Kate Chate is a Family Consultant at Dimensions, a leading not-for-profit providing support to people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs. She is also a mother planning for her children’s future.
Here, Kate discusses the importance of building human relationships between families and those providing care – and why this must be prioritised alongside digital inclusion.
Earlier this week I attended a webinar where I learned, from the great Dave Hingsburger, that reciprocity – giving in equal measure as receiving – is the key to good relationships.
This seemed particularly timely as this Saturday (15th May) marks International Day of Families. And as many of us will know, family life is often characterised by its fair share of give and take.
Indeed, I have found that when you ask what is important to people, they invariably have relationships with family in the top 4 things on their list (we ask a LOT of people this at work.)
However, for families of autistic people and of people with learning disabilities, the reciprocity crucial to maintaining good relationships can sometimes get lost in all the additional things that the system requires families do, and be: advocate, accountant, deputy, attorney, health-watcher, etc.
Happily we have heard lots of wonderful stories of family relationships being supported throughout the pandemic in such a variety of ways – be it phones and tablets or laptops and computers.
In fact, the United Nations has even declared that the theme for this year’s International Day of Families is “Families and New Technologies”, so this topic couldn’t be timelier.
But the possibility of technology adding so much reciprocity, richness, equality and independence to people’s lives is often juxtaposed with the icy fear that it will be used to further de-personalise care and support.
Digital exclusion is of course real, painful and dangerous. So let’s have digital inclusion as a human right – whilst never abandoning human relationships in the name of progress.
Indeed, in this 10th year since the Winterbourne View abuse scandal broke, and several more scandals since, I still can’t prepare my son’s siblings to take over the reins from me without emphasising the need to protect him at all costs from institutional harm.
My fear is of course that for all the technological advances, inclusion is in decline. Support for children with special educational needs across the country is in crisis. And whilst new institutions are being built (as profit making businesses no less!) the results seem to be more ‘beds’, less choice and control, no standard of living, no expectations, no job prospects, reducing access to the support needed to live where, and with whom you choose. People’s rights are being threatened, daily.
Set against this doom-laden picture are the heartbreakingly beautiful contributions made by people volunteering up and down the land – shopping, delivering, cooking, driving.
This is what has given me hope. It has lifted me and given me relief from the doom laden drip-feed of negative news, of cuts to social care, and increasing prospects of an insecure, insufficiently supported future.
It is perhaps no wonder then, that when we see kindness, understanding, acceptance, respect and help we can become overwhelmed by the glimmer of that hope.
So let’s hold on to that hope this International Day of Families. Let’s make sure that technology is used to enable, but that it is the a means to an end and not the end in itself.
Kate Chate is a Family Consultant at Dimensions, a leading not-for-profit providing support to people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs.