I spent the back half of last week in Lyon for a forum on the ‘disability sector’. It was an international conference. I was there to explain alien aspects of the British system, such as care packages, personalisation and welfare reform; others were there from Norway, Germany and Italy. I’ve had to learn some new vocabulary – for example, that people with disabilities are no longer personnes handicapées but personnes en situation de handicap, and learning disability is sometimes (but not always) rendered by handicap intellectuel, sometimes by les personnes ayant des difficultés d’apprentissage. Beyond that, there’s always the problem that professionals in France routinely talk in acronyms, such as the ESMS (établissements et services médico-sociaux) or the CPOM (contrat pluriannuel d’objectifs et de moyens) – I’ve only deciphered that one after coming home and looking it up, and I still don’t know what it really means. There were interpreters at hand, so I chickened out and spoke in English.
It’s more of a culture shock to understand some of the differences in provision. None of the agencies represented, in a conference with more than 300 managers attending, dealt with older people. France still makes heavy use of residential care for younger disabled people. There was also a moment of incomprehension when the German speaker asked about the representation of people with disabilities in monitoring groups and got an answer about institutional accountability instead. However, there’s a level of funding that many people in the UK would find enviable.