When I came to evaluate my Arts Council Memoir Garden residency, it struck me that people with learning disabilities are subject to endless evaluation by social workers and carers, doctors and auditors. The official language and value judgements of such forms threaten to strip people with learning disabilities of their humanity. As a way to answer back, I’ve created a poem by using some of the Memoir Garden participant’s responses as answers to one of the government’s questionnaires.
Anything else you think we should know?
Dear claimant of Personal Independence Payment:
Please list the documents you’re sending to DWP with claim PIP2: The Memoir Garden
Q1. Please name the professionals best placed to advise us on your claim: All my carers read my book, little tears in their eyes.
Q2. What are your disabilities and when did each of them start?
Problem is, people don’t realise we’re here.
Q3. Please tell us about your ability to prepare a simple one course meal for one.
However life is, in the summertime we can have picnics outside.
Q4. Tell us more information about the difficulties or help you need to eat and drink.
I was once eating a bacon sandwich, when a tonic-clonic hit, my teeth clenched.
Q5. Do you use an aid or appliance to monitor your health?
You know like when you’re going to cry, and you get a lump in your throat? It’s the same sensation as that.
Q6. Please tell us about your ability to keep your body clean.
Easter Sunday: clean clothes and a shower.
Q7. Do you need help from another person to dress or undress?
Saw the Beatles in Kilburn on my twenty-first. Mummy put my hair up then.
Q8. Can you speak to others in your native language, safely, to an acceptable standard, as often as you need to and in reasonable time?
It was hard to talk, what I said, difficult to say, but when I said it, it came out properly. Know what I mean?
Q9. Do you need help from another person to understand signs, symbols, and words?
My nieces go to school. They are good girls, they learn to read and write. They’ll get the good life.
Q10. Do you find it difficult to mix with other people because of severe anxiety or distress?
I’m going to put my poem on Facebook. It’ll get over 100 likes.
Q11. Do you need someone else to help you understand how much things cost, or how much change you’ll receive?
Money I can’t do, can’t do to the full. I’ve been tested, tested by the doctor, tested, backwards and forwards.
Q12. If you need help from another person to get out of the house, tell us what kind of help you need: for example, planning your route, encouraging or reassuring you, helping you to make sure you don’t go the wrong way.
People don’t know where we are. Nobody tells them, know what I mean?
Q13. How far can you walk taking into account any aids you use? To give you an idea of distance, 50 metres is approximately 5 buses parked end to end.
Didn’t know anything about it until the bus driver told us that Leon was dead. And he was only a lad.
Q14. Tell us anything else you think we should know that you haven’t mentioned already:
You should know that we got our books home safe, that we keep them on coffee tables and in bedside cabinets; you should know that seeing our names makes us proud; readers learned new things about us, you should know that. But we don’t know what. They won’t say. You should know that we’d do it again. Just come up and have a look. We won’t hurt or nothing. You might like to know there are nice people here.