The sense of belonging is part of human nature and no matter who you are, everyone deserves to feel like they belong. The power of communities is that they represent a coming together of different walks of life whether that be race, age, religion or abilities; communities don’t discriminate. However, with increasing budget cuts and rise of social media replacing real life social interaction, communities in the United Kingdom that were so representative of British culture have started to fade and minorities are starting to feel this pinch.

People with learning disabilities can often feel side lined and siloed when it comes to integration into the community and it’s important that we all come together to ensure that we are making the most out of the community and ensure that the wonders of British community continues to help people feel like they belong.

The role of the community

People with learning disabilities have previously struggled to find their place in the community. The government are pledging to increase funding into modernising and creating new builds to tackle social isolation but that alone isn’t enough, we need to make sure that we can make a conscious effort to encourage a sense of togetherness. In 2017, Scope revealed the chronic loneliness epidemic experienced by disabled people every day with 85 per cent of young disabled adults (18-34-year olds) feel lonely. Furthermore, the research showed how on a typical day, one in eight disabled people only had half an hour of interaction.

Recently, libraries in Brighton have opened cafés in partnership with charity Team Domenica to help people with learning disabilities unleash their career potential by creating job opportunities in these cafés. Libraries are constantly fighting for survival in the community, and this is a wonderful example of how we can take advantage of what already exists whilst helping people with learning disabilities feel integrated into the community.

Furthermore, communities can create a feeling of independence for people with learning disabilities. Giving them the autonomy to work and contribute to the community will give them a sense of purpose that all too often can be looked over. Better access to transport links and leisure facilities will create a freedom of movement which will also make sure marginalisation is prevented and the feeling of purpose will encourage more activity in the community. 

Role of technology and innovation

Technology is permeating every industry and the care industry has recently welcomed a myriad of new innovations to help create a better quality of life for those who need it most. One example is the Tovertafel Up, an innovation from the Netherlands that brings people with learning disabilities together with games. The Tovertafel is a small box that is installed into the ceiling and projects interactive lights that form exciting, challenging and playful games that everyone can join in on.

Many Tovertafel Up’s are installed in public places like libraries and community centres to create a central meeting point in the community and not in a closed environment. The Allensway Learning Disability centre, in Stockton, is one such example where community groups outside of Stockton travel to access the Tovertafel; providing an activity for those in rural communities with cognitive challenges. The games are unique because of their grown-up character and accessibility for all people with different developmental levels and open for everyone to play with, or to spectate and enjoy from afar. Other technologies are becoming more advanced every day, ranging from assistive technology devices to keep people independent as long as possible, or to learn skills like writing and cooking. Each of these skills are imperative in making people with learning disabilities feel included into the community.

Integrating adults with learning disabilities into the community is more important than ever. The community holds much more importance the older people get, and it’s important that we enable adults with learning disabilities to show off the skills they possess and empower them to learn new skills too. The power of community combats many social epidemics and coming together to create cafés, theatre shows and making use of innovative technologies to integrate adults in the community has never been as important as it is now.

John Ramsay is CEO & Founder of Shift8.