the right to privacy and to a private life that all citizens should enjoy.

Meaningful change in the future will depend on much more than our collective good intentions. It is not enough to have a Strategy where tasks and processes can be ticked off as complete, unless these lead to good outcomes for those concerned. With this in mind, the Scottish Government has funded SCLD to produce a Scottish contribution to the UK review of implementation of the rights within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is a small illustration that what is needed now is a cultural shift (which has begun), true participation in our society by people with learning disabilities and empowerment to make this happen. This new Strategy aims to deliver just that.

All of this is simply a translation of what human rights law now says whether in Scotland, the UK, Europe or the United Nations. Appendix 2 sets out the legislative background. Since The same as you? was published in 2000, there have been many additions to statute to ensure that human rights approaches become embedded in policy development, implementation, evaluation and scrutiny. Essentially this challenges the needs approach and the 'we know best how to do this' behaviours that can sometimes be displayed by professionals, in favour of a shift to rights based on the individual's ability and opportunities. This will require all those involved to work together in partnership with the individual to achieve his or her desired outcomes.

Our recommendations reflect those expectations. They also clearly chime with ongoing work to develop a Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights that the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) leads on.

Recommendation 1

That all public bodies involved in providing support to those with learning disabilities carry out equality impact assessments on relevant policies by June 2014 to ensure that the rights of people with learning disabilities to dignity, equality and non-discrimination are respected and upheld.

Recommendation 2

That localities provide opportunities to promote equality for people with learning disabilities through actively involving and including them in local developments that affect them. A first step should be the provision of information that ensures greater awareness of the rights we all have under domestic law and as a result of international treaties.


Email: Julie Crawford

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