Spotlight On: Learning Disability
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It’s the next installment of our new series Spotlight On, where we explore issues that matter the most to you, with professionals in those fields.
This time we’ve partnered with Mencap - the UK’s leading learning disability charity. Mencap’s vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world for people with a learning disability to live happy and healthy lives.
George Webster is 20 years old, has Down’s syndrome and a learning disability and is a Mencap ambassador. George is also an actor, and is already becoming a well-known name both on and off screen. His first film S.A.M. came out last year!
He’s here to tell you what a learning disability is and how you can support young people with a learning disability in your communities or at school.
Tell us about yourself and your role as a Mencap ambassador...
My name is George and I am an actor, singer and dancer. I’ve also been a Mencap ambassador since 2019 and I’ve loved every second of it. I’ve done so many things in my role, such as being the chief cheerleader at the 2020 Virtual London Marathon (Mencap were the official charity partner), working on videos for Mencap TV and I even got to go to The Peanut Butter Falcon film premiere. I also spoke on a Q&A panel about diversity in film with award-winning campaigner and actor, Adam Pearson.
I believe people with a learning disability should have equal rights and need to be treated the same as other people. I hope my role as an ambassador does bring awareness about learning disabilities. We’re just like anyone else.
What is a learning disability?
People with a learning disability can take longer to understand new or complicated information, interact with others and learn new skills. A learning disability can be mild, moderate, severe or profound. People with a mild learning disability might not need that much support with everyday tasks, while someone with a severe or profound learning disability might need more care and support to live their life.
I have Down’s syndrome, which means I was born with an extra chromosome, so this gene caused a learning disability and I will have this for my whole life.
My learning disability means that I can take longer to understand new information and sometimes I need help doing certain things. I’m not different from anyone else. I just need more support than others, but I am the same as everyone else. I love acting, I am chatty and enjoy going out with family and friends to the theatre!
Everyone is unique and we just need some more understanding that some people might speak, or think, in different ways. And just because you might need some extra support or need a bit more time that isn’t a bad thing. We should celebrate this!
What was your school experience like?
When I was at school, I was really lucky that I had the support that I did. I went to mainstream school and with the help of my Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), my school was made aware of my needs and any changes I needed. I had support in my lessons and also when I went through crowded corridors.
My peers at school really made me feel included. When I was taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, my friend supported me on the long walk and others helped carry my bags. The school also supported me in joining extracurricular activities like the student council, where I helped make decisions about how my school was run, and I also helped people learn more about Down’s syndrome and learning disabilities, which was nice.
What is your advice for other young people?
To other young people I would say don’t judge others on how they look and get to know us. You can support other young people with a learning disability by just listening to us. Take the time to know us and together we can break down barriers.
How is Mencap supporting young people with a learning disability in schools and communities?
Mencap does so much work with schools and communities. They have an amazing programme called All Move which gets young people aged 11-16, with a learning disability/autism, more active and trying new things. I'm a very sporty person and I take part in, and am an ambassador for my local parkrun, which is a running community that brings people together to run and make new friends. I do dance and yoga classes on Zoom too!
Mencap will be delivering the All Move project in the 2021/22 academic year in partnership with schools across England and Wales, and are encouraging young people with and without a learning disability to come together through sport. You can get in touch with Mencap via email if you know a SEN school, mainstream school or community group who would love to get involved!