The learning disabled were out in force on 23rd September, thanks to members of the Wimbledon Labour Party determined to get the main party to take the needs such people seriously. None of the political parties do so at present, resulting in generic and non-specific policy and provision. For example, because they can all vote, the learning disabled need access to democracy as part of their care plans.
All the events were led by people with learning disability with massive attendance. There were three at The Holiday Inn in the morning. The Brighton ‘Being Heard in Government Group’ led a workshop called ‘We Have the Vote, Please Help Us to Use it’. It is said that 4 out of 5 people with learning disability were turned away at polling stations during the last general election – many because officials thought they weren’t eligible to vote. One young man, Jamie, told how he wanted to vote ‘remain’ but his mum made him vote ‘leave’ because ‘foreigners are taking our jobs’. His reason for voting ‘remain’ was because he wanted to travel!
Another workshop was called ‘What Would You Do If You Were Prime minister?’ I think one suggestion was about ice cream! There were some wonderful films and cartoons developed by Brighton Carousel. Lunch was provided by Cafe Domenica, a work experience venue for people with a learning disability. Domenica is a Downs young woman whose godmother was Princess Diana.
In the Old Market Theatre, The Baked Bean Company presented scenes from their lives on the theme of austerity and the difficulty of being heard and appreciated as people. Some issues were echoed by the many learning disabled people who spoke up afterwards and brought tears to many eyes. They spoke very clearly and concisely too as if they were determined to take full advantage of this one time offer to be taken seriously. One star was Kevin Sutton, a paraplegic with cerebral palsy who cannot speak and communicates with his limited facial expressions. If you looked at him you might believe he has nothing to offer but, with the help of his support workers over several weeks, he had developed a speech full of good stuff e.g. wanting adult education classes that stretch his mind and wanting hoists at airports.
Two stars were our very own Natalie Kritikos and Tomislav Pazlinic from Dolliffe Close. There is a BBC film about the event and at one point you can see Natalie standing bravely in the centre of the stage in front of a large auditorium of people. She spoke about how she had once enjoyed working in her dad’s cafe but was stopped when a Job Centre person told her that she would lose her benefits if she continued. She has never worked since.
Tomislav had written poems – wonderful poems which spoke about the loneliness of autism and how people don’t understand that he is clever.
These events proved how important it is to get people with learning disability participating more in other circles than just their own. We all benefit from realising their value as people and, as Gus from Carousel said, the fun and joy they have to offer – even those like Kevin who needs massive support and patience to be ‘heard’ at all. As one reviewer said, ‘We can only hope that some policy makers, at least, were listening’.
– Sue Hubbert, Disabilities Officer, Wimbledon Labour Party