Reflections on a week with the dsabled

This past week (as explained earlier) I’ve been doing a temporary job driving a minibus, transporting the severely mentally disabled of New Malden from their homes and care facilities to two day care and activity centres. It’s been quite a sweet little job, and the hours vary but they have invariably been less than I work at other jobs. As far as I know, this doesn’t mean I get paid less (although it might, given that agency workers cost employers more, hour for hour, than regular employees do).

When I first started, I found the van itself a bit of annoyance, but hey - vans almost always are. It’s an Iveco “Turbo Daily” which was converted for its present purpose, so I hear. Vans always have their idiosyncrasies - like the radio which doesn’t remember how loud it was the last time you switched it off, so you always have to turn up the volume whenever you switch the engine off (like whenever it stalls). It also has a lousy turning circle. However, you realise it’s not so bad when you get to drive their old H-reg (that’s like late 1980s, I think!) Ford Transit. My co-worker told me that a repairman once told him, after taking it for a ride, that the van had had some vandalism, and when the co-worker opened up the front, a young fox jumped out! So that’s who’d been nibbling through the wiring!

My daily routine has involved bringing the “service users” in in the mornings, taking a group out from about 11, and then taking them home in the afternoon. The trips out are things like “rambles” by the River Thames at Walton or in the park (of which there are lots in our part of London - Richmond, Osterley, Bushy Park …), supervised shopping or (as today) trips to a “sensory room”, which is a room with dimmed lights and various amusements and soft furnishings, and these rooms are mainly for autistics. The care worker describes it as a “chill-out room”.

The job isn’t made any easier by the road works they are doing in the high street of New Malden. This is something that has Transport for London’s stamp on it, which means it is a London project rather than a Kingston borough project, but it seems to involve narrowing the road to make way for a more generous pavement. Right now though, it involves trucks blocking half the road during the morning rush hour - bright idea, Ken. Worse, my co-worker told me he saw workmen breaking up new concrete kerb slabs and chucking them in the skip! Surely if the slabs are surplus to requirements, they should have got a refund. The centre itself is part of a bizarre one-way system on a road off the high street, and once you’ve gone round the block, you have to go out - you can’t go back round the one-way system again. Then you’ve got to go left at the lights on the high street, down to the roundabout at the bottom of the high street. (Unless you fancy turning round in the road.)

The “service users” have a range of disabilities, although my co-worker told me there had been some who’d had nothing wrong with them at all - they were just institutionalised, having been dumped into the system for such reasons as being born out of wedlock, as in the case of one elderly lady who had died a couple of years back. (This sort of thing really makes my blood boil - people’s whole lives being wasted in order to save other people embarrassment.) Many of them had been victims, sorry, patients of “long stay” hospitals, one of which he had described as an old-fashioned “Bedlam” type place. These were the sorts of people at whom the “care in the community” initiative under John Major’s government was aimed, although it was caricatured as being the release of dangerous mental patients who then went on to kill people. They don’t tell us much about what exactly is wrong with the “clients” for confidentiality reasons.

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