The inaugural Conference of IASSID Europe, hosted at UCD in June, gave the 500 delegates an opportunity to strengthen their information networks and to share their research with colleagues from around the world. President McAleese spoke to the delegates at lunchtime on the third day. Her words were acknowledged with almost startled applause—and frank admiration by the delegates. She spoke about ideals: bringing human rights to centre stage, enhancing the self-determination of people with intellectual disability, recognising the unique giftedness of every individual, and finding better ways to support the needs of people with disabilities, their carers and families. She welcomed the breadth of geographical, cultural and professional backgrounds among the delegates. She praised their sharing of information, intuition and wisdom and their listening to others’ insights. The president used the metaphor of a massive jigsaw, with researcher’s each working on one bit, their pieces ‘docking’ together to produce the full picture.
The metaphor is applicable to academic research, and to action-research, practice-based research and the experiential knowledge of families—they are all essential pieces in the jigsaw of learning disability. It is the aim of this magazine to be a conduit for the communication of information among Irish practitioners and families.
This issue of Frontline includes a Focus On residential services. In the last few years Irish services have been able to make significant strides in accommodating the housing wishes of their service users—beyond a take-it-or-leave-it ‘there’s a place available’ scenario, to offering choice in location, housemates and type of accommodation. The last government’s three-year capital programme was vital, but, yes, there is a lot ‘more to do’. An economic downturn must not be allowed to delay and jeopardise the vital planning and building to meet further needs—as evident in the Intellectual Disability Database and already identified within services. Waiting lists simply have to be faced down, whether in good times or those not–so-good.
Our public representatives hold vital pieces of the jigsaw; their cooperation and commitment are essential to complete the picture. The success of Finian McGrath and Kathy Sinnott’s oh-so-near-success (and, as this is written, her senate campaign), as well as the thousands of first-preference votes given to the other health-and-disability candidates in the General Election should strengthen the campaign for rights-based disability policies. Unfortunately, the ‘disability and caring’ section of the new programme for government shows no significant breakthroughs. At a minimum, however, the government must live up to its promised programme this time—and revisit the unfinished business of the disability ‘key priorities’ of the 1997-2002 government programme.
We’ve had the trauma, anxiety, elation and inevitable come-down of World Cup fever. Maybe by the time you read this we will all have had our summer holidays and be refreshed. Refreshed for the return to real life, real politique—and the bringing to the table of our unique piece of that huge jigsaw.