This Learning Disability Week (19-25 June), learning disability charity Hft is hoping to educate others and encourage people to actively challenge misconceptions towards learning-disabled adults as its CEO, Kirsty Matthews, speaks out about the social model of disability and shares examples of tackling stigma and busting myths.
Ms Matthews says:
“Learning Disability Week is always an important opportunity to advance conversations about learning-disabled people. This year’s theme is no exception as it focuses on busting myths about living with a learning disability.
“Over one million adults in the UK have a learning disability and it is undeniably important that we, as a provider of care and homes, not only provide support that is centred around each individual’s needs but that we also, as a charity, use our voice to actively challenge barriers and misconceptions that currently prevent learning disabled people from accessing the same opportunities as non-learning disabled people.
“Working with the social model of disability, as opposed to the medical model of disability, is essential to the conversation if we are to fully move away from the existing stigma. The model is a way of viewing disability, to develop an understanding that disability is something that is created by society rather than caused by the individual. The model shows that people are disabled by societal barriers, such as inaccessible buildings, and negative attitudes and stereotypes, such as assuming a learning-disabled person will not perform well in work, rather than by the diagnosis of a disability itself.
“So why is the social model of disability important? By changing our focus to the extensive barriers facing learning-disabled people, we can be more effective in our work to remove them, challenging misconceptions and campaigning for change.
“At Hft, we believe in a world where anyone with a learning disability can live within their community with all the choice and support they need to live the best life possible.”
This learning disability week, Hft, along with other charities across the sector, has shared stories of learning-disabled people challenging myths and misconceptions.
Ms Matthews continues:
“Myth-busting and challenging misconceptions can have a large impact on someone with a learning disability, meaning they have complete control over their life and have the freedom to make decisions about what they would like to do, whether running a 10km race or simply catching a bus to work in the morning.
“Challenging myths is about acknowledging that learning disabled people can do the same things as non-disabled people and looking at how we, as a society, can make this easier by removing some of the barriers.”
Hft is doing its part through its new national campaigning plan, Voices for our Future, which outlines four key policy areas it will call for change on over the next five years – social care, the world of work, housing and attitudes.
Ms Matthews explains:
“Based on wide-ranging conversations with learning-disabled people, Voices for our Future explains the change that needs to happen to enable people with learning disabilities to live their best life possible.
“We want everyone, including people who make the decisions in Whitehall and Westminster, to listen to people with a learning disability and be part of the change that is so necessary.”
As part of the campaign, Erin and Elliot, both learning-disabled adults, shared their experience of facing barriers to adequate employment and housing respectively.
Erin, who is both supported and employed by Hft, is just one of the many learning-disabled adults involved with Project SEARCH, a transition-to-work programme that helps bridge the gap between education and employment, overcoming the significant barrier that often means learning-disabled people cannot find work when they might be eager to.
She wants people to know that “just because we need a little extra support doesn’t mean that we can’t achieve our dreams and aspirations.”
Meanwhile, Elliot has spoken out about an issue that is important to him – housing. Having lived alone for three and a half years, Elliot knows just how valuable an independent lifestyle can be for people with a learning disability. Yet, a lack of accessible and inclusive housing has stripped him of his independence.
He says, “There isn’t enough accessible housing where I live. After college, I had no choice but to move back home with my parents and brother, even though I’d love to live independently like any other young person.
“This seems really unfair.”
Ms Matthews concludes, “Learning-disabled adults can and want to work and live where and with whom they choose, yet the assumption that they are not able to prevent them from doing so.
“I encourage everyone, whether you work with or know a learning disabled person, or just want to be an ally, to think about how you can challenge your own behaviour and step away from misconceptions. And challenge others to change their ways to improve the opportunities granted to learning-disabled people.
“Care providers, the Government, employers and learning disabled adults can all effect change to ensure misconceptions cease to exist, myths are busted and the world becomes a better place for everyone with a learning disability.”