FRONTLINE: REFLECTION ON THE HARD-COPY YEARS

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Colin Griffiths looks back at twenty-five years of Frontline magazine in print.

So farewell then, Frontline magazine as we know it. It is twenty-five years since Frontline first saw the light of day and in that period much has changed. People with intellectual disability have moved out of congregated settings and into ‘ordinary’ houses. Many people have got jobs in shops, factories, workshops and service industries all over the country. Also in that time Ireland has become a multilingual, multiracial society. In short, difference has thrived, and in that space people with disabilities have become recognised to a great extent as the same as everybody else.

It has now become commonplace that communities proudly announce that they are inclusive, and within these places people with intellectual disability find it possible to lead a more fulfilling life. Most people do, but not all, because there is no universal panacea for the legacy of the old institutions and the old institutional ways of thinking that still cling on. But most do live better lives, lives that they have more influence over and lives that can be called lives of quality. To some extent I think this is attributable to the Special Olympics of 2003—surely a seminal event in the growing understanding of what inclusion means in practice. Also it seems to me that Irish society has opened up; it always was a welcoming society, but even more so these days. Despite the pressure of the recession, Ireland remains a place where people are welcome. Having acknowledged the progress that has been made, the revelations of abuse that have recently surfaced, and the general sense that HIQA inspections have uncovered services that are imperfect at best, leave an uneasy feeling.

However, I take the view that even the apparently incessant bad news emerging from the intellectual disability services sector holds a silver lining. I think, firstly, that most services are doing a good job of providing quality and also that those that are not are getting a severe reminder that poor service will not be tolerated and, secondly, that those people who treat service users with intellectual disability without kindness have no place working with or being around them.

As editor of Frontline in the early years of the last decade, I found that four times a year I was under pressure to ‘get the copy in’. This was perhaps easier for me as I was working in the academic sector and academics love the opportunity to get a publication out in the public arena swiftly. Furthermore, they can write—after all, words are their stock in trade. Since Stephen took over the editorship Frontline,while retaining an academic focus, has become more ‘people friendly’. This is a welcome development as the involvement of people with intellectual disability and their families has deepened and I think become more influential.

Part of the vision of the editorial board was that a copy of Frontline would be available in every centre, preferably in houses and places where people with intellectual disability lived and worked and spent their time. In other words, the magazine would be ‘around’, people with intellectual disability, staff and family members would be able to just pick it up, glance through it, read an article if it interested them, or use it to light the fire if not! In short Frontline could become like Hello magazine, ubiquitous and influential on that account. I do not think that this goal was ever fully achieved, certainly some centres and services took multiple copies and spread them around, but others kept them in libraries where they had to be sought out; still others had never [and still have not] heard of Frontline.

What was Frontline? At its best, it was a source of information and entertainment. It told what people with intellectual disability, their families, those who worked to support them and others were doing. It offered a kaleidoscopic perspective on the issues of the time; hard-edged research co-existed with reports of fun days out and garden fêtes. The achievement of such an all-inclusive perspective was quite unique. In addition, it provided a place for people with intellectual disability to tell some of their stories, for their families to explain their joys and sorrows, and for all to articulate their hopes for the future.

As a source of information Frontline was both very powerful and at times quite patchy. As a space in which opinion about the issues of the day in the sector in Ireland could be articulated it had no equal. However, in the end I think Frontline was essentially a place to meet one’s friends.
I will miss it as the magazine rides off into the sunset. However,r the new digital dawn is upon us and Frontline,like every other form of print media, has had to adapt. The new format will be more flexible and hopefully more accessible, even though we will have to access it from our phones, tablets and whatnot. I think over the next 25 years, Frontline will be equally as important as in the last 25. It will, in fact, be the same but different.

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