The Blog

People With a Learning Disability Aren't From Mars

As an actress with Down's syndrome and a learning disability you could say I'm fairly rare. I've always enjoyed acting and was told I had a strong talent for it at an early age. Some people underestimated me though.

As an actress with Down's syndrome and a learning disability you could say I'm fairly rare. I've always enjoyed acting and was told I had a strong talent for it at an early age. Some people underestimated me though.

Today I'm filled with pride to help Mencap announce the beginning of Learning Disability Week. A week where the charity is hoping to break down some of the barriers people like me have faced, by making sure the public really understand what a learning disability is, and that there's no reason to feel afraid or awkward when talking about learning disability.

There have been ups and downs in my life, but of the 1.4million people with a learning disability in the UK I know I'm one of the lucky ones. I still have to pinch myself sometimes but I've been able to follow my dream and become an actress in popular TV shows such as Call The Midwife and lots of theatre productions.

As an ambassador for Mencap I've spoken to lots of people about learning disability. For many people when they hear learning disability all they can think of is news stories about abuse or neglect. Unfortunately the way the media is the bad stories are usually the ones that get picked up, and the positive side of learning disability, with it's magic doesn't get talked about.

I don't think this is fair. I know from meeting lots of people with a learning disability that there's so much talent, kindness and colourful characters that never get a chance to have their voice. I think a lot of this is because people are afraid to talk about learning disability as they are worried they might say the wrong thing.

Unfortunately there's a lot of confusion about learning disability. Some people think it is a mental health issue. It is not. Other's think you can 'overcome' a learning disability. You cannot. It is lifelong and is not something that will go away. Basically it means that due to a difference in your brain before, during or after birth, you may need extra support with things like shopping, cooking, managing money and reaching your community.

There are different levels of learning disability. I have Down's syndrome but I think I am very capable of doing most things. I might not ever become an accountant, but I did just recently play the role of a character who does not have any form of disability in a Theatre production, which I've been told is very rare and something I'm really proud of.

However some people with a learning disability may need a lot more support and need 24 hour care. There's a big range of learning disability but we all have one thing in common. We share the same dreams of wanting to make our own choices, be independent and be valued equally as humans and friends.

This isn't always the case sadly. Lots of the public are still only aware of the disability and not what we are capable of. I was recently interviewed by the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, along with several other people with a learning disability about how difficult it can be to get a job if you have a learning disability.

Mencap told me that just 7% of people with a learning disability are in full-time employment. This is despite many of the people the BBC interviewed having full-time jobs and being really valued by their organisations. It's just sad that there's a lot of employers who still think if you have a learning disability you should be stuck at home, and not encouraged to go out and make your own choices. It might not be possible for everyone, but if it is for some they have as much right to work as anyone else.

I know I'm very privileged as someone who has been in the media and can help tell others about learning disability. But I don't want to be speaking alone. I hope that Learning Disability Week gives a chance for lots of other people, who might feel ignored by the public, to tell their stories and be given a chance to make their own dreams come true, no matter how big or small.

From the 15th June - 28th June the learning disability charity Mencap are asking people to celebrate Learning Disability Week 2015 with them. Mencap want to reach out to the general public, newly elected politicians and people in a powerful position to tackle the myths and conceptions about learning disability. If you want more information or to get involved in Learning Disability Week 2015, head here.

Before You Go