We all want our voices heard—to say what we think, what we want, and to protest when we disagree with what is happening around us. It is very encouraging to read in Frontline about Irish people with intellectual disabilities who are finding their voice—in educational activities (p.13, 28), at the European Platform of Self-Advocates (p.8) and in interviewing for staff within their service (p.12).
But many other people—those with severe communication difficulties—continue to live frustrating and isolated lives because of their inability to express themselves, and other people’s limited understanding of their attempts. The articles in our Focus On augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) survey the processes, systems and devices developed to meet a variety of communication needs. All of them need to be tailored for the individual through careful assessment, adaptation and the valuable intuitions that characterise all of our personal interactions.
In its several forms, advocacy (pp. 10) attempts to represent the views of people with intellectual disabilities and, more importantly, to enable them to represent themselves, wherever possible. Advocacy is also an aspect of the continuing conundrum of informed consent (p.26).
Advocacy groups welcomed the overdue announcement, in mid-July, of additional funding for disability services which, the government ministers stated, represented ‘… further evidence of the government’s commitment to these services and to supporting people with disabilities and their families.’ More than a few of those families had faced severe worry for several months—having been warned that there were unlikely to be places for young-adult children leaving mainstream or special education this year. The release of additional revenue funding was vital, but continuing capital restrictions, and the cap on healthcare staffing numbers, must have made it next to impossible for voluntary disability organisations to provide the announced number of places for new clients within their existing accommodation—and to plan appropriate services for the new clients, during the two staff-depleted holiday months.
As part of their service contract, disability organisations submit an annual ‘Provider Plan’ to their health board, outlining service needs, priorities, budgets and targets for the coming year. These stated development plans, along with the numbers provided by the Intellectual Disability Database, provide government departments with data to assess service-needs in advance—for much longer than one year. Surely the health and finance departments should make proper use of those detailed documents for better long-term planning, and not to wait until mid-fiscal year to find ‘unspent’ departmental money to provide for unmet services.
It has been an honour to have my editorial say in Frontline for the past six years, but the time is long overdue for a new voice. Colin Griffiths will take over the reins from the next issue. With his energy and wealth of experience working in intellectual disability, he brings a welcome fresh focus to the magazine. I wish him all the best and hope that—like me—he will enjoy his editorship, with the assured support of editorial board colleagues and the authors who contribute so much to this magazine. Thank you, everyone.