by Ellie Curran

Being disabled myself, I selfishly thought that I was well educated surrounding perceptions of disability, but how I was wrong!
I completed a work placement at L’Arche Liverpool community in 2023. Given that I have a physical impairment, I was pretty sceptical about how much I would be able to support core members (people with learning disabilities). However, my time at the Ark reaffirmed that support is multi-dimensional, and the core members and support assistants validated the type of support I could give.

On my first day, people with learning disabilities swiftly welcomed me into their community and got me up to speed with some of their interests, which allowed me to form deep relationships with quite a few of them. They taught me a valuable lesson of how support can also have a verbal element of equal importance. Conversing with core members in general made me realise that support is not given in one way but, in fact, an exchange of knowledge between two individuals who respect each other's needs.

One example of this was sitting down with a person with a learning disability and letting them teach me Makaton from their booklet of signs, some of which were general signs, and some were the member created ones. I regard this as a defining memory as it changed my perception surrounding how (obviously!) communication extends beyond need and want, with a person and myself exchanging jokes and interests through Makaton. With the actualisation that support is an interdependent concept, I found the confidence to collaborate on an art project that involved everyone in the community.

During my short time at L'Arche, I would say the community profoundly affected my attitudes and the professional practice I have since adopted. Being disabled myself, I selfishly thought that I was well educated surrounding perceptions of disability, but how I was wrong! The core members taught me things I would never have thought about, which allowed me to reflect deeply on how this group may be perceived in mainstream society. From the weekly trips to the pub to sex education lessons, the community resists the view that people with learning disabilities should be excluded from these conversations and activities.

The sense of community fostered at L'Arche paves the way for people with learning disabilities to make their own decisions and be regarded as the individuals they are! The sense of community and core members being treated as interpreters of knowledge allowed notions of self-advocation to flow freely throughout their community. With the L’Arche Liverpool community giving people with learning disabilities the space and platform to express themselves, greater conversations around extending this embodiment within the wider community can be made, and their insider knowledge can make the world more accessible for all.