07 May 2019
Emma is a work colleague and today she was telling me of the excitement and sense of achievement she felt upon installing an outside light for the first time over the bank holiday weekend. “I know it sounds daft, but I was so excited! It’s the little things, innit?”
Her comment really got me thinking – “the little things” or, in other words, those “ordinary things” that make up a real, ordinary life.
It is for this reason that You First adopts a strengths-based approach to our work. We do not believe that people with learning disabilities and/or autism are people in need of support rather we believe that people with learning disabilities and/or autism are equal people, citizens, people who want lives of purpose and meaning and who are worthy of dignity and respect and who can make valued contributions to their local community, to society and to the economy.
People with learning disabilities and/or autism don't want a "service" - they want a life and to this end You First exists to disrupt the norm simply through listening to the voices of people and responding accordingly. When one ditches professional assumption and actually listens to the person talking with you truly amazing things can happen.
You First are inclusive and by this we mean that we are ambitious for everyone. Everyone has gifts they can offer and by which they can make valued contributions to society and we celebrate these gifts and support people to not only maintain them but expand them. We are committed to individual progression in a way that makes sense and has value to each individual.
Long gone are the days where people with disabilities wished to be bussed countless miles from their home to an area they do not know (and does not know them) to engage in activities that have little meaning or purpose. People are seeking "ordinary lives" - lives like anyone else. Therefore the people using You First are people who wish to build and grow their lives, learn and contribute toward their local community and then, in many cases, move on from the need for paid support not because You First start delivering less but because we deliver support differently, support that engages the person and that promotes independence as opposed to creating dependence upon paid staff.
Increasingly people are gaining access to their Personal Budgets, and rightly so. These may be in the form of an Individual Service Fund or a Direct Payment and this builds in choice and control for the customer and moreover ensures that power sits well and truly where it belongs – with the customer. It is this personal power, together with what are often described as “soft outcomes” such as self-esteem, self-belief, self-worth and confidence that provide the bedrock for real informed choice that ushers in the reality of an ordinary life as people become empowered to believe they have and can exercise their personal power.
People with learning disabilities and/or autism don't want to live in Service Land; they want to live in the real world, leading real lives with all the benefits and indeed responsibilities this brings. However, many people with a LD and/or ASC continue to be disenfranchised simply because they cannot fit into mainstream models. Recent history shows very clearly that many people fall through the gap in terms of employment-based support, for example, as for some people its about more than skill acquisition. You First "minds the gap" if you like. What we are about is utilising gifts and enabling people to work in a way that makes sense to them and not trying to pigeon hole people or make them fit into boxes - boxes all too often created by neuro-typicals.
Together with this Traditional Social Care tends to focus upon deficit - what somebody "can't do" or "can do with support". We are not focusing on deficit or even need as such, we are supporting people to become empowered, autonomous and to achieve things in their own way and on their own terms and this may well sit outside of the mainstream. The people who use You First are Equal People who just happen to experience the world in a way differently. Our approach unleashes the utilisation of gifts, abilities and skills as people become comfortable in their own skin as the pressure of conformity is removed.
Historically many well meaning interventions have placed the onus upon the individual to change or adapt in order to "fit in" - getting "work ready". We are clear that this the wrong way around. We want to show that if society as a whole shifts and stops expecting people with intellectual disabilities to "be like us" or "work as we do" then the door opens for a whole new group of people to build and grow their lives, become actively connected citizens and gain meaningful employment. This is what true empowerment and putting people first is all about - releasing potential by removing societal barriers.
So yes, it is indeed about the “little things” as Emma mentioned this morning and You First is committed to ensuring that no matter the degree of disability people using You First will have the freedom and the opportunity to enjoy those things for themselves.