A diverse new group of Mencap ambassadors are aiming to create better representation for the 1.5 million people who live with a learning disability in the UK.
The campaign - The Myth Busters – aims to challenge misconceptions and stigma as well as pushing for greater inclusion of people with a learning disability. It was launched after a recent Mencap survey found that two in five people in the UK (42%) hadn’t seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year.
Those who were surveyed also revealed they’d be more likely to engage with people with a learning disability if they lived on their street (39%), worked on their local high street (37%) or participated in local sports activities with them (29%).
By including a dancer, an actor, a model, a football coach and skator, the charity hopes to demonstrate just how unique learning disability is and how everyone in the community deserves to be equally seen and heard.
Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Each and everyone of these Myth Busters are amazing and I can’t thank them enough for joining the Mencap family. To have this diverse group of unique, talented, interesting, energetic, and fun people on board to help us shatter misconceptions, reduce stigma and campaign for societal change and greater inclusion of people with a learning disability is a real pleasure and privilege.
"We want the UK to be the best place in the world for people with a learning disability to live happy and healthy lives and I’m delighted the Myth Busters are helping us to make this a reality.”
Meet the myth busters
All the photographs were taken by India Whiley-Morton – whose aunt has a learning disability - with the aim of capturing the amazing personalities that exist in the learning disability community.
Andrew Self, dancer
Having originally risen to fame on BBC's The Greatest Dancer, Andrew Self now regularly performs to his new fan base across his social media channels. Self-taught from the age of 11, Andrew's audition will go down in history as not only shattering stereotypes but also for bringing Cheryl to tears, as he flew through the first few rounds. Andrew is currently a member of Matthew Bourne's Cygnet School, is a Dance Assistant with Tailfeather Dance and is also a hairdressing assistant.
Daniel Wakefield, rock pop-star
Daniel is a singer songwriter from Brighton who rose to fame on Channel 4’s series The UnDateables. Daniel first started creating singing in 2007 when he sung Unchained Melody at his parent's Anniversary party and describes himself as a ‘rock-popstar with autism’. His band is called the Daniel Wakeford Experience and Daniel writes songs based on life experiences such as going on holiday. He is releasing a new album in 2022 and dreams of representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest one day.
Ellie Goldstein, model
Ellie Goldstein made history in 2020 by being the first person with Down's Syndrome to represent the Gucci brand and was awarded Glamour Magazine's 'Gamechanging Model of the Year' Award, after appearing on their front cover – another first. Born in East London, Ellie has always been a natural performer and was signed to modelling company, Zebeddee Management, when she was 15. Ellie loves being on camera, dressing up, going out to Nandos and her new baby nephew, Blake.
George Webster, TV presenter
Actor, dancer and TV presenter, George Webster has recently made history by being the first person with Down's Syndrome to be cast as a regular presenter on CBeebies. George has always been hugely passionate about disability representation on stage and screen. He is currently part of a national theatre ensemble with Separate Doors, works with Yorkshire Dance and is part of the performance academy at Mind the Gap Studios, studying for a performing arts degree. He is an avid runner and volunteer and has been involved with parkrun for years!
He said: "It’s a myth that people with Down’s Syndrome are always happy. I want to show that we are just people; we feel the full spectrum of emotions just like everyone else."
Harvey Price, student
Harvey Price has been in the public eye since he was born. First-born son to Katie Price, Harvey's mum was told that he'd never walk or talk, yet Harvey has defied the odds and has recently started at a residential college in Cheltenham where he has taken the first steps to independent living. Harvey is a very talented artist who loves nothing more than painting pictures of frogs and has a huge passion for train announcements!
Heidi Carter (nee Crowther), activist
Heidi Carter (nee Crowter) made history during the Summer of 2021 by being the first activist with Down's Syndrome to spearhead a national campaign to try and change the current law surrounding the abortion of babies with Down's Syndrome. Heidi got married in the Summer of 2020 to her partner James, and they now live independently, with support, in Coventry.
She said: "I love being a voice for those who can’t speak, or those who may find it difficult to speak."
Jessica Jane Applegate, paralympic swimmer
A Mencap ambassador since 2013, Jessica has swum competitively in three Paralympic Games. Not only does she boast a collection of gold medals to her name but she is also a World Record holder. Jessica Jane is a huge advocate for 'Inclusion In Sport' having worked on several Parliamentary campaigns alongside Mencap over the years. She has also been invited to trial for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, who after a decade of perseverance and campaigning, have finally allowed female athletes with a learning disability to compete in the S14 classification which was previously just open to males only.
Sarah Gordy, actor
Sarah is one of the most established actors with Down's Syndrome in the UK. Having starred in TV shows such as The A Word, Call The Midwife, Upstairs Downstairs and Peak Practice, Sarah is also a professional model and dancer too. Sarah will be back on our screens later this year appearing in Ralph & Katie; once again creating TV history by playing the co-lead role in this series.
