This week (14th-20th June) is Learning Disability Week in the UK, organised by Mencap. The primary aim of the event is to raise public awareness of learning disabilities and those living with them, and it is still needed more than ever. A 2018 study by Scope found that the British public still hold stereotypical views of people with a disability. People with learning disabilities still face prejudice and negative attitudes in their communities, in the workplace, and in accessing services. Interestingly, more non-disabled people felt that there is a lot of prejudice towards disabled people than disabled people themselves, suggesting that it is still an issue that is misunderstood and plagued by unconscious bias and beliefs.
One of the biggest problems facing people with any disability, and in particular those with a learning disability, is loneliness and social exclusion. As we looked at in a previous blog, this problem was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many people with a learning disability being classed as vulnerable and required to shield. At the same time, their much-needed support services were reduced or ended altogether. Research has shown that people with a learning disability are less likely to take part in activities than those without a learning disability, and that over half of disabled people feel lonely, with the widely understood physical and mental health problems associated with it. With this in mind, Learning Disability Week is still a valuable opportunity for placing these problems in the public eye, while increasing understanding and awareness.
This year’s theme is art and creativity. Mencap say that getting creative has been one way that people with Learning Disabilities have been able to connect with friends and families during the past 18 months. This year’s event is a chance to highlight, celebrate and encourage that creativity. From my own experience, working in the social care sector, I have seen the positive impact that creative group activities can have, from pottery classes and music workshops to group art events and film-making. Alongside the sense of achievement in creating a piece of art or music, there is a real sense of communal pride amongst participants who make new friends and learn new skills.It is also a valuable means of expression, especially for those people who may find it difficult to communicate or are non-verbal. And, of course, creative outlets are a fantastic opportunity for people who feel excluded and lonely to socialise and engage with others.
But for me, what these types of activities and events really highlighted were the range of talents and skills that people with a learning disability possess, and how inaccurate many widely-held prejudices are. My hope is that this year’s Learning Disability Week encourages more people to get involved in these types of creative activities, but also to show the wider public that people with a Learning disability have talent, have ideas and demonstrate a range of skills that really ought to be shared.
To find out how you can get involved, visit the Mencap website or contact your local Mencap branch for details.