Having a learning disability can be a life of stares and strange looks - let's change that
For someone with a learning disability like me, public attitudes are really important. Knowing that when you leave home you may be stared at and avoided can be the difference between leaving the house or not.
My name is Vijay, I'm 28 and I have a learning disability. When I'm out in public, I can get very concerned. It can be worrying. A lot of the time when I go out in public, I can get very nervous about how the people on the street are going to react to me. You can never tell what people are thinking.
Mencap released some research today showing what the public think about learning disability. It showed the public are supportive of learning disability, but some bad attitudes are still out there. It found that 6% of people said they would feel uncomfortable using the same swimming pool as someone with a severe learning disability.
I used to be a Young Ambassador for Mencap and through that I heard a lot of stories about the negative things that people with a learning disability have experienced, because of attitudes from the public. This includes hate crime. Earlier this year, there was a story in the news about a man who had autism, who was attacked in the street, because of his disability. When you hear stories like this, it is not a surprise that people are nervous about going out.
But we have a chance to change this. Mencap has launched it's Here I Am campaign today to completely change how we think about learning disability. Most people don't know much about learning disability and are nervous if they have to talk or sit next to someone with a learning disability. I can understand that, but it's why it's so important there are more people with a learning disability on TV and in magazines. We need the public to see and understand we're not so different.
It's great to hear that on the whole the public support people like me. But there's still lot that needs to change and a lot of bad things happening. For me, travelling on public transport can be really nerve wracking - you have to use public transport to get anywhere nowadays. Quite often though whenever I get on a tube or a train, I get looks from strangers and that can get very uncomfortable because I don't know why they're looking at me. But, unfortunately, you can't avoid them.
Earlier this year, Mencap found that a third of young people with a learning disability spend less than 1 hour outside their homes on a Saturday. This is often because they are too worried to leave their homes because they were worried about being bullied or being laughed at.
I like being out of the house and being active so I try not to let what other people think stop me from going out. It gives me some activities to do and stops me being stuck in the house, which can get really boring. I always think that there's no point in letting other people's attitudes stop you from doing what you want. I still want to be able to get out and do things when I have the opportunity to, like meeting friends or playing football, which I love doing.
But unfortunately, this isn't the case for everyone. Almost half of young people with a learning disability said that they would like to spend more time outside their house and almost 20% feel alone and cut off from other people.
The public should try and understand the positives of someone with a learning disability, like find out that a person with a learning disability is able to do things by themselves. People with a learning disability want to learn, they want to understand, they want to work and they want to live by themselves and become independent.
Going out, seeing friends, socialising, playing sports, these are all things that people take for granted. People with a learning disability are no different and want to do all of these things as well. It's not fair that so many feel scared about leaving the house, meaning that they become more and more isolated from society.
Today you may see someone with a learning disability on posters, TV adverts on in newspapers and magazines. I hope this is our chance for the public to really understand what a learning disability is, that we're not defined by our disability and for us to have a real voice in society.