The sky is not the limit

Published in Features on 15 May 2014

Do we limit the expectations of service users from our own ideas of what they are capable of?

I believe one of the current difficulties with implementing personalisation is that professionals often unknowingly limit the expectations of service users from their own ideas of what they want or are capable of. As someone with high support needs due to cerebral palsy, I know many professionals who do not know me assume that I am capable of, or wish to do, far less than I actually do with my support.                                                                                                  

While some weekends I do ‘tick their box’ by going to town for a meal out, when I have time, money and weather on my side, I like to spend my weekends in a wetsuit doing something adventurous. At very almost 40, my adventurous days are nearly over as work commitments and health takes its toll, but I am proud of the many things I have achieved in my life in the same way as my non-disabled peers. I’ve travelled by train to Romania, from Budapest, performed street theatre in Prague and taught English at a summer camp in Lagos, Nigeria. On my 21st Birthday, I did a tandem parachute jump and I still want to swim with Dolphins at some point.

What I have done and achieved does not make me special, but simply I am someone who took advantage of the opportunities offered to myself, in the same way they were offered to my peers, and I did not let my impairment become a problem. I have taken risks, many risks, but they were calculated as I have always taken responsibility for myself as I have become an expert in removing the barriers that stop me achieving what I want.

I am not suggesting every service user wants to be as active as myself and everyone’s unique achievements should be celebrated, but life is more than feeling safe and the many other tick box desires professionals often impose on service users. Individuals should be encouraged and supported to fulfil their aspirations regardless of what others think of them. If we truly believe in the equality of disabled and older people, then we must assume they are capable of absolutely anything; good or indeed bad, and true personalisation is about supporting them to achieve their unique story.

If professionals do not start raising their expectations, then they will be unprepared for the next generation of disabled and older people, who will not tolerate bingo and afternoon tea as the highlight of their week. As disabled people are further included into society, they will want more from life as they contribute more, and so the next generation of professionals will need to support them in new and creative ways to keep up with their expectations.

Just imagine the support plan required for the first cerebral palsy astronaut, who needs their personal assistants to go where no personal assistant has gone before, finally proving the sky is not the limit after all!