Jan Tregelles MencapThere is still often confusion and ignorance concerning people with learning disabilities, according to a new survey, released to coincide with the launch of a new campaign to increase awareness.

The initial results of an in-depth survey of 2002 people to gauge public attitudes towards learning disability – by Mencap and Ipsos MORI – revealed that:

Only 30% said they would feel comfortable sat next to someone with a mild learning disability in the cinema, or during a show or concert

6% of people say they would feel uncomfortable using the same swimming pool as someone with a more severe learning disability

27% of people think that learning disability is a form of mental illness

Just 10% of the public say they have seen someone with a learning disability featured in newspapers or magazines in the past six months and only 14% being talked about in TV news reports

Only 61% of people strongly disagree that people who have a learning disability are a burden on society 

Almost 40% of people were not sure if people with a learning disability were a burden on society or not.

Existing data has shown how people with a learning disability are one of the most marginalised groups in society, with almost 1 in 3 18-35-year-olds spending less than 1 hour a day outside their home. 

Alongside the survey, a new campaign to help improve attitudes – Here I Am – has been launched by Mencap that aimed to address some of the confusion and stigma that still exists in regard to learning disabilities.

A video has been made to launch the campaign, which takes a quote from Atlantic Magazine in 1968 where a leading academic suggests that someone with Down’s syndrome is not a person, and that there should be no guilt “putting them away” in a sanatorium or even lethal sense. 

This quote is then cut up by DJ Casey Rochell, a young man with Down’s syndrome, who turns these shocking words into something positive and upbeat: “A Down’s is not person” becomes “A Down’s is a person.”

The campaign also includes a web tool, Understand Me, which allows the public to ask some of the questions they are too afraid to normally ask people with a learning disability.

Jan Tregelles (pictured), chief executive of Mencap, said: “For the first time in over 30 years we have a robust picture of how our society views learning disability. To mark that we are launching Here I Am - our biggest ever public effort to challenge some of those views. Far from being objects of pity and sympathy, Here I Am shows people with a learning disability as they really are; comics, music lovers, actors, swimmers, artists, friends or lovers – whoever they want to be.

“Whilst the research shows that on the whole there is support from the public for people with a learning disability, this is being dragged back by widespread confusion about what it means, a real nervousness about coming into contact with someone with a learning disability and a small core group who continue to hold profoundly negative attitudes. There’s no reason why in 2016 anyone should say they wouldn’t want to share a swimming pool with someone with a learning disability or wouldn’t sit next to them in a cinema, show or concert.

“It can be scary to come into contact with something we don’t understand and easy to ignore. With Here I Am we want to take away that uncertainty and with it the option to ignore, and bring the general public and people with a learning disability together. 

“Here I Am will give the chance for people with a learning disability to put their own stamp on popular culture, say ‘Here I Am’, and finally be understood as the individuals they are rather than a lazy label.”

“We want the public and people with a learning disability to come together, and to make a start by visiting our new ‘Understand Me’ web tool where you can ask the questions people have traditionally been too afraid to ask around learning disability.” 

Rochell, otherwise known as DJ Dude, said: “I have Down’s syndrome and autism. But those are not the most important things about me – the most important things are music, fashion and being a DJ. I DJ my own set every Sunday night at my local pub. I think it’s fabulous when people get up and dance. DJ’ing makes me happy and excited.

“I was really excited when I was asked to star in the Here I Am film. I think people are going to love it. I hope it makes them think about learning disability in a different way. We are all good at different things. People need to realise that.”