Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Should learning disability training be mandatory for all MPs?

Since being elected as MP for Ealing Central and Acton in 2015, I have worked on over 20,000 pieces of casework and many of these have involved the most vulnerable members of our communities including those with learning disabilities.

“I believe that, as MPs, we owe it to our constituents to have the right tools and skills in place to represent each and every one of them.”

To get a better understanding of some of the issues facing people with learning disabilities, last summer I visited several Certitude supported living services in my constituency. Last Monday I had the opportunity to visit Certitude’s new Ealing HQ on the Uxbridge Road, in a building which I must have passed thousands of times before. During this session I was inspired by the people and the staff supporting them and found out more about the amazing work Certitude does. However, it also helped me realise that I didn’t have all the necessary expertise required to communicate with, and support, all of my constituents.

Fortunately, Certitude offers training in Learning Disability Awareness in Ealing through their Treat Me Right! project. This training is designed to provide people with the right skills to communicate and listen to people with learning disabilities and autism. Recently I undertook this training along with members of my constituency team.

We talked about learning disability and autism awareness, inequality, communication techniques and the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. I learned a great deal and was shocked to hear about some of the health inequalities facing people with learning difficulties – particularly lower life expectancy.

Lived experience to inform illustration

Our session was delivered by Helen Cairns and John Keaveny from Certitude’s Treat Me Right! team. John is a founder member of Treat Me Right! and has trained hundreds of people in the area including doctors, nurses and mental health professionals. He has Downs Syndrome and uses his personal experiences to illustrate the challenges people who have learning disabilities and autism can face and to explain how – with the use of reasonable adjustments – things can be done differently.

The idea that we can all make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people and enable their voices to be heard seems so simple – we just need more people to be aware of how to do this, in particular those with power and influence. The Treat Me Right! team is passionate about improving the experience of everyone with learning disabilities and autism and they are keen to extend the reach of their training across London and nationally. Whilst their work originally focused on the health sector, they also train other sectors of the community and I can see it being useful in many different services for example, the police, and for all our political representatives.

Instilling a ‘baseline of knowledge’ at Westminster

The team assured me that they would relish the chance to provide training to MPs at the House of Commons to ensure a baseline of knowledge. The Treat Me Right! training is always co-delivered by trainers who themselves have learning disabilities who are therefore able to explain not only the challenges their disability presents, but also what it is like to live as a marginalised citizen whose voice has not always been listened to, either because of physical barriers or because those representing them don’t have the skills needed to listen.

I believe that, as MPs, we owe it to our constituents to have the right tools and skills in place to represent each and every one of them – and with austerity and local government cuts putting increasing pressure on services and individuals – arguably the need for this training is more urgent than ever.

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