Flashback to the 70's

28 May 2013

The other night I had the pleasure of attending the premier of a film called 'Flashback' made by young people from Wandsworth Youth Service. They made the Big Lottery Heritage funded project about what it was like to have a learning disability in the 1970's.

The film was truly fantastic as it incorporated humour along with stories that tugged at your heartstrings. It featured young people from the George Shearling youth centre taking on the roles as researchers. I was lucky enough to have advised them on this and we had great fun learning about what it takes to do research. Everyone enjoyed the interviewing session and we all learned things about each other that made us laugh (especially those of us who were old enough to remember the 70!s)

After honing their interview skills the young researchers spoke to people with learning disabilities who were at school in the 70's, parents and a community support worker who has seen the changes over the past four decades. They were shocked to find out that not all children were entitled to an education until 1971 and that many people lived in big institutions separated from their families. Having visited the library, they found a scrap-book made by the group of parents who set up a local Mencap support group. It featured local newspaper articles about fundraising events and stories of people living in long stay hospitals, including the story of a man who had not had a visitor of 26 years. The language used to describe the people with learning disabilities was derogatory, and no-one was given a voice to speak up about their lives at that time. It really made the young people think how things have really improved since then.

The film also featured the experiences and memories of a group of mothers. Some supported their child at home and one  who was advised to leave their child in a long-term hospital. Other parents described how they set up activity clubs because at that time there was nothing available for their children. In the 70's people with learning disabilities were not as visible in public life as they are now. There were no characters with a learning disability on the television and many people lived in institutions.

Some things still haven't changed - those people who were at school in the 70's said they were bullied, which is still happening now. However, they did say that they felt safer when using public transport in the 70's because there were conductors on the buses. This is something I have heard from many people with learning disabilities. So rather than bring back platform shoes and flared trousers perhaps it's time to bring back the bus conductor - I think many groups of people in society would welcome such a return.