People First

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Andrew of People First, an organization supporting people with learning difficulities, and led by people with learning difficulties. Andrew told  us “We would like to see a strong user led disability movement in every country that needs it”. And I think that this is the essential point: we have to network, and get in touch with other realities of the same kind all over the world. Networking also helps to overcome barriers and discrimination.
Your organization’s aim is to support people with learning difficulties. Could you tell us who can ask for your assistance?
We are an organisation run and led by people with learning difficulties.  We work with individuals with learning difficulties and local self-advocacy groups that are also run and led by people with learning difficulties. Both individual members and group members with learning difficulties have voting rights at our annual general meetings.  We also work with other bigger social care organisations, disabled peoples organisations, ministers and government departments. We make these links so that our policy and campaigns work is more effective and reaches more people.
What are the main problems that people with learning difficulties have to overcome? (both practical and related to prejudices)
People with learning difficulties all have different access needs, but we find that in order to make the world an accessible place and to get rid of barriers people need accessible information, support and advocacy.  Each person needs a different mix of these things, but these are generally the things that help to get rid of barriers in an inaccessible world. 
Without accessible information, support and advocacy everything and anything becomes inaccessible.  If accessible information, support and advocacy are not given this means that people cannot access health, employment, education, services, politics, activities or even the law and their rights.  Without these things it means that people do not have choice and control and cannot live independently. 
Prejudice and hate crime are also a huge issues for people with learning difficulties.  It is something that affects all people with learning difficulties. It is something that is getting worse at the moment as a result of the way that the Government and the media talk about disabled people and people that use benefits and social services.
Do you think that the public sector could do more, in terms of cooperation with organizations like yours, and how?
In the UK the Government are starting to realise the value of Disabled People’s User Led Organisations (DPULO’s).  However with budget cuts and long and arduous application processes for running services, this is often not a possibility for smaller DPULO’s.  Also support for organisations like ours can be different in different local areas.
After years of experience can you say what are the most effective practices in order to promote advocacy and support of people with learning difficulties?
There needs to be more research into how effective support and advocacy can be.  We know how important it is, but we need evidence on a much larger scale.  We are currently applying for funding together with two other organisations to test run a holistic peer support service for people with learning difficulties in Lambeth. Any findings and learning from this project will then be shared nationally.
Much of service provision is still very medical model and focuses much more on what you can’t do without advocacy and support than what you could do with the right advocacy and support!  This is why promoting the social model of disability is such an important part of promoting advocacy and support.
We would like to see a strong user led disability movement in every country that needs it.