I think the first thing I should explain is what I mean by a special service. I am absolutely not talking about the specific and unique services people may need to manage their impairment or other needs, like physiotherapy or counselling, since these services are designed for a specific need rather than for a specific type of person.
What I am referring to is label based segregation, where people are provided with the same service but are separated because of a specific social identification, apartheid if you wish. Special schools sadly remain a perfect example of this where disabled children have been historically separated for no other reason than to keep them away from non-disabled people, while supposedly offering the same educational experience.
I believe in inclusion as opposed to integration. Integration is when excluded people are required to sacrifice their needs and identity to move themselves into the mainstream, with no compromise from the mainstream. Inclusion however is when the mainstream widens its circle to accommodate the needs of excluded people without asking them to compromise their identity. While there is so far no word for it, there is a third concept where both the mainstream and excluded people move together to reached a compromised position, and this is probably what is the ideal situation in the real world.
It is important to understand inclusion in terms of services to understand it should be the goal of service providers to make their services as inclusive as possible, and this involves examining their policies and procedures with a fine comb. It is therefore distressing when many disability charities are using the general criticisms of the government's Work Programme, aimed at disabled people, to call for impairment specific specialist employment support.
Sounds great but when you realise employment support is just writing CVs, answering adverts and going to job interviews they have arranged, is there really a special and uniquely different way to teach people with differing impairments to do this? The charities, who are all ready to provide these services if paid, will say yes and this is like supermarkets saying people need to eat more! If the work programme is failing people, we should support it to be more inclusive, not give up on it in preference to segregated services!
And often the problem with employment support services is they are dealing with people, who have been sick or are newly impaired, who are not emotionally ready for employment. There appears to be a missing service between primary care discharge, including physical rehab, and employment support services, that enables and empowers people to reach a stable identity and understand their assets, strengths, liabilities and weaknesses as human beings, before having to think about work. This is where impairment specific support, particularly in terms of identity, may be relevant. But the sad reality is support that empowers people is not a profitable business model and it is better to run an employment support service that keeps people looking for work forever as they are taught to be passive and disempowered.
Another 'specific' service related issue that frustrates me is impairment-specific customer service training for mainstream services. I have seen calls for bus drivers to be given 'autism training' by autism charities. I am sure any such training will cover common sense suggestions that would be relevant to all disabled people if not every passenger! I would prefer the money was spent in designing and delivering good general customer service training that talked about specific needs some customers have, as well as teaching bus drivers to treat everyone with respect and not to make inappropriate assumptions or become hostile if someone is confused or appears to be in a vulnerable situation.
If all drivers had to have autism training, next will be dementia training, and then it will be appropriate to have training on all the impairments, hundreds if not thousands, which means they will never have time to drive the bus! As a disability trainer working in a pan-impairment framework, I have to design training that tries to convey the combined needs of as many impairments as possible, which is not an easy task!
I do not want specialist services just because I am disabled, as we should be including disabled people in mainstream services as much as possible while ensuring our specific needs are met. It is therefore important to be critical of organisations that are calling for special services, and understand their agenda may not be in the best interests of those their claim to represent.