According to statistics approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. The information was relayed by Connor Jones, Leeds Jewish Welfare Board senior support worker for adults with learning disabilities, who conducted a raising awareness workshop during Learning Disability Week, attended by staff, carers, support workers and service users.
Mr Jones defined what a learning disability is, the related causes, the different types of disability and the inability to perform some, or all of the tasks of daily life that others take for granted.
On a recent fact-finding visit to Israel one of the questions Welfare Board executive Liz Bradbury asked people at a learning disability unit was how they knew when they were accepted in their community.
The answer was immediate. “When we live in a flat like everybody else and people invite us for Friday night dinner.”
This got the Welfare Board thinking how they can improve their engagement levels with people with learning disabilities and offer them a better chance of social inclusion after being hidden away for many years.
Ms Bradbury referred to royal family history. In 1909 Prince John, the fifth son, and the youngest of six children born to Queen Mary and King George V, had epilepsy and possibly autism. As his condition deteriorated he was sent to live at Sandringham House and was kept hidden away from the public eye.
“We have this massive sea change happening now relating to people with learning disabilities and the stigma is reducing, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.
In 2001 the Department of Health published Valuing People, a White Paper designed to establish a framework for the delivery of health and personal social services for children and adults with learning disabilities in England. The four basic principles were rights, independence, choice, and inclusion. By 2025 it is hoped the vision will have materialised, so that disabled people in Britain will have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life, and to be respected and included as equal members of society.
For the Welfare Board the radical change to attitudes towards people with learning disabilities is all about working together and finding a way to support people so they feel empowered and engaged. “For us, it’s all about ability, not disability,” Ms Bradbury said.
And to prove the point the Welfare Board held its first celebration to recognise the successes of the people with learning disabilities they support. The party included stands with information and displays of artwork manned by those who are cared for and supported. After lunch, the same people staged a chat show fronted by husband and wife David and Judith Poyser which featured a Mastermind quiz and entertainment by Lost Voice comedian Lee Ridley.
Words by John Fisher