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Reports call for more support for people with learning disabilities

Man with Down Syndrome using a laptop

Two reports on the effect of COVID-19 on people with learning disabilities launch on 10 December at an event: Filling the Gaps aimed at funders and policymakers.

The event is based on research findings carried out by two OU teams working in collaboration with self-advocate Shaun Picken, and supported by Learning Disability England, focus on lessons learned during COVID-19 which can shape how support for people with learning disabilities is organised and funded better.

Self-advocacy - “filling in the gaps”

The first report: Filling in the Gaps: The role of self-advocacy groups in supporting the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities through the pandemic which will be presented by Dr Elizabeth Tilley, Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS), examined the role of self-advocacy groups in supporting the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities through the pandemic.

This research looked at what self-advocacy groups, representing all regions of England - had been doing during the pandemic.

Dr Tilley said:

“The breadth and depth of their work during the pandemic was impressive. Self-advocacy groups responded very quickly, moving much of their work online while also providing essential offline support, and face-to-face practical help where required. Our research shows how and where self-advocacy was ‘filling in the gaps’ left by other services.”

Dr Tilley’s research also makes recommendations for service providers, Government, Commissioners and for people with learning disabilities and their families, based around providing more support and access to technology so that these groups can stay connected. The research also emphasises the need for commissioners to recognise the additional work taken on by self-advocacy groups during the pandemic, and to fund them appropriately.

More access to technology needed for connectedness

The second report: Keeping connected and staying well: The role of technology in supporting people with learning disability during the coronavirus pandemic led by Jane Seale, Professor of Education in WELS, found that the right kind of support has kept people with learning disabilities connected and has had a positive effect on their mental health during the pandemic.

Professor Seale also points out that despite this finding, there are many people with learning disabilities who have not been able to use technology to stay connected during the pandemic due to a lack of access to technology and of in-home support and she calls on education, health and social care providers and commissioners to fund and distribute technologies to people with learning disabilities and to ensure that organisations that deliver education, health, and social care do not place unnecessary barriers in the way of enabling access to technology and effective in-home support.

She said:

“Before the pandemic, there was evidence to show that people with learning disabilities experienced significant digital exclusion. Our research has revealed two important things. Firstly, the devastating impact this digital exclusion can have on the mental health and well-being of people with learning disabilities. Secondly, what kinds of creative support practices are required to enable people with learning disabilities to successfully access and use technologies to stay well and keep connected.

“These practices have emerged during a time of crisis, but are unlikely to be sustained after the pandemic without significant commitment from Education, health and social care providers to both provide access to technology and build capacity within the workforce to develop sustainable and effective support practices.”

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