The hard truth about living with a learning disability

Yahoo News – Insights speaks directly to the people with an inside track on the big issues. Here, Ciara from Surrey explains why people with a learning disability should be seen, heard and valued.

Ciara Lawrence struggled at school before being diagnosed with a learning disability. (Supplied)
  • Ciara Lawrence, 44, from Surrey has a learning disability that meant years of being bullied and ridiculed but she has overcome prejudice to interview celebrities and advocate for changes in the law to help others with a learning disability.

  • This week is Learning Disability Week, which is led by Mencap and seeks to raise awareness about what life is like for those with a learning disability. This year's theme is "Do you see me?" which is about being seen, heard and valued.

Stupid, thick, idiot. I have been called all these things and more because I have a learning disability. I have friends with a learning disability who have been told their children will be taken away if they can’t look after them and there are stories of people being attacked, neglected or even tortured because of their condition.

The mistreatment of some of the 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability is all too real.

A learning disability is when the brain is affected before, during or after birth, and means people find it hard to learn and do many tasks people take for granted. However, let's be clear: people with a learning disability - with support - can also achieve great things.

I spent years struggling at school before I was sent for a range of tests and diagnosed with a learning disability. For so long I thought I’d never amount to anything but then I had support in a specialist school and was proud to finish with 4 GCSEs. I went to college and fell in love with Mark, now 43, who doesn’t have a learning disability and we married – again something I had thought was out of reach.

Ciara fell in love with and married Mark, something she had thought out of her reach. (Supplied)

I was constantly surprising myself and managed to get a job in admin at the disability charity Mencap, progressing up the career ladder. I started campaigning on behalf of people with a learning disability – appearing on Newsnight and talking to MPs in parliament to raise awareness.

I played a part in getting disability hate crime enshrined in law and shining a light on the fact people with a learning disability die on average 21 years earlier than the rest of the public.

Then in the pandemic, I set up my own podcast and reached out to celebrities asking them to appear on it so I could talk with them about learning disabilities. I had guests including comedian Rob Brydon, presenters Lorraine Kelly and Nicky Campbell, U2’s Adam Clayton and more.

Ciara's celebrity guests on her podcast included Lorraine Kelly. (Supplied)

Life is harder for me because I have a learning disability.

I find it hard to break down information and prioritise. Letters are hard to read and understand, especially if there is complex language, and sometimes people tut at me when I am shopping as it takes me longer to work out what I need to do to pack my bags or pay.

Navigating public transport or going out can be stressful as I worry about getting lost if I am somewhere new. And there is still a lot of discrimination with even high-profile celebrities like Ricky Gervais using the ‘R’ word and not enough representation of people with a learning disability in the media.

I may have a job, but four-fifths of people with a learning disability are out of work even though they want to work and can bring a range of skills and qualities.

But I also know of people like me who, having got the right support, have achieved great things – from winning gold medals at the Olympics, being award-winning actors and being in parliament. Society’s views are shifting but there is a long way to go and that’s why I am supporting Mencap’s campaign encouraging people to become a Learning Disability Ally.

Ciara Lawrence, who is engagement lead in the communications, advocacy and activism directorate, was speaking to Catherine Jones

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