We are appalled at the BBC Panorama programme that was broadcast last night. Again, we are told stories of the violent abuse of people with learning disabilities. We share the feelings of disgust voiced on social media towards the individuals who enacted such horrendous acts against people described as ‘vulnerable’ in the programme. Yet, at the same time, we want to vent our spleens at the systemic violence inherent within our education, social care and health systems that reflect a wider dehumanisation of people with learning disabilities. We are not wanting to let care providers nor workers off the hook. But, we do want to highlight the ways in which we – as a society – that is * all of us * are complicit in the dehumanisation of people with learning disabilities. Savage cuts to services, the loss of policy debate in the stagnating pool that is Brexit, toothless legislation, rampant individualism, and keyboard warriors that seek easy answers to endemic problems: all of these problems need to be addressed. We need a radical overhaul of how we as a society understand people with learning disabilities.
We also want to reiterate what we’ve said elsewhere – making the voice of people with learning disabilities central to the debates that follow the post-Panorama outcry is a must and not an optional extra. Where on earth were the commentators with learning disabilities and autism sat in front of a laptop or stood in front of a big screen, invited to share their reaction? We personally know many self-advocates would have done a great job at this and shared their anger and disgust. We really, really hope their absence wasn’t the result of experts advising the BBC that this would be too traumatic for people with learning disabilities rather than offering to prepare them for an appearance. In any case, the decision to only show them being abused but not as people who should comment is powerful evidence of profound disablism in our society. It is a clear indication of deeply held beliefs in our society that people with learning disabilities cannot speak for themselves.
Dan Goodley is Professor of Disability Studies and Education at the University of Sheffield