Seminar 2

Seminar 2, 14th June, 2013

‘The Same as You?’ Voices of experience and encounter



This second seminar is entitled The same as you?: voices of experience and encounter.  It is the second in a series of three, each of which is designed to ‘rethink learning disability’ through rather different if overlapping lenses.  The first seminar addressed the academic fields of inquiry into learning disability, fostering an open-handed ‘conversation’ between specialists in different of these fields (biomedicine, psychology, psychiatry, history, human geography, sociology, etc.) and using a ‘workshop’ format based on short position statements and sustained open-ended discussion.  The second seminar is designed to hear from voices of experience and encounter, meaning people with learning disabilities themselves as well as their carers and supporters, principally through the medium of short theatrical sketches (created by Inform Theatre, a repertory group of learning disabled actors) and associated activities and discussions.

Themes and findings emerging from first seminar have been reframed as a series of issues/questions that guide the second seminar, and more specifically feed into scenarios that we have invited Inform Theatre to tackle in their theatrical sketches.  In the very process of their revisioning of our issues/questions, the voices of people with learning disabilities start to ‘dialogue’ with the more academic concerns from the first seminar.  Once these voices have been mixed together with those of other participants, many of whom are also learning disabled or their carers and supporters, the anticipation is that ‘voices of experience and encounter’ will indeed have served to re-cast the academic concerns.

The materials arising from the first two seminars will then be used to animate the agenda for the third seminar, the purpose of which is to explore new policy dialogues around policy and practice with respect to learning disability in contemporary Scotland, UK and beyond.


The intention is to create a small, ‘safe’ and stimulating environment in which to allow ‘voices of experience and encounter’ to be heard.  The intention is to invite inputs from three third sector organisations who work closely with learning disabled people: Inform Theatre (based at the Dundee Rep.), who will present the sketches; Garvald Edinburgh, a creative arts group who will bring some artwork; and PAMIS, who work with people with profound/multiple learning disabilities and their families.  Also invited will be a few participants from the first seminar, who, along with the organisers of the seminar series, can bring a measure of direct continuity from the first seminar into the second (and hopefully too into the third seminar).


We would hence suggest as specific objectives for the third seminar the opportunity to hear ‘voices of experience and encounter’ addressing the following issues/questions, which emerged from the first seminar and have guided the scenarios behind the five Inform Theatre sketches:

  • How do people get themselves heard (through what media and by which routes and do they feel that anyone is listening?
  • What happens if people cease to be assessed as learning disabled (and what will be the implications of losing benefits, support and services)?
  • Who fills the ‘gaps’ in people’s support and service needs (and what is the      balance between formal and informal provisions)?
  • Who makes decisions about a person’s life, what level of autonomy do and can people possess, and what are the connections to matters of ‘risk’ and ‘protection’?
  • What does all of this mean for ‘being different’ and ‘being the same’?

It should be relatively easy to appreciate how these concerns/questions have indeed emerged from the proceedings of the first seminar.


The core of the day is a series of sketches developed by Inform Theatre, each lasting c.5-10 minutes, and each loosely based upon a cluster of questions addressed primarily (but by no means exclusively) to people with learning disabilities.  All sketches will to be followed by short activities, each one getting all participants to write/draw on flip charts and paper table-clothes, to create a highly visual sense of the immediate responses from participants (and also to create a durable record of these responses).

The organisers plus a specialist facilitator, Nicola Grove, will lead two collective discussions based on the sketches, activities, responses and further reflections, one at the end of the morning session and the second at the end of the afternoon session.  The anticipation here is that anyone can contribute, and we will be invite people to elaborate, with personal examples, of how they felt about what was covered by the sketches and activities.

The second discussion will move into re-telling the overall story of the day, as well as then shifting into final thoughts about speaking to policy-makers and asking what participants would like now to say to policy-makers (particularly in light of what some will have heard the day before [on Thursday, 13th June, 2013] at the launch of the Scottish Government’s new framework for learning disability policy [The Keys of Life]).  Together with an audio-visual record of the day’s proceedings, these thoughts will be taken forward as the basis for the third seminar in the seminar series.


Consistent with our practice at the first seminar, the intention is to create an audio-record of the whole event, and with a visual record of the five sketches, which will be edited – more or less lightly, depending on the technical quality – and made available on a seminar WordPress site.  We will also be using flip-charts and paper table-clothes (for writing on), to create a material record of the activities, and if possible some of this material record will be reproduced on the site.


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