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

People with learning disabilities left isolated by bullying fears

Neil DandoThousands of people with learning disabilities want to spend more time outside their homes but 1 in 3 fear being bullied if they do, according to new Mencap data.

The charity suggests that a large proportion of people with learning disabilities are being left isolated and lonely because of attitudes towards them. The charity spoke to 338 people aged 18 to 35 and its research found nearly half don’t go out with friends as much as they want to.

The research also revealed around a third spend less than one hour a day outside their homes on a typical Saturday. Nearly 34% were worried about being bullied and more than a quarter are worried about being laughed at when they leave the house.

Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns at Mencap, said a lack of job opportunities and “barriers in terms of people’s attitudes” can cause significant stigma.

“Some people with a learning disability won’t even have the chance to leave home,” she said. “That’s because of high unemployment rates with a learning disability. We know that only 6% of people have a paid job and that means they don’t have the independence that a job can provide.”

Other findings from the survey included:

 30.1% spent less than 1 hour outside their homes on a Saturday

 49.3% would like to spend more time outside their house

44.6% do not think they spend enough time with friends

 17.8% feel alone and cut off from other people.

Of those who were too worried to leave the house, 33.7% said they were concerned about being bullied and 25.7% feared being laughed at.

Further comments within the survey included people with learning disabilities saying they feel “cut off”, “get bored”, and “got put off going out because I had an incident once on the bus.”

A combination of public attitudes, cuts to social care and just 6% of people with a learning disability in paid employment are all contributing to many being stuck at home and increasingly isolated.

A general public poll commissioned by Mencap and run by Populus also revealed that 39% of those surveyed said they see people with a learning disability taking part in social activities just once a month or less and only 34% said they see people with a learning disability taking part in social activities once a week or more.

Mencap are calling on the public to sign up to its Sidekicks programme to support people with a learning disability have an active social life while breaking down negative perceptions of learning disability.

Ciara Lawrence, who has a learning disability and is a campaigner for Mencap, said: “I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was 10. I can remember my childhood being full of ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you shouldn’t do that’, or ‘don’t bother with this’. My social life was limited and protected and early on I didn’t get the support I needed to go out and make my own choices in life.

“However, due to getting the right support I now have a full-time job, I am married and have a good social life. But I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve seen people with a learning disability laughed at in my local pub, being stared at and bullied in supermarkets and made to feel awkward wherever they go, for no reason other than discrimination.

“For people with a learning disability it takes courage to go out the house and try to make friends. The opportunities aren’t always there and it’s easy to become stuck indoors and feel trapped.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of people being different. The public should be shocked to hear people with a learning disability can spend less than 1 hour a day outside their house. We need to stop feeling afraid for no reason and break down the barriers that are denying people with a learning disability the right to a social life.”

Neil Dando (pictured), 31, is often afraid to leave his house since he was a victim of hate crime. “For me, having a learning disability seemed to mean other people think they can get away with treating me differently and bullying me without any consequence,” he said. “It started off with small things and then meant I was too afraid to leave my house and had to move.

“I’m a huge music fan and want to be social and take part in all kinds of fun activities at the weekend like anyone else. However the bullying has put a dampener on my social life. All I have really got is my bike and guitar. I spend a lot of time inside every day, it’s pretty boring really.

“I want people to understand what it’s like to feel alone, and be more understanding of people with a learning disability. I want to dream big and go all the way with my music. I have the same right as anyone else to go out and have fun, and I hope the rest of society can realise that too and give a little bit of support to people like me along the way.”

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