Open University Social History of Learning Disability Conference 14-15 July 2014

Social History of Learning Disability Conference

14th and 15th July 2014

The Open University, Milton Keynes


Exploring positive practice in learning disability:

past and present

A number of recent reports have highlighted the abuse, neglect and poor practice that a number of people with learning disabilities experience through the health and social care system. Our last conference in 2013 focused on Winterbourne View and provided people with an opportunity to reflect on what had gone so wrong in some of the UK’s learning disability services. At that conference people also thought about what needed to change to prevent another Winterbourne View.


Our 2014 conference continues this theme, but with a focus on what we can learn when things go well. We know that good services do exist, and that some people with learning disabilities have good support. The conference will provide an opportunity to reflect on positive practice now, but also in the past. It is a chance to explore what factors lead to a high quality service that enables people to have a good life.


What is viewed as good practice changes over time. For a number of years, large institutions were seen by many as the best environment for people with learning disabilities to live. More recently it was argued that normalisation, social role valorisation and ideas about ‘an ordinary life’ held the key to supporting people to have a better life. All of these ideas have since been critiqued and criticised, replaced by new concepts and ‘better’ solutions. It is interesting to consider how generations ahead will look back and view ideas of ‘personalisation’, ‘control’ and ‘independence’.


We also recognise that providing high quality learning disability services can be complex, and involves lots of factors (some of which can be difficult to get right). We also know that people have different views about what ‘quality’ looks like; and that this too can change over time. But we think it’s important to hear about positive experiences, and to consider if and how this good practice can be shared and replicated more widely.


The aim of this conference is to explore the following:


  • What did positive practice look like in the past?
  • In what ways are our views on positive practice today shaped and influenced by the past?
  • In those instances where outcomes for people with learning disabilities are positive, what has been happening? What factors have contributed to good outcomes?
  • What is a good outcome and how do we know when we see it?
  • What role can staff play in supporting people to have a better life, and in what ways have staff been supported to do their job well (today and in the past)?
  • What roles can commissioners play in developing and sustaining high quality services?
  • In what ways has informal support (family, friends, advocates, community networks) facilitated positive practice in the past and how can this be developed and sustained today?
  • What lessons can we learn from examples of good practice both at home and abroad, and can they be implemented more widely?


We acknowledge that positive practice takes various forms and has different meanings for people in different contexts. At our conference we are looking for papers that explore:


  • the views and experiences of people with learning disabilities regarding positive practice, past and present
  • the impact of changing policies and service provision on positive practice. The rhetoric is now more positive than ever, but how does this translate into practice at the local level?
  • the views and experiences of family members and others who support people with learning disabilities (including advocates, support workers and managers, and other health and social care professionals).


We are interested in an historical approach, and so would encourage papers that discuss examples of positive practice for people with learning disabilities at different points in time or focus on one specific historical period. This may include papers that reflect upon practice in the very recent past and in the present.  We are also interested in international papers, as well as presentations from the UK.


We welcome papers that present personal stories, as well as papers that discuss specific research projects.


A note on our conferences:


The annual Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group Conferences at the Open University bring together people with learning disabilities, families, academics, practitioners, advocacy groups, service providers and other interested people to explore and document the past and its influence on the present and future. To date much of the published work of the group has covered the history of the long stay learning disability institutions and, more recently, the development of community based support and services. Our experience is that stories and testimonies from people with learning disabilities, families, and others closely involved have afforded very valuable insight as to what works well, both in the past and present, in addition to highlighting potential barriers to achieving a good life and how these can be overcome.

Please be aware that our conferences are inclusive events, and papers will need to be accessible to people with learning disabilities (please see attached guidelines on accessible presentations and abstracts).


Submitting an abstract:


Abstracts will be reviewed by members of the SHLD group, which include people with learning disabilities. Please send a short (up to one page) accessible summary of your proposed paper by Monday 17th February to Claire Norman at the following address:


Claire Norman

Faculty of Health and Social Care

The Open University

Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA

25. February 2014 by chris
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