When lockdown started on March 23rd, everything came to a stop. But for social care workers up and down the country though, that wasn’t the case.
Initially, anything beyond ‘health’ and the safety of the people we support and our colleagues had to take a back seat and it’s easy to see why – none of us have experienced the challenges of a once in a lifetime pandemic before – but at SeeAbility we’re all about pushing beyond day-to-day medical care and supporting people to live ambitious lives in inclusive communities.
So how could we continue to support inclusion in a society where everyone is literally isolating? And how could we support people with the very real challenges of understanding the changes to their routines and daily life, and why they could no longer see their friends and family members? The answer: lots of video calls.
It wasn’t and still isn’t just about occasional ‘check-in’ video calls however. It’s about making sure that people have all the tools they need to be part of society – that means control over their lives, the specialist support to communicate, and the contacts within the community.
Amplifying the voices that matter
Even before the covid-19 pandemic railroaded through our routines and lives, we were making a concerted effort to amplify the voices of people we’re supporting, so they can campaign for change both in their local communities and within SeeAbility, and have more control over their lives.
Scott Watkin BEM is the first person in our leadership team with the lived experience of a learning disability, and leads on ensuring people with learning disabilities have a bigger voice in society. He’s recruited three ‘associates’ from people we support and is training them to become the next generation of campaigners with disabilities.
We didn’t want to stop this incredible engagement activity just because of lockdown. In fact, it became more important than ever for us to engage with people to find out how they’re coping with lockdown and what we can do to support people even better through it.
So Scott set up a weekly drop-in Zoom call every week, where anyone we support can join to discuss how they’re finding lockdown, exchange ideas, talk about their feelings and feel part of a community.
“I think it’s really important,” says Scott. “People need to have that opportunity to make their voice heard and express how they’re feeling, so we can work out how we can make changes as an organisation.”
For many of the Zoom regulars, the call is an incredibly important way for them to stay connected with other people with similar experiences.
“The calls are there to give people a voice, but also for them to connect with other people, their colleagues and their friends. Last week people were even bringing along didgeridoos! That was unexpected!”
Providing specialist support remotely
As well as helping people to find their voices and express their opinions on the things that matter to them, we also make sure people are able to get the specialist support they need to communicate effectively. We’ve got an in-house team of Speech and Language Therapists who work with the people we support to help them find ways to communicate.
One of these ways is through Makaton a sign language that is often used by people with learning disabilities who find verbal communication challenging. Speech and Language Therapist Lesley Thorndycraft has been running Zoom ‘Sign-a-longs’ for people who use Makaton, for anyone to learn new signs through popular songs. It’s also open to their families to join in.
“It means that people are able to keep learning Makaton across SeeAbility in a fun and accessible way,” says Lesley. “When people learn the signs to a song they know, they learn the signs without even realising it, just through the repetition.”
“It’s been a lifeline for some people. One lady lives at home with her family and she relies on Makaton to communicate. The sing-a-longs keeps her engaged and help her stay mentally healthy even when she can’t see other people face-to-face.”
Staying connected with the outside world
But our dream of an inclusive community is that people with disabilities are able to participate in the wider community outside their support. We empower people to make changes within the organisation, and give them the specialist support they need to communicate – but ultimately, we want to help people engage with wider society.
Our volunteers have been brilliant here. In normal times, we have over 150 volunteers who give their time to support people with all sorts of things, often partnering up with someone through a shared hobby. For instance, there’s a volunteer tandem club, pairing up sighted volunteers and people who have visual impairments.
Although hobbies like tandem cycling are impossible during lockdown, we’ve worked with the volunteers to ensure they can continue with their roles as far as possible.
Volunteer Vivien has become close friends with Joyce, and they usually meet up to sing duets together. These sing-a-longs have now moved to the phone, so they can carry on singing virtually.
“I miss seeing my friend Joyce in person.” says Vivien. “But I phone every few days to speak to her. We ‘duet’ to a couple of her favourite songs over the phone! I’ve been a voluntary friend for over 8 years now and find it so hard not being able to visit.”
Volunteers like Vivien going the extra mile during lockdown mean that people we’re supporting are still able to make those valuable connections with the outside world and feel included in their communities.
Inclusion remains at the very heart of what we do, and through technology we’ve been able to keep people connected and included even through these difficult circumstances. Scott says it best: “If we ever have to go into lockdown again, we’d do everything the same. I think we’ve done really well to make sure people have remained connected and are feeling part of their communities.”
Article meta data
Clicking on any of the links in this section will take you to other articles that have been tagged in the same category.