I can still remember the day I was told I had a learning disability. I was angry and upset. The kids at school told me I was thick. The teachers told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my life but I have now proved that I can do lots of things.
I’m married, living in my own home, and working in a job I love. These are things I could only dream about when I was little. Sadly, these things are still a dream for many other people with a learning disability. This must change.
People with a learning disability – people like me – often feel like we’re not good enough, like we’re second class citizens. We are discriminated against every single day and made to feel like we’re different.
Because of this discrimination, 1,200 people with a learning disability die needlessly in the NHS every single year and over half of disabled people have been victims of violence and hate crime.
These are people like Paul, who died in an NHS hospital after he was badly neglected. He wasn’t treated the same as other patients, his notes went missing, he wasn’t given his medication and the doctors and nurses didn’t listen to his family. Paul died because staff saw his learning disability and not his illness.
Or Kelly, who has been bullied for 20 years just because she has a learning disability. People have called her names, spat at her, punched her and even thrown knives at her. She asked the police to help but they just told her to ignore it and to walk away when it happens. Kelly has had to move out of two different homes because people wouldn’t leave her alone.
Sometimes, as someone with a learning disability, you can feel you are all alone. But from our recent poll, we have found out that people with a learning disability and their families have the support of the British public. They public people with a learning disability should have the same chances in life as anybody else and want the next government to make this possible.
Mencap’s Hear my voice campaign aims to make sure the next government does this by giving people with a learning disability a platform to make their voices heard. Now that the public is behind us, our candidates have to take notice.
As part of the campaign, Mencap has published a Manifesto, which tells candidates about what people with a learning disability and their families want the next government to act on. We want to get as many people as possible involved in the campaign so that they can tell their stories.
My cousin, The Edge from U2, is one of the many family members who has promised his support to the campaign. He has seen everything I have had to go through because of my ‘label’:
“I’ve seen first-hand the challenges that Ciara has faced. She has barreled through a lot of nasty stuff by sheer strength of personality – I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I know at times she is challenged but, as an advocate for other people like her, she has the balls to walk up to a politician and tell them how it is. I’m involved in Mencap’s Hear My Voice campaign, because I think it’s important for people like Ciara to have their say on what matters to them and that politicians sit up and listen.”
I’m going to make sure my voice is heard by talking to my local candidates. It is really important that the voices of people with a learning disability are listened to, because we are the experts in what matters to us.
I don’t want any child with a learning disability to go through what I went through – to be told you’re worthless, no good, stupid. Around 200 children are born every single week who will have a learning disability. This is our chance to make a difference to their futures. The public is demanding the next government to make this change happen – candidates must listen.
Ciara Lawrence is a Campaigns Assistant at Mencap