Social work is all about human rights. If we fail to recognise our shared humanity, individual worth and right to equality, we fail - not just as social workers – but as members of society. On the eve of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities we should remind ourselves of the values and principles underpinning our profession. Our work has no meaning without a commitment to support people of all backgrounds and faiths, regardless of their mental and physical conditions.
The International Federation of Social Workers upholds this global mission statement and this Saturday is our opportunity to think about what this means for our work with people with disabilities.
It’s good news therefore that the British Association of Social Workers and Shaping Our Lives have just released a position statement for disabled adults and social workers which will help both participants focus on what is needed to maintain and strengthen such an important relationship. It was created through discussions between disabled adults and social workers from June 2015 to November 2016.
Co-produced to help both parties improve how they work together, and to jointly tackle some of the barriers to full and equal citizenship, the statement sets out common aims, including a charter stating how disabled adults and social workers can collaborate to achieve positive life changes.
It’s important to realise that the rights of those living with disabilities are the same for everyone else. We all want to be treated with dignity and have the freedom to make our own choices, supported in our pursuit of independence by others where necessary.
We have the right not to face discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation – disability is no different. Indeed, it’s just another expression of human diversity and as such should never be a barrier to opportunity, accessibility or participation in evolved societies.
If we all lived up to these principles what a truly egalitarian world we would live in, and yet many disabled people face barriers to achieving lives that reflect such values. It’s a challenge for many social workers too as they strive to represent and advocate for people disadvantaged or disenfranchised within their own communities.
The charter’s actions range from straightforward principles and best practice to more complex challenges which both sides should tackle together. It commits both sides to being realistic and open about what is and isn’t possible and places an emphasis on conversations as a means to drive change rather than slavish adherence to processes.
It identifies the social model of disability and our rights-based approach as touchstones and holds us to the mark of valuing the lived experiences of those we seek to help.
Some aspects of the charter echo the very welcome efforts of Liverpool council and its partners to make the city autism friendly. Much as they have pledged to increase access and opportunity for local people, so the charter encourages our work to increase disabled adults’ access to mainstream public, commercial, retail, transport and leisure services.
More broadly, it helps us identify and breakdown the barriers preventing disabled adults from living full lives, including their right to pursue rewarding careers.
This is our chance to think again – and with clarity – about what each of us can do, united in our respect for each other and our common humanity. Social workers and disabled adults share common values to achieve the best possible outcomes. The statement and charter can only help us further this empowering tradition.