Learning Disabled People Need Our Support by Dr Phil Friend


Dr Phil Friend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) a wheelchair user himself, is acknowledged as the UK’s foremost consultant on disability matters. He is a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general and was awarded an OBE in 2001 for services to equal opportunities and disabled people.

Phil was featured in the first Disability Power List featuring 100 of the most powerful, influential and inspiring disabled people. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science (Hon Dsc) in 2009 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to equality and diversity from University of Hertfordshire. 

Phil is also the Co-Author of a self-help book for disabled people, employers and friends  “Why are you pretending to be normal?” available from Amazon.

PHIL’S BLOG – Learning Disabled People Need Our Support

Like many other disabled people of my generation I went to a residential “special school”, most of the students had physical impairments but there was a significant number who had learning disabilities. In those days they were variously labelled as “mentally handicapped” or “educationally subnormal”, or perhaps worst of all “severely educationally subnormal”. Labelling was all the rage back in those days!

One of the other more shameful recollections I have of my school days was the fact that some of the physically disabled students frequently bullied or took advantage of the learning disabled pupils. The idea that disabled children at “special schools” are kind to each other is a myth like so many others.

Expectations of learning disabled people back then were very low. On the day I left school I talked with a learning disabled lad who I’ll call George, I asked him what he was going to do once he’d left. He said that he was going to “sign on” and claim benefits. Once he had saved enough money, he was going to buy a gold watch. Looking back I realise that George was already contemplating retirement at the grand old age of 16. (Gold watches were retirement gift in those days). No one including George saw employment as an option. He was expected to live at home on benefits and attend a day centre.

I guess we would all like to think that attitudes have changed since those days but unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

It is still more difficult for learning disabled people to find and keep a job. In fact, less than 1 in 5 individuals with a learning disability work, compared to 1 in 2 of those with other forms of disability. Of those that do work, most only work part time and are low paid.

At least half of all adults with a learning disability have to live in the family home – which means that many don’t get the same life chances as other people to gain independence, learn key skills and make choices about their lives. (http://bit.ly/1UtS0Ed)

Mencap studies show that 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability reported having been a victim of hate crime and bullying. Of these, two-thirds were victims regularly and one-third were being bullied on a daily or weekly basis. Half of the people surveyed had suffered verbal abuse, and a quarter had been physically assaulted.

The UK has a reputation for being caring and humane but the way we treat learning disabled people is neither caring nor humane.

It is time for those of us connected to Disabled People’s Organisations to develop much closer ties with organisations run by those with learning difficulties; we need to support them as they campaign for full inclusion and equal rights. While we should not speak on their behalf, we should help them to develop and promote their case and get behind their campaigns. The disability movement needs to ensure that the voices of learning disabled people are not only heard but given equal importance. They have waited long enough now is the time to bring about real change.

Please listen to Phil’s podcast here.

To find out more about Phil, please visit his website www.philandfriends.co.uk 

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