Amy Clarke, who has a learning disability, is a Digital Assistant at the learning disability charity Mencap.
It was an ordinary Wednesday evening and I was going home from work and waiting for a bus when I saw some teenage girls throwing rubbish at the bus stop, buses and at the road.
An elderly man told them to stop throwing rubbish and they started to abuse him, calling him an old man. I then stepped in and told them off, maybe not my brightest idea, but if I see something unfair I try to intervene and if there is real danger I call 999 to get real help as I may not be able to do anything myself.
They rounded on me instead. They called me a “mentalist”. My bus arrived and I thought I’d get away from them, but they got on the same bus as me. And they kept saying things to me. They said things about my hair because it sometimes gets greasy. They said I should go home and be cared for. I think they wanted a reaction out of me.
I think they didn’t understand that I didn’t need care, and that I look after myself. They also don’t know what a mentalist is!
In the dictionary, a mentalist is actually “a mind-reader, psychic or fortune teller”. So not the insult they intended!
Their misuse of the word shows how little they know of many things.
I think many people – especially teenagers – have very little understanding of learning disability, as they aren’t taught it from an early age. I think learning about the people we are in society with is as important as maths and science. Schools want us to learn skills to get a job or go to university, but social skills and courtesy for others should be encouraged too.
I was 22 before I knew what a learning disability was! I always assumed I just had a disability. I wish I had been taught about different people at school. At my school, I was treated badly by pupils and care staff – the teachers weren’t too bad, but bad attitudes are too common in this society – still even in 2015.
I have a right to be on a bus and not be abused. I think the teenage girls were uncomfortable with someone with a learning disability pulling them up about mouthing off at an elderly man, and I think they aren’t used to a person with a learning disability being at a bus stop in North London.
Having a friend with a disability may make their attitudes better, as they would have spent time with the person and may be more sympathetic.
As part of this year’s Learning Disability Week, Mencap wanted to challenge the misunderstanding of learning disability. However we need to continue this way past Learning Disability Week and every day of the year. I feel more positive attitudes are needed in this day and age, especially towards people with a learning disability but also people who are elderly as well. There are lots of groups who are pushed to the corners of society because people think they are different.
We are all different though, so why pick on others?
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org