I heard of a director spending the day in a wheel chair, “ to get to know what’s it like having a disability”. Whilst I could see that this was well intentioned pretending to be disabled for a day didn’t feel right nor did it seem the best way to learn about the obstacles and attitudes that restrict an individual’s independence.
I felt the same way when I read about a new play,The Home, an experimental show that gives the audience the chance to experience institutional life. Older professional actors will play the care staff and activity organisers and will mix with audience members who will play a variety of roles. The play will be performed over 48 hours with those playing residents allocated a room kitted out like bedroom in a care home. A succession of larger groups will be welcomed in to watch semi scripted events including a bingo night and an open day. The whole play will be streamed live. In addition to the ordinary theatre goer it is assumed that professional care providers will make up a large part of the audience.
Do we really need to directly experience before we can understand ? Surly there has been enough written about the characteristics and experience of institutional care for us to know what we are trying to avoid. And just as with disability if we felt there were gaps in our understanding couldn’t and shouldn’t we ask the experts , those people who have a disability. This should be enough after all aren’t social workers supposed to have empathy!
We don’t need to walk in someone else shoes to know that things must change.
Blair Mcpherson ex social worker and former director of community services www.blairmcpherson.co.uk