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Mencap marks 75th anniversary with campaign for greater understanding of people with a learning disability

Edel Harris Mencap cropped

A new study highlights a continued lack of understanding and inclusion of people with a learning disability in the UK.

The study, published by Mencap as it marks its 75th anniversary, found that two thirds of people cannot correctly identify a learning disability as a reduced intellectual ability, with 40% of Brits thinking it’s dyslexia and 27% believing it to relate to a mental health issue.

These figures rise the older people get, jumping from 32% of 25-34 year olds considering dyslexia to be a learning disability to 50% for over 55’s.  

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Edel Harris (pictured), chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “For 75 years, Mencap has campaigned with people with a learning disability, their families and carers to create positive change. We have seen huge progress but we know there is still a long way to go, and it’s clear from these new statistics just how many misconceptions still exist.”

Some of the reasons for the lack of understanding could include low visibility and representation in the media.

The survey reveals two in five Brits (42%) have not seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year. Again, the older demographic state that they are less likely to have seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year, with over half (56%) of those aged over 55 stating this.

This compared to just a fifth (19%) of 16-24 year olds. This could demonstrate the lack of visibility correlates with the lack of understanding, Mencap said.

The results show just how much of an impact the media can make, with a third (33%) saying they would feel more comfortable talking to someone with a learning disability if they saw them featured more often in the media.

Mencap ambassador George Webster commented: “When I was younger, there wasn’t anyone with a learning disability or Down’s Syndrome on the TV. It is so important though – if people saw more people with a learning disability in the media, they would better understand what a learning disability is and they would be less scared to approach someone and talk to them. Then they could get to know them better. This would also mean people treat us better – it could improve things massively.”

Alongside a lack of visibility in the media, Mencap suspects that minimal contact with people with a learning disability in society may contribute to the lack of understanding around the needs of people with a learning disability, as well as some people’s negative attitudes.

Almost a fifth (18%) of people say they have never spoken to someone with a learning disability – or not since they were at school – and over a quarter (27%) agree they would feel apprehensive about talking to someone with a learning disability for the first time.  

To highlight the need for greater progression, understanding and inclusion of people with a learning disability, Mencap is launching its Talk To Me campaign, which includes a set of tools and online resources to help with people’s lack of understanding of learning disability – including a pledge to stand up for the rights of people with a learning disability. 

Harris added: “People with a learning disability can and should be active participants in society, yet many people don’t know what a learning disability is or have little contact with people with a learning disability. We are encouraging people to educate themselves about learning disability through our ‘Talk To Me’ resources online.  

“We want the UK to be the best place in the world for people with a learning disability to live happy and healthy lives. Mencap began in a time when the world was completely different for people with a learning disability and we have seen a lot of progress in society’s attitudes and behaviours since then – but we still need to see even bigger change.” 

Tags : campaignlearning disabilitiesMencap
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke