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What negative attitudes mean to me and other self-advocates | Blog post by Harry Roche

By UCL ID Stigma Blog, on 19 May 2017

Harry Roach

Harry in Brussels at the EPSA Steering Group Meeting

My name is Harry, I am in my late 20s and live in a small village in Hertfordshire, UK. My hobbies and interests include working out at the gym, going on long country walks in the summer and walking my dog Oscar. I currently work for the Royal Mencap Society (RMS) full-time as an Office Assistant and Ambassador in the CEO office. I also serve as the UK representative on the European Platform for Self-Advocates (EPSA) steering group and sit on the board of Inclusion Europe. I was diagnosed with a learning disability at age 3 and was referred to a specialist Doctor. I was not expressing myself and was not talking much so they diagnosed me with Learning Disability and Autism. I attended a Special School in East London (called Whitefield School) which is seen as one of the best special schools in Europe and received good support but felt excluded from mainstream education.


During our careers session in Year 10 [around age 15] I was told by one of the teachers that I could not have a meaningful career because it’s too difficult – so to think of a job that I could do and which is not challenging. I left school at 17 and got on to my first course at college ‘Certificate in Skills for working life’ with an ASDAN qualification. My course involved a vocational qualification in catering, ICT, preparation for the world of work and sport. My next course was NOCN Step up which involved more enterprise (something I took the lead on), ICT, preparing for work and mainstream education, and a vocational option, for which I chose Art and Design. This has been the success of me getting onto a BTEC Art and Design Level 1 Diploma and I was proud to be awarded a distinction. Art was my favourite subject and I specialised in subjects such as Fine Art, Graphic design and connection studies, such as animation and window display including story telling. The positives are that I got the right support and have done well for myself during my further education and got to where I am today working at RMS and growing my career which I am enjoying.


I have been working at RMS for the last 5 ½ years and my career is looking up and progressing year in and year out. I currently work in the CEO office supporting our CEO Jan Tregelles. I am proud to be a newly promoted board member of Inclusion Europe. I think it is very inclusive for someone with a learning disability to be involved in making difficult decisions with a group of people at board meetings. My biggest Self-Advocacy trip was to Orlando, Florida last year. I spoke at The ARC/Inclusion International Conference in front of about 600 people on my experiences and to inspire others to believe in themselves.

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Harry at The ARC/Inclusion International Conference in Orlando

What negative attitudes mean to me is that it makes me feel really angry that people discriminate towards people with a learning disability because they think I don’t have a meaningful life like everybody else has, e.g. people may say I can’t have a job and do not have the same rights like everyone else in society. Now that is negative and discriminating. I felt upset and frustrated even though I got a job in retail during my time as a student – it was not for me and there were colleagues that did have a negative impact on me. Back then I was afraid to remind them that I have a learning disability. Throughout my youth I got better at speaking up and challenging, so I am proud to be at RMS challenging negative attitudes.


Employment– From speaking to many Self-Advocates we know that employers have negative attitudes when it comes to employing people with a learning disability. They think it’s harder for them to take on that extra responsibility. It’s shameful that only 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid jobs. Many of us want to have paid jobs and employers need to realise that we have a lot of talent to offer when it comes to employment. The many barriers faced by people with a learning disability in accessing employment include:
• A lack of good quality support to get and maintain employment
• A lack of support to build confidence and skills
• Employers’ attitudes
• Lack of understanding as to what people with a learning disability can do with the right support
Employers need to identify their talents to have an inclusive employment. Mencap’s vision is a future where people with a learning disability are receiving the right support to access and stay in the workplace. We want all employers to know that people with a learning disability will make good workers when supported properly. We want people with a learning disability to have real job opportunities in the open labour market, with regular hours, and to be paid at the same rate as everyone else. Employment could be a few hours a week or full-time. To read more about Mencap’s position on employment: https://www.mencap.org.uk/about-us/what-we-think/employment-what-we-think


Bullying– Children and young people with a learning disability are increased risk of bullying. Different studies report different rates of bullying but most have found that children and young people with a disability – including those with a learning disability or special educational needs (SEN) – are more likely to be bullied than those without a learning disability. Bullying is a horrifying experience for anyone to go through!
A study by the Institute of Education in 2014 found that even after controlling for other factors that might influence the likelihood of a child being bullied, at age 7 a child with SEN is twice as likely to be bullied as a child without SEN.
Research has highlighted some key things that schools can do to help prevent bullying of students with SEN or a learning disability:
• Have a school policy against bullying
• Create an inclusive school ethos and atmosphere
• Raise awareness of disability amongst all students in mainstream schools
• Support students to make and maintain friendships
• Involve parents and carers as well as students in bullying prevention schemes
• Provide training for teachers on bullying prevention
• Provide training for teachers in mainstream schools on SEN and learning disability


Dating– people with a learning disability want to be able go on dates and maybe develop sexual feelings with another person that could develop into a relationship. Last year the dating site OkayCupid asked new users a question that discriminates against people with a learning disability: ‘Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce?’ At Mencap we were very angry and my colleague Ciara who has a learning disability expressed her view that it’s not right for OkayCupid to ask such discriminating questions. We promoted our campaign on social media #NotOkCupid but all year they refused to take that question off their website. After a whole year campaigning on Valentine’s Day this year they finally removed it even though they were not happy with us.


By Harry Roche, Self-Advocate and Mencap Ambassador
(This post is based on a talk I gave recently at a conference for psychologists in Sheffield.)

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