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FRESHERS’ WEEK

'Does acknowledging disability help to break down barriers or does it add to stigma?'

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How can you help to break down barriers as a student nurse?

Like many people this summer I went to a music festival to listen to my favourite bands, spend some quality time with my friends and generally have a good time.

This is common for many young people be it Glastonbury, V festival or the local gig down the road. It is something many look forward to all year and to some extent take for granted. 

People with learning disabilities are no different in this way but aren’t always given the same chances to achieve this ‘rite of passage’ like me and you might be. Of course for some people music festivals might not be what they are striving for, it might be a holiday or backpacking, learning to drive or doing a sky dive but unfortunately for this group of people there are many more barriers in the way to achieving this.  

“Unfortunately for this group of people there are many more barriers in the way to achieving this”

However saying that, I went to V festival and saw individuals with disabilities enjoying the weekend with their friends, loved ones and carers like everyone else, but what does it say that I’ve noticed their disability? Does acknowledging disability help to break down barriers or does it add to the stigma that unfortunately exists?

This is to highlight that people with learning disabilities haven’t always been given the same rights and opportunities as we have and going to festivals only a few years ago for people with learning disabilities was just a dream.

“As student nurses we can make a positive difference from the very start of our training”

As student nurses we can make a positive difference from the very start of our training by adopting a positive attitude and thinking outside the box.

This alternative thinking, in my opinion is what’s needed.

Care used to be delivered in such a way that individuality was often not achieved and the idea of the individual having their own identify, clothes and music taste was fanciable and unattainable. 

Fortunately a shift from institutionalised to community care has helped to addresses this.

Don’t get me wrong, my clinical mentors and lecturers who worked in those institutions have talked of some good care but say they were striving for different things then we are now.

People are individuals so why mask this with generic activities and not make steps to provide truly person centred care? Let’s face it, supporting somebody at a festival is bound to be good fun, for the individual themselves but also for the person supporting them and goes some way to addressing the stigma that I mentioned.

Mentors and lectures talk of ‘sheep dipping’ children with disabilities in the bath, making sure that all these children with complex needs were clean meant good care had been delivered that day.

Is good learning disability care solely about the basics such as cleanliness and hydration? I don’t think so either.

That’s why my advice to students at the start of their studies would be to strive for more. Think of the person you are nursing and supporting as yourself and what things would be on offer for you, this will help towards breaking down those barriers people with disabilities unfortunately face.

Providing care shouldn’t be solely about nursing interventions and basic standards (I hope you agree) but enhancing people’s lives with out of the box thinking, positive risk taking and to work with the individual so they can go to that music festival if they so wish!

Kieran Uttley is in his third year studying learning disabilities nursing at Keele University

 

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