Challenge Newsletter Spring 2015: Driving Change - Rights & Choices

Vivien Cooper's thoughts on 'Driving Change: Rights & Choices', the theme of our spring 2015 newsletter. You can download a PDF of the newsletter, or read it online. To sign up to the e-newsletter, use the sign-up form on the right of this screen. Order a hard copy by emailing, or calling 01634 838739.



This edition of Challenge focuses on rights and choices, two words which should be, and often are, used when considering how people with learning disabilities are included and supported in our society. But as always, translating the words into concrete and meaningful outcomes for people can be a challenge.

My disabled son has the same rights as his non-disabled sisters – it never entered my head that there would be any difference between them. But too often I have heard it said about people with learning disabilities should have the same rights as everybody else, when the reality is that they actually already do. This is clearly spelled out in a Government document about people whose behaviour challenges services: “They have the same human rights as everyone else.” (Mansell 2 report, 2007). However, in practice it is not just having rights, but exercising them that makes the difference. And the starting point here is knowing about your rights in the first place. Even then, as one parent put it, “knowing about your rights is not much use if you can’t make it happen”. 

Children and adults with learning disabilities who display behaviour described as challenging can end up being excluded from local schools, support and services because the right support to meet their needs is not designed around them. This can lead to placement in out of area residential schools and homes, automatically denying them to them their right to a family life. But challenging such decisions on these grounds is rare.

“Choice” is another widely used word, but again it can be misused. I have witnessed several occasions situations where there is a “choice” but only from restricted options, the most extreme being example of this being “you can have this or nothing”!.  Sometimes there is an attitude of, “you can choose, but only if you choose what I want you to have”. So the key thing here is to ensure that there is a real and proper choice, from the full range of options available, and that people are supported to make an informed choice.

There is a saying: “knowledge is power”. When it comes to rights and choices, good information about what those rights and choices are, along with good support to exercise them and make informed choices, can be very powerful. At the CBF we try to equip families with good information about rights and choices so that they are empowered to help their loved ones access the same life opportunities as everyone else. In this issue of Challenge there is a range of information about people’s rights and choices, and we share some practical tips and ideas from families and professionals that we hope will help people to exercise their rights and make informed choices, and ultimately have better lives.


Vivien Cooper OBE

Chief Executive and Founder of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation


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