Tommy Jessop, actor
Tommy Jessop is a multi-award-winning British actor. Best known for his portrayal of Terry Boyle in BBC 1 Drama 'Line Of Duty', Tommy has also appeared in the likes of Holby City, Casualty and Doctors. Tommy was selected for the prestigious BAFTA Elevate programme and was the first actor with Down's Syndrome to be cast in the lead role of the touring production of Hamlet.
Aisha Edwards, theatre user
Aisha was always told at school that she would struggle to achieve the same things as her peers who didn’t have a learning disability, including getting a job. Determined to prove people wrong, Aisha worked closely with Mencap's employment team who supported her in her job search. After lots of hard work and determination she landed her first job at the Old Vic Theatre as an Usher. “I am so proud of myself, go on Aisha! I really like working at the Young Vic they feel like family”.
Alastair Smith, creative
Alastair is a typical teenager, who finds joy in going to gigs and eating out with his friends and family, particularly when he can ‘people watch’ from his table. He is often found in the ocean whether it's kayaking or surfing, and is happiest when on a beach. Alastair and his family started the Smiling and Waving brand as a result of being locked down in 2020, to provide Alastair with a creative outlet when all his usual daily activities were cancelled.
His mum Jenn says: ‘Not everyone realises that [being] non-verbal does not necessarily mean being non-understanding. Alastair is a typical eighteen-year-old. He likes to be spoken to in an age-appropriate way, though sometimes he gets spoken to as if he’s in pre-school. He likes going to gigs and festivals with his mates and dancing around. He likes triking and surfing and skating and people-watching. People are often surprised at what he gets up to and how much he gets up to, but our response to that is that we figure all eighteen year olds are rather busy...’
Brendan Chivasa, activist
Brendan is a powerful activist who is considered a local celebrity in West London where he lives on his own in Supported Accommodation. He is passionate about achieving equality and breaking down stigma towards people with a learning disability by openly sharing his experiences and leading the fight for change. When he’s not campaigning, he can be found singing on the karaoke machine in his local pub and eating kebabs.
Freddie Latham, marathon runner
Freddie lives in supported living accommodation in West London. He volunteers on a farm and sees his family most weekends where they take the dog for a walk or go for a run. Freddie's disability does not hold him back – last year he completed his second marathon, which he ran with his dad, who he affectionately calls Grumpy Nick. Freddie has a cheeky personality, a wicked sense of humour and especially likes to make fun of his dad!
Michael Beynon, baker
When Michael was born, his mother was warned by doctors that he was likely to spend a lot of his life using a wheelchair. However, Michael has defied the odds: going on to compete in the Special Olympics and scooping up over 60 medals in events, including shot put, boccia, long jump, and track. Last year he became the first man in Wales with Down Syndrome to run a marathon. Michael also runs his own baking business called Coal Pit Welsh Cakes, and his creations have been featured on the TV show Saturday Kitchen alongside the likes of Fortnum and Mason and other leading brands.
Nigel Smith, joker
Nigel is a people person who is very sociable and fun. He is known within his community and is involved in team sports. During the lockdown he had to move out of his house share as he was sadly going through chemotherapy for cancer. This was an incredibly tough and lonely time for Nigel. Thankfully, he has finished his treatment and is back in a house share with his best friends!
Sas Granville, football coach
Sas has a job as a football coach in Worthing where she teaches young people to play football and helps them gain confidence on and off the pitch. She loves her job and enjoys the purpose it gives her. She also volunteers at a Mencap charity shop and for another local learning disability charity, Superstar Arts, where she makes and sells artwork. Sas is openly gay and is passionate about LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for the importance of meaningful and safe friendships and relationships for people with a learning disability.
Sophie Potter, party girl
Sophie is a former nursery assistant and waitress and has a long-term fiance who is called Richard. Sophie loves going dancing on nights out in London with her sister and dressing up in sparkly outfits that make her feel confident and fabulous. Family is the most important thing to Sophie and she loves nothing more than to sit down for a roast beef dinner with her mum and sister on a Sunday, whilst watching Sex And The City. Her favourite pastime is sipping pina coladas on a sun lounger, preferably with both a straw and an umbrella in it.
Tara Halvai, artist
Tara is a fun, positive, larger-than-life character who lives in an independent living home close to her mum and sister, who are her loudest and proudest advocates, in West London. She has mainstream certifications in both horse riding and trampolining and is inspired by a huge range of physical activity. She is also an artist who creates designs for ART XV, the NFT platform for Neurodiverse artists, which her sister founded to showcase the diversity and creativity that exists in the community.