I have a learning disability and sadly some people view this as having a problem, or being incapable. It's true that I may be different to some people, but that's okay. I'm still a person, everyone is different and that's what makes life interesting.
People with a learning disability should be able to make their dreams come true like everyone else does in our society, be that having a job, living in a house of their own choice, and choosing how they spend their free time. At Mencap much of what we do is about removing labels and prejudices that people with a learning disability often face. However, it is important to recognise that we still have a long way to go.
Recent research by disability charity, Scope, found that 62% of disabled people say they are treated differently because they are disabled. While other research shows that people seem to be much more at ease around individuals with more visible disabilities, like as a physical disability, than they are around people with less visible disabilities, like as a learning disability. A lot of this starts from not understanding learning disability and feeling awkward, or worse afraid of it. This can lead to what may seem like small things such as name calling but can grow and grow until life becomes unbearable for people. In the last two years there were 124,000 disability hate crimes. Only 3% of these were recorded by the police and only 1% resulted in prosecution.
From working at Mencap I have lots of friends and colleagues who have a learning disability. Nearly all have had to listen to offensive language from others at some point in their life, all because they are different. It's ignorant to use such terms. It's just slang, you might say, it's just a joke, it's not actually. It's just the same as using racist or homophobic words. There is no difference and no excuse for it. Words do hurt, worse still some people even suffer from physical violence.
No person with a learning disability is stupid, dumb, incompetent, pathetic, or a loser. In many ways we are just like everyone else with the same hopes and dreams we all share. How people continue to use words like 'retard' without realising they are offensive to people with a learning disability is typical of the everyday inequality that people with a learning disability have to face.
Terms like 'retard' along with others are unacceptable and should never ever be used. They are hurtful and a form of bullying and discrimination. Yet for some reason these awful words keep popping up in people's daily conversation. I wish the world could just understand people with a learning disability, it's not rocket science It hurts me deeply that people think and say these words without thinking twice about how offensive they are! People need to think before they speak.
My biggest fear is that as much as we fight, and we all do fight, it can feel like a losing battle for so many people with a learning disability. But I hope that the positive stories of disability manage to get heard more than the negative ones. We need it so badly.
The R-word is on the top of my list of junk words to get rid of. I correct everyone and anyone that uses this word. Its use is completely unnecessary and the more we fight the sooner it will become extinct.
But all hope is not lost for the future. You'll be amazed when you see the skills and courage that people with a learning disability have to offer.
My advice to other people with a learning disability is to concentrate and focus on the things that matter. Your disability doesn't prevent you from doing well, so don't feel regret for the things it might interfere with because their might be skills out there that you didn't even know you had.
Don't become disabled in spirit too.