Hear my voice! Grassroots learning disability movement sets sights on 2015 General Election

hearmyvoice-mencapNational movement is formed to ensure voice of learning disability community is heard by candidates in 2015 General Election

With the 2015 General Election less than a year away, the Royal Mencap Society is today setting the wheels in motion to mobilise the grassroots movement that the charity was born from almost 70 years ago.

Through the Hear my voice campaign, Mencap is uniting the voices of the millions of people with a learning disability, their families, campaigners and hundreds of affiliated groups (local groups) from all corners of the UK to ensure the next Government addresses the key issues facing people with a learning disability and their families.

Three people with a learning disability die avoidably in the NHS every single day. A quarter of adults with a learning disability spend less than one hour outside their home each day. And eight in ten family carers of a loved one with a learning disability have reached crisis point.

Every single day, these and other issues affect 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK and their families. But these issues are rarely, if ever, debated during elections and most politicians do not understand what a learning disability is, or how these issues impact on people’s lives. And this is why people with a learning disability need to be listened to.

Ciara Lawrence has a learning disability and is a Campaigns Assistant at Mencap. Ciara says: “I can still remember the day I was told I had a learning disability. I was angry and upset. The kids at school told me I was thick. The teachers told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my life. But here I am. I’m married, living in my own home, and working in a job I love. These are things I could only dream about when I was little. Sadly, these things are still a dream for many other people with a learning disability. This has to stop.

“I have a right to make decisions about my own life, just like everyone else does. It is really important that the voices of people with a learning disability are listened to because they are the experts in what matters to them.

“Having grown up with a learning disability, I know that having the right support from people around me, from my family and friends, makes all the difference. With that support, I can choose the things in life that I need and want to achieve. I don’t want any child with a learning disability to go through what I went through – to be told you’re worthless, no good, stupid. Around 12,000 children will be born who are likely to have a learning disability from now until the General Election, so this is our chance to make a difference for their futures.”

Hear my voice is a campaign designed to provide a platform for people with a learning disability and their families to make their voices heard. There are a lot of different ways to get involved, from sharing what matters to you, to holding an event to get people with a learning disability registered to vote. Through grassroots campaigning, Hear my voice will ensure the next Government improves the lives of people with a learning disability and their families.

In 1946, an army of parents whose children had a learning disability set up the Mencap movement to improve their children’s lives and influence positive change. At a time when children were denied an education, and were sent away to institutions, they fought for rights to education and to live in the community. Today, we are millions strong and the Hear my voice campaign will make that voice heard by the thousands of candidates standing for election in May 2015.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive for Mencap, says: “People with a learning disability and their families have achieved great things over the past 70 years, but we still have a long way to go until they are treated the same as everyone else, valued equally, listened to and fully included in society. Many of our hard won achievements are unstable in today’s political and economic climate, where fights are won today only to be fought again tomorrow.

“We have to make sure the next Government makes a lasting difference to the lives of every person with a learning disability and their families. To do this, we need to make sure the learning disability community’s voice is heard – loud and clear. When we were founded in 1946, almost 300 campaigning voices were able to influence huge changes for people with a learning disability. We now have millions of voices, so imagine the difference we can make together!”

Local Mencap groups will be harnessing this spirit by bringing communities together to run regional events throughout the UK to launch the Hear my voice campaign. Two flagship events will be held in Sheffield and London by Sheffield Mencap and Brent Mencap respectively.

Ann O’Neill, Executive Director of Brent Mencap, says: “Brent Mencap supports people with a learning disability to find out what is happening locally and give them a platform to voice their opinions on the issues that matter to them. The Hear my voice launch event in Brent will showcase the hard work and determination of these individuals to be heard. We’re hoping that our united voice will concentrate the minds of all local candidates to ensure they seek out and speak up on behalf of all groups in Brent.”

This is something that Sara Pickard feels very passionately about. She believes it is vital for people with a learning disability and their families to have a say in the decisions that affect them.

Sara has a learning disability, is a local community councillor in Pentrych in Wales and also a project officer for Mencap Cymru. She says: “It is really important that people with a learning disability are listened to by politicians and, if they want to, become politicians themselves. I hope that by being in politics and having a learning disability, other people see me as a role model and believe that they can do it too. We need more people with a learning disability to speak out, and we need politicians to hear our voice. Through working together we can do this.”

Join the Hear my voice campaign by visiting: www.mencap.org.uk/hearmyvoice

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