Learning Disability Week celebrates the amazing impact of people with a learning disability in our society and shines a light on the issues many people still face. Learning Disability Week takes place this year from the 14th – 20th June with the theme being ‘Art and Creativity’. For many people with a learning disability and their families, getting creative has been a way to stay connected and positive through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
This Learning Disability Week, Ciara Lawrence - who works at Mencap and has a learning disability - writes about launching her own podcast and her passion for people with a learning disability having a voice, after feeling socially isolated during lockdown.
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability, which is a reduced intellectual ability, in the UK and they are often one of the most excluded groups in society. Many people with a learning disability face stigma and discrimination every day, and a lifetime of not being treated like an equal.
This means we can often take longer to learn new things and have difficulty with everyday activities – which affects us for our whole life. I have a mild learning disability so I need less support, but others may need more support with things such as household tasks, socialising or managing money.
Like everyone, my world changed when the pandemic started.
I was starting to get fed up and sad that I was staying in all the time and I didn’t have anything to occupy me. Before the pandemic I used to volunteer at evening activity clubs for people with a learning disability, where we do arts and crafts and even have a club night.
I also found the coronavirus pandemic hard because we didn’t have accessible information about what to do and what not to do. It was hard to understand the rules as they kept changing.
“I want to help inspire the next generation of people with a learning disability”
I was starting to feel unhappy that I didn’t have anything social or creative to do in the evenings, and also quite lonely. My husband works in the evenings, so I felt like I was missing that social engagement and feeling cut off and isolated from the world.
One day I was listening to Michelle Obama’s podcast which was fantastic and made me feel so empowered. While listening in I thought to myself, I could start my own podcast. I could talk about learning disability and maybe empower others. I want to break down the stigma people with a learning disability face.
So, I did it!
I saved some money and bought some equipment from Amazon. I also bought the ‘How to Start Your Podcast’ book which has been my trusty guide on this new venture. Then ‘Ciara’s Pink Sparkle Pod’ was born!
I’m lucky to say I’ve interviewed so many amazing people already. I’ve had guests from U2’S The Edge, to disability activist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, to news presenter Krishnan Guru Murthy.
I’ve also had lovely feedback from listeners who didn’t know what a learning disability was. I feel like I am doing my part to break down barriers. It’s really nice to know that my podcast is helping raise awareness of learning disability. Too many people with a learning disability don’t get the chance to prove what they can do.
I hope with my podcast, I do my bit to reduce the stigma of people with a learning disability using their voice and give others a platform to be heard.
Currently we are very under-represented in the arts and creativity community
I’ve always been creative and always looking for different ways to get learning disability out there. Music and performing arts is what I personally love. There aren’t a lot of people with a learning disability in the arts and creativity community but there are some incredible actors out there doing amazing things like Tommy Jessop, who recently starred as Terry Boyle in Line of Duty and Mencap ambassador, George Webster, who challenged stereotypes in his lead role in the short film S.A.M last year.
But, we could do better. I’d like to see more people like me have their own podcast for example. Art and creativity can lead to better community inclusion, visibility and work opportunities for people with a learning disability but currently we are very under-represented in the arts and creativity community.
Starting my podcast has made me feel so connected and positive throughout the pandemic. I’m getting to see and talk to so many different people. From feeling isolated during the lockdown to looking forward to recording my podcast. It’s one of the highlights of my week!
I want to help inspire the next generation of people with a learning disability. I want to be a good role model and if I can do that through my podcast or my work with Mencap, the next generation will thrive. If I can do it, you can do it.
People with a learning disability have been put on the backburner over the last year. We are going to have to make our voices stronger over the next few months and years.
I’m so proud of everything I’ve achieved and this Learning Disability Week, I want to encourage other people with a learning disability to show off their creativeness and not to be afraid to show others what we can achieve. We can live the life we want to live.