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One Of Our Own

January 10, 2018

Bear with me. I’m trying to pull several strands together in this post.

Yesterday I saw one of those almost daily conversations on Twitter about what do you call a disabled person – a client or a service user? I cheekily contributed that perhaps we should follow Jeremy Hunt’s lead when he spoke about learning disabled people at a House of Lord’s select committee and call them “commercial opportunities”. It would be more honest. My problem with “service user” is that it infers that someone is using services but we all know there are no longer any services left to use. In 2018, it’s a meaningless term. But the term “service user” others and I guess that’s the point of it. It establishes the unequal dynamic which most “commercial opportunities” encounter.

Since last Wednesday, Steven has had a whole army of workmen in his house sorting out the damp problem. It’s been fascinating watching how they interact with Steven. Steven doesn’t discriminate so to everyone of them it’s been, “Hello man. What’s your name man?” The most heartening interactions over two days was with the younger of the two bathroom fitters. Whilst the guys were working Steven put on his Amy Winehouse DVD. Amy was obviously a favourite of the workman and he started singing along to Back To Black. This excited Steven no end and a relationship was formed. Pare back the quirkiness of Steven’s conversation and it was just two guys sharing a mutual interest. When they were saying their goodbyes on Thursday, the workman shook Steven’s hand and said “Goodbye Steve” and it was genuinely warm. He’ll remember Steven. Needless to say, Steven will remember Lee forever. After all, he still remembers Eric the boiler man from 1997, who liked Lionel Ritchie.

I had a nice moment in the gym on Monday. On Friday, I felt something go pop in my right tricep. It was quite tender all weekend and I was tentative to say the least as I started a chest workout on Monday. Later in the changing room, one of the regulars who I’d nodded to before but never spoken to asked me how my workout had gone. I told him I’d been a bit cautious after what happened on Friday. He said, “You should have asked me or Mo (his training partner) to spot you”. I replied that I didn’t like to as they were immersed in their workout. He then came out with the classic, “You daft cunt. We look after our own here”. It made me laugh and I found it quite touching. I’m not sure what I’ve done but I’m now classified as “one of our own”.

This morning whilst channel hopping I came across a debate entitled “Is autism a gift?” It was an irritating experience and within seconds it became about “those people with incredible gifts”. One caller phoned in to say that autism was both a gift or a curse. Whatever your view, it was a classic example of them and us. The gift and a curse comment covered all bases as it allowed the speakers to express admiration and sympathy in equal measure. The discussion petered out but the overriding impression was that autistic people are not one of our own.

I remember one of Steven’s cab drivers telling me how much he enjoys driving Steven around whereas some of his colleagues had asked to be taken off the rota. I thanked him and he said, “you either get him or you don’t”.

Is it that simple? Are you either “one of our own” or a gift that elicits admiration and sympathy?

Or are you just a person? Another human?


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  1. A lot of really interesting questions here Mark.

    Pedantic comment first: I thought Jeremy Hunt was talking about the commercial opportunities of the aging population rather than the learning disabled but its true that the general attitude of the market can solve problems is part of the crisis facing social care.

    Re the idea of ‘one of our own’ – I’ve never really felt that about the autistic community because I experience the identification culture as a bit weird and exclusionary. There’s so much focus on difference with neurotypicals that the commonalities tend to get ignored.

    But that seems to be part of the human condition – people form groups and exclude others. Also doubting whether you belong seems pretty normal. Alienation is something that we all experience to some degree or other and that also drives us to bond with people.

    As for is autism a gift or a curse? I think you’re onto something because it can be expressed as ‘is John a gift or a curse?’ or ‘is Steven a gift or a curse?’ or ‘is Damian a gift or a curse?’ etc etc. That is what troubles me about the autistic identification – aren’t you subjecting yourself to needing the autism to be validated as a gift when there is such diversity of experience out there? I haven’t fully gotten a hold of this as an idea but there is something nagging me.

    Finally I did enjoy your gym story. Very human.

  2. judyb permalink

    Hate ‘service user’ with a passion for mental health patients,. Suggests that you aren’t ill, just using some services for some unspecified reason. Sometimes you are also forced to use the services…… and you never have any choice as the only ‘services’ you can ‘use’ are the ones that happen to be provided by a monopoly suppler. And if you don’t use their services you are not engaging and therefore don’t deserve any services…….

  3. I hate the term as well. It sounds like someone who just ‘uses’ and doesn’t give back. It doesn’t imply that society (or even the people working in it) has any sort of duty to keep the service going even if it’s used; that it’s a drain on resources. I never quite saw what was wrong with ‘client’. Normally you’d use that of someone who is paying for a service and expects a quality service and whom you have to keep sweet.

  4. Gordon Kennedy permalink

    As someone who manages a service I generally refer to people as people.
    However when writing about what is happening to someone or describing a service need the word person/people is clumsy to my (rather pedantic) mind.
    Working in metal health those people in hospital are patents(but still people) but when they are in the community, unless on a CTO, are not patents.
    I don’t know the answer to what people who use mental health services should be called but I do know we need to remember they are people first and last.

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