Looking through the lens of an ordinary life

Denis Rowley, Project Consultant for Thera Trust, looks at what an ordinary life means.

An ordinary life is such incredibly simple idea that it’s easy to assume

  • that we all know what it is, and
  • that everybody has one.

But things, as ever, are more complicated than they seem. For over 40 years I have I have asked many different groups of people what makes their life worthwhile – indeed what makes their lives worth living. No matter who they are the answers have consistently been pretty much the same:

  • family
  • friends
  • relationships
  • health
  • home life
  • work life
  • leisure life
  • financial security, and
  • being in control.

Of course this straightforward list belies the emotional rollercoaster that is an ordinary life – good times and bad times, happy days and sad days. Ordinary life has hectic phases full of change, adventure, development and growth; and it also has solid, stable phases characterised by stillness, calmness, when life is more about settling down or putting down roots.

Ordinary doesn’t need to mean routine or predictable. To the contrary ordinary life means never a dull moment!

 

Barriers to an ordinary life for people with a learning disability

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – ‘Living Independently and Being Included in the Community’ – recognises:

<blockquote>the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others</blockquote>

Yet sadly it is still the case that many people with a learning disability lead far from ordinary lives. They do not always have the experiences that the rest of us take for granted.

Presence in the community has not resulted in full participation, for example in education, employment and leisure opportunities, and many people with a learning disability still experience lives blighted by loneliness and discrimination.

 

Road map to an ordinary life for people with a learning disability

David Towell points out that a human rights approach provides a road map for the implementation of rights to an inclusive and ordinary life. He says there are three building blocks to an ordinary life

  • Self- determination: ‘I can say what matters to me and how I want to live’.
  • Personalised support: ‘I get the assistance I need to live as I want’.
  • Inclusion: ‘I’m included in my community and benefit from its services’.

Changes that support an ordinary life – some Thera stories

One of the essential ingredients of achieving an ordinary life is good support – support from family, friends, community and paid support.  A good support relationship involves courageously helping people not to simply accept things as they are rather encouraging people to aspire, to take risks and to try new things. Here are some stories of great things happening for people supported by Thera.

  • Making choices about who I live with and where
  • Including family members in future planning
  • Making employment a possibility for more people
  • Paid support not dominating a person’s life so creating room for natural relationships.
  • Not accepting loneliness and supporting a person to connect with friends and community

 

Building a culture that celebrates an ordinary life

Supporting people to be truly included and to lead an enriched ordinary life Its not enough for it to be about better houses or alternatives to day centres.  It’s not enough to meet standards or to have compliant policies and procedures.

It is about remembering the heart and soul of our mission and settling for nothing less. Its about proudly being idealistic – something I for one am happy to be accused of. Its about building an ‘I can’ culture. It’s about building a ‘together we can’ culture.

It’s about building a culture that values families and  that shows that  person centred does not mean families excluded. And last but by no means least its about building a culture where a commitment to person centredness  extends to supporting and managing staff in a person centred way too.

 

Denis Rowley is a Project Consultant at Thera Trust. If you have any questions about what you have read, you can email him directly at: denis.rowley@thera.co.uk