It is estimated that some 1.4 million people in the UK have a learning disability. However, in spite of this fact, people with a learning disability are frequently ignored within our society. Not only does this mean the quality of life for people with a learning disability suffers, but 1,200 people with a learning disability are dying within our NHS every year due to poor care and a lack of government support, that is 3 people a day.
We need to change this. For this reason, this year's Learning Disability Week, a week-long celebration of the learning disability community, centres around the stories that make our community so unique and inspiring - those special firsts from your first love, first job or first time becoming a parent. We want society to realise that people with a learning disability share the same aspirations in life as anyone else and experience the same life changing events as we all do. We all want to live happy lives and to feel valued and included - the same is true for someone with a learning disability. Through looking at our special firsts Learning Disability Week aims to demonstrate that we are all - regardless of whether we have a learning disability or not -defined and shaped by our experiences in life.
Recent research demonstrates that a staggering two-thirds of the British public admit they feel uncomfortable talking to a disabled person. The research also indicates that people seem to be much more comfortable around individuals with more visible disabilities, such as a physical disability, than they are around people with less visible disabilities, such as a learning disability. This is significant because it seems to suggest that people are most uncomfortable around people who act differently to them.
The way in which society marginalises people with a learning disability means that many individuals are leading unhappy lives. What's more, some people with a learning disability have been victims of harassment, abuse or hate crimes. People like Keith, who hoped he would get on with his new neighbours but was instead shouted at, kicked and punched, or Di, who couldn't sleep because she was scared of what people would do. They had already put the windows through. This treatment makes it very difficult for those with a learning disability to do simple and fulfilling things, like having a job. For example, only 1 in 10 people with a learning disability known to social services are currently in paid work. Yet, 6 out of 10 of people with a learning disability have expressed the desire to work and given the right support, they make highly valued employees.
Including people with a learning disability makes sense for our politicians and businesses. People with a learning disability, their families and carers are just like everyone else in that they buy goods, consume services, pay taxes, and have strong views about what a good society is. They have strong ideas of what is important to them, both from brands and also from politicians. This is an unlocked market for many companies, a missed opportunity for many politicians.
A change in our society's attitude towards people with a learning disability would be a positive change for society in general. However, we all have to work together to achieve this. It's for this reason, that during this Learning Disability Week, we want to show that a person with a learning disability can have the same firsts as anybody else. All we need now is for everyone to listen.