BLOG: My life, my thoughts by Shaun Webster
Shaun Webster is a KeyRing Member and sits on our board of trustees. He told us about sharing his life experiences to make lives across the world better.
I recently visited Thailand which was the furthest place that I have ever been in my life with CHANGE. I went with two colleagues, one with a learning disability and one without. One was a manager, and one was a co-worker. The company invited CHANGE over to Thailand because they wanted to change how things worked for people with learning disabilities and autism. They wanted people like us to be more independent, to have more jobs and to live more independently, so we went to share our experiences.
This is what I told them:
We briefly talked about institutions but most people lived at home with their parents, and found this quite restrictive so we spoke a lot about this. I spoke about my experience of getting support from KeyRing and how as I got more confident, I became an Associate Member1. Support is on my terms and I make decisions on my own. If there is anything I’m not sure about, I ask friends, my Mum or KeyRing; I have a circle of support but like to try to do things first by myself.
I told them about my good experiences and my bad experiences of work:
I worked in a warehouse for 5 years and for the first year it was fine. After this I got a bit bored and was doing the jobs that others didn’t want to do so I asked to go into stock control. I tried it for a while but they thought I was too slow and so I had to go back to my first job. I told the agency that was supporting me but they didn’t do anything, nothing changed and I felt forgotten. This wasn’t fair; I felt very frustrated; I wanted to better myself in that company but didn’t get the chance because I wasn’t supported properly and I felt that I was a ‘tick box’. I was getting bullied at work but couldn’t leave because I needed the money for my kids.
While I was working there I was living on my own in a flat up the road from my job with some basic support. However, my brother moved in with me and started to take over and do things for me instead of letting me do things for myself. I felt that my life was being controlled by my family and I was losing confidence. Things needed to change and so I applied to KeyRing.
I had an interview with KeyRing and joined in the early noughties. I moved to a nicer flat; it was closer to the shops and to a bus stop and I had support from someone living down the road who knew the area well. I did an action plan to get my confidence back so that I could live on my own again. At that time, I had difficulties using busses on my own, doing my house work, and I needed support to set up direct debits to pay all my bills.
I was shown where the Post Office and supermarket were and worked on my confidence action-plan at my own pace without pressure, which I liked. Over time, I needed less support because I was shown how to do things on my own and got my confidence back.
With KeyRing my life started to change for the better and they told me about a job that was going with CHANGE in Leeds and so I sent in my CV. I had never been to Leeds or on a train before and so the interview and whole trip to Leeds was a big adventure. At the interview, I told them about KeyRing, and about how I supported people in my network. I told them that I couldn’t read or write very well but they were more interested in my life experience than my qualifications. There were a lot of people with learning disabilities working at Change and this surprised me; in my last job, it was just me!
I have been working for CHANGE now for about 19 years, I have worked up to three days per week for them, depending on their funding. I had the opportunity to work abroad with my manager and co-worker and have been to the Czech Republic, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Nicaragua, the West Bank in Israel and Thailand. I have also been to Holland with KeyRing.
In many of these countries, I have helped people to think about how to support young people to live independently, have jobs, make their own decisions, develop confidence and to have their own voice.
I found that people in other countries were getting little or no sex education. I thought this was very scary as it makes people vulnerable to abuse and also causes confusion that can affect people’s mental health. However, even in the UK people often lack basic sex education and struggle to understand their feelings. This is an area that we are behind on and we need to catch up with other European countries such as Germany, France and Holland. I think that adults with learning disabilities should go into schools and teach young people about sex and sexuality.
In the future, I want people with learning disabilities and autism to have the same opportunities around family and relationships as everyone else. We are not second class citizens or aliens; we should have the same human rights as other people. At the moment, we don’t have the same rights and that needs to change!
Shaun recently gave a talk about his experiences for The Camphill Trust. You can see it here.
1An Associate Member gets some 1:1 support, access to KeyRing’s hubs, out of hours support and other events. It is designed as a step-down towards greater independence.