Campaigners in mental health have long adopted the label ‘survivor’ to indicate both their journey through an often unhelpful system of care and their resilience in surviving to fight another day.
But to my knowledge this term has not been used by people with learning difficulties. This is surprising. Many leading self advocates I have met are challenged that they are not ‘really’ disabled because they appear self confident, poised, capable and professional. It is a double bind. The more skilled they appear as leaders, the more likely it is that they are dismissed as wrongly labelled and ‘unrepresentative’. Yet I know, because they have shared some of their life stories, that, despite appearances, they have gone through special education, they have been assessed, been obliged to live with people they have not chosen in group homes or supported living, or, worse, in secure accommodation. They have known what is is like to pass your days in adult training centres, or sitting at home for lack of money, support or opportunity.
Labelling yourself as a ‘survivor’ in such circumstances seems entirely justifiable. And a good way to counter those people who want to dismiss you for being too effective.