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Issues people with learning disabilities face building friendships and relationships

People with a learning disability, like me, don’t often get a chance to have their voice heard. I know that throughout my life I’ve struggled to get people to listen to me and to feel included. I’ve always wondered why this is, but a big problem is that people seem to feel awkward around you if you have a learning disability. Rather than feeling awkward, most people find it easier to ignore you, and this can make life really difficult.

I’m 28 and have a learning disability, but appreciate that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve volunteered and worked with a charity and I’m now getting support to find a full-time job. However, I still come up against the same barriers of employers not wanting to employ someone with a learning disability and doubting my ability.

It seems that wherever you go people don’t really understand about learning disability. It can make simple things like leaving the house, using public transport or going to busy venues really intimidating. Whenever I get on a bus or the tube I get people who look at me in a strange way. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I don’t understand why they do this or what they’re thinking. It can make me feel nervous about leaving the house or going out to socialise and make new friends.

House-bound

Almost one in three young people with a learning disability spend less than an hour a day outside their homes (according to recent research by Mencap). This doesn’t surprise me. There aren’t enough opportunities for people with a learning disability to go out, socialise and make new friends. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of negative attitudes when it comes to learning disability, and this can make people like me feel nervous and afraid to go to leisure clubs, pubs or anywhere where it gets busy.

I’m lucky that I get to play football once a week with a team of people that I met through my work with the charity. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Loneliness is a real issue that can make life difficult and upsetting. Not being able to interact with people can really harm your confidence.

Planning for accessibility

I want to see clubs, venues and leisure activities become more accessible for people with a learning disability. Staff could get training on how to communicate with someone with a learning disability and understand more about the type of support someone may need to feel comfortable. At the moment, when I go out I feel intimidated by people who don’t understand about learning disability and it makes me nervous.

It’s important these changes happen. Taking part in my football club has allowed me to make friends and socialise and improve my confidence. Just because you have a learning disability doesn’t mean you should have to feel afraid to leave the house and be part of your community. We also want to go out and have a good time. It is so important to raise awareness of the barriers we face, and to try to create a brighter future for the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK.

Learning Disability Week 2016

Learning Disability Week is a week-long awareness raising campaign running from 20 to 26 June. As organisers Mencap mark the fiftieth anniversary of their Gateway leisure clubs, the Week will celebrate the vital role friendships play in people with a learning disability being included in society.

For more information, visit: www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/learning-disability-week

Further information

Vijay Patel, a 28-year-old from London who has a learning disability, volunteers for the charity Mencap:
www.mencap.org.uk

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