Learning disability experts share their skills in Romania


A trio of charity workers have spent a week in Romania sharing their expertise in supporting people with learning disabilities.

Sign language, behavioural support and use of technology were among the topics covered by training specialists Ben Ellis, Felicity Onens and Louise Bolton, who work for Hft, a national charity which supports adults with learning disabilities.

The trio travelled to Nicoresti in Eastern Romania to spend 5 days with staff at the charity Crosscause, whose 11-member team supports 16 adults with learning disabilities. Now mostly in their 30s and 40s, all of the residents of the centre grew up in state orphanages.

Over the week, the British team ran a series of workshops aimed at providing workable, relevant guidance in a range of areas. “The staff were very caring and obviously wanted the best for the people they were supporting, but they had very little training,” said Ben. “We wanted to offer very simple, practical techniques and practices that they’ll be able to adapt and re-use, and hopefully pass on to others.”

For the first workshop, which covered basic moving and handling techniques, the trio demonstrated how to use equipment including slide sheets. These allow carers to safely and smoothly move people without any risk of harm to themselves. With many of the residents weighing 15-plus stone, staff risk injury through trying to help them to move safely, and it is hoped that the sheets will help to alleviate this risk.

Further sessions covered communication techniques and positive behaviour support. Since most of the residents of the centre are non-verbal, the introduction of some basic hand signals enabled far greater communication between residents and staff.

Ben, Felicity and Louise provided simple technology such as recordable buttons, which help individuals communicate simple decisions such as food or drinks choices. They also demonstrated recordable ‘talking’ photo albums, which have been particularly successful among people with dementia, and offer a way of helping people to recall significant events or special memories.

Ben said the trip made an impact on them all personally. “It really opened our eyes and made us so appreciative of what we’ve got. We’d all go back tomorrow if we could.”

“Some of them have lived quite awful lives,” said Felicity. “But there was a positive atmosphere. The people we met were very happy.”

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About Hft

Hft is a UK charity supporting more than 2,900 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Established in 1962, the charity uses its own unique Fusion Model to consistently deliver high quality, person-centred support across all its services.

Services range from supported living to residential care – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.

For more information about Hft, please visit www.hft.org.uk

Information about learning disabilities

A learning disability can be mild, moderate, severe or profound and is defined as having a reduced ability to:

  • Understand new or complex information
  • Learn new skills
  • Live independently

For more information about learning disabilities, please visit www.hft.org.uk/resources-and-guidance

Subject: Staff & Volunteers

Location: National