What Is A Learning Disability?
Include this article in your Skills Builder Journal. It could help you develop...
This week is Learning Disability Week. The week aims to make sure the world hears what it’s like to have a learning disability so that we can smash stigmas and end discrimination, fight and campaign for a fair society, and educate and raise awareness for learning disabilities.
Kate is a Learning Disability Advisor at the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), and has a learning disability herself. This is what she has to say…
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is something you are born with. It means we learn a little slower than other people. We have support from other people to live our lives, and some people need more support than others, it depends on what we need.
Some people with learning disabilities might have Down’s Syndrome like me, others may have no conditions and you might not be able to tell they have a learning disability by looking at them. People with learning disabilities can have other difficulties like epilepsy, or sight or hearing problems, or use wheelchairs, but not all people do.
Someone with a learning disability will have more difficulty with everyday things like catching the bus or train, cooking or banking. Some of us can learn to do these things independently, but it can take more time and support. Some of us will always need support to do these things. For example, I catch buses and trains by myself. I can book tickets by myself, but I need someone to help me plan which train or bus I need to catch. I love to walk around my local area by myself and use my Apple watch to monitor my fitness, but I need help with learning new routes when walking around so I don’t get lost!
A simple definition of someone who has a learning disability is:
Someone who will find it:
- Hard to understand new or complicated information or to learn new skills (like cooking, managing money, socialising)
- Needs support, or finds it harder, to be independent
What is a learning difficulty?
A learning difficulty affects someone’s learning, such as reading, writing, spelling and maths. For example, somebody who has dyslexia, dyscalculia (trouble with maths) or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most of the time people with learning difficulties can do everyday tasks without much help, but they might need extra support especially in school. Some people confuse learning difficulties and learning disabilities, but they are different things.
What is life with a learning disability like?
Take my example, I have special educational needs which means it takes a long time for me to understand difficult or complicated information. I need things explained in a simpler way so I can understand them.
We have a saying in the learning disability community: ‘nothing about us without us’. This means that everyone with a learning disability should be part of the conversation. If you are talking about us, then we need to be there saying what we think!
I live on my own in a flat, I’ve had the right support to help me to do that. I have a personal assistant who helps me to look after my flat, and supports me with my money and my healthy lifestyle. I go to my local sports centre where I do things like swimming and gym. I socialise with my friends and boyfriend who have learning disabilities at clubs, but I also meet up with my friends without learning disabilities for cocktails and other fun things! I’m a member of my local theatre and was recently part of our panto. I’m the first person with learning disabilities to do this.
Kate and her colleague Lindsey at a Buckingham Palace Garden party last month.
One thing that really helps us is when we have information in Easy Read. Easy Read is when things are broken down into simple sentences, and there are pictures alongside to help explain what the words mean. I write a blog for BILD, which I do in easy read, you can see an example of this here.
Some people with learning disabilities experience what we call mate or hate crime. Mate crime is when someone who you thought was a friend turns out to not be. They might take advantage of you or steal things from you. Hate crime is when people use nasty words or physical attacks because of your learning disability. I have experienced this type of crime and many of my friends have too. We need people to understand how serious this is, and although we might be a little slower, we want to have the same respect. We are still individuals with feelings who are leading our lives.
Some people with learning disabilities need more support than I do, they might always need a support worker with them. But just because they need support doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat them like a human being. If we are in a shop, café, bar or anywhere else in the community, don’t just talk to our supporters, speak to us! We want to be respected and have the same opportunities as everyone else and we have the same human rights as everyone else.
The British Institute of Learning Disabilities
Bild is a national charity that protects and supports the rights of people with learning disabilities. I have been working for BILD for nearly 20 years, now my job is a Learning Disability Advisor. We work with other organisations to look at the best ways to do things to help build a more inclusive society, this might be through training, qualifications, webinars, or other ways we can help. We work in partnership with our members, people with lived experience, experts, organisations that provide care and support, NHS trusts and government departments. In my job I do all sorts of projects, like talking to people in charge of services or people who work for the government about issues that affect people with learning disabilities. Sometimes I do training, like on the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training Trial which is now going to become the law.
If young people are thinking about working in the health or social care sector, we have lots of resources on our website. We also are creating more qualifications so that we can help people build a career in supporting people with learning disabilities. Working with people with learning disabilities is an important job and we want to make sure that they are recognised and supported in this work.