Disability, Learning the Truth
My life with a disability was helped by some amazing People
It was around 1987, and I was working in my first job since leaving school. I was a trainee Pharmacy Technician in a small town called Padiham. A change in health policy meant that many people who had been in-patients were discharged from a hospital called Calderstones and placed into something being called care in the community. Calderstones was one of several hospitals classed at the time as being for the mentally ill. It was home to people who society over the years classed as outcasts. Some of the patients, a term I use loosely, were deaf people who struggled to speak; placing young women in an institution after giving birth and some people who had a variety of mental illnesses. I remember the re-homing of a couple of people in communal accommodation not far from the chemist where I worked.
One was a man who was always well-dressed, and he wandered around the town acting very regal and said he was Prince Charles. The second was a young woman who struggled speaking due to being born deaf. She had been institutionalised as a resident in Calderstones from an early age. She was a regular customer in the chemist to use a twenty-four-hour photography developing service that we offered. When a customer brought film into the store before eleven o’clock in the morning, the customers could collect their developed film the following day.
Tuesdays were half-day opening for the local shop, and we were closing at lunchtime. As a security measure, we had to put metal grills up against the windows and doors after setting the alarm and locking the doors. On this day, this young lady approached the shop to collect her photographs. We had gone through the usual procedure and then crossed the road to go home. There was a sudden bang, which was followed by the sound of shaking and banging metal. The words that were used at that time to describe these people are not acceptable today. I never thought that I would be put in the same classification and experience any of the discrimination these people experienced.
Over twenty-five years later, after being assaulted while serving as a police officer and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD opened Pandora's box full of trauma. Among other symptoms, I would disassociate; this is like an out of body experience where you relive the traumatic event. During these episodes, I would often struggle to speak, I sounded as if I had an extreme stammer if I could get any words out at all. On one occasion, I struggled to speak to a bus driver, telling him what I wanted. The response of the bus driver was to tell me to “Get off the bus. I don’t have time for idiots.” If could have spoken, I think I would have been dumbstruck, but this was the reaction of many people to Mental Health/Learning Difficulties. I wish I could say this was a one-off situation, but it wasn’t. I experienced similar things on many occasions when I disassociated, struggled speaking or suffered from memory loss and confusion.
As recent as twelve months ago, I experienced appalling support and understanding while volunteering with scouting. After losing twelve months of my memory, the scouting organisation decided to stop me working with children while they checked whether they would let me continue. I contested that I was not like other non-disabled people who suffered physical conditions. When I challenged the behaviour of the other leaders and more senior managers, I was repeatedly told, "What do you expect us to do? We are not a counsellor and didn’t believe that if you had a mental illness, you should work with children." Eventually they accused me of being a paedophile, something that was complete nonsense and never investigated because there was nothing even to suggest it. So, I had to leave Scouting, something I enjoyed but had a philosophy that is dated and harmful to people.
My stepson has Cerebral Palsy and started to live independently in a small bungalow and began attending the Cheshire Learning and Development Centre. It is a centre that provides bespoke support for adults and young people with learning disabilities. I started to volunteer and what I found was amazing. The centre works to the motto, “Enjoy, believe and achieve.” I can say that they do what it says on the can. I explained to the workers I have PTSD, and they reacted in the opposite way to many people and organisations. They accepted that I was not as reliable as many people but encouraged me to do what I can and not worry about the condition I have. It is this acceptance and encouragement that everyone receives who passes through the doors. It is a natural process, for all the people who enter the centre have to develop life skills, social skills and independence within their ability while having fun. Disability isn’t an obstacle that stops them achieving; instead inspiration and encouragement are used to help individuals believe they can fulfill their potential.
For me it didn’t stop there; the people attending the centre are who are inspirational. When you enter a room with these people, they accept people straight away and make them welcome. I always experience fun and happiness in everyone I work with and meet at Cheshire Learning and Development.
If there is one message I would like to pass on it would be that it doesn’t matter if someone has a disability or not. From my experience, people with learning disabilities and physical disabilities have a lot they can teach people who do not have the same challenges in their lives. When I look at the challenges my disabilities have caused me and the discrimination I faced, I struggle to understand the mindset of the individuals who behave in that way. Sadly, we will always come across people who look and stare through to those who are rude and abusive. We need to help and support organisations like Cheshire Learning and Development and provide, help, support and encouragement to all people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, empowering them to become the person they deserve to be.