Of all the words that I would use to describe the disabled people I know – including my youngest sister Raana, who has the learning disability fragile x syndrome – “unproductive” is not among them.
Yet it this was this word that the Chancellor Phillip Hammond used late last year, reflecting that the sluggishness of Britain’s economy might be caused by the presence of more disabled people in the workforce.
He said that “very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.” Although chancellor made this comment back in December, immediately coming under fire from social care providers, campaigners and disabled people, it still rings in my ears more than two months on.
As the sibling of a learning disabled person and as a social affairs journalist, I am aware both personally and professionally about the negative connotations linked to disability. People with learning disabilities (of which there are some 1.5m in the UK) are either pitied as victims or patronised as superheroes. They are also defined by their support needs, not their personalities or abilities. Yet my sister’s family, friends and support workers know she is a talented baker, a music fan and much more besides her learning disability label.
Challenging outdated perceptions of people with learning disabilities is the aim of a new book I am editing inspired by my sister, Made Possible. The book is a collection of essays on success written by high achieving people with learning disabilities – not only is it rare for learning disabled people to talk about their talents, but it is even rarer to hear from them in their own words. Most non-fiction books on learning disability are either medical or academic, Made Possible will speak to a wider audience in a bid to change lazy stereotypes.
The book introduces readers to the authentic experiences of a diverse group of professionals with outstanding achievements in areas like film, theatre, television, music, art and campaigning. They share the secrets of their success – success that is impressive regardless of the fact they happen to have a disability.
Made Possible is being published by the crowdfunding publisher Unbound, and it speaks volumes for the demand for such a title that the book was fully funded in just six weeks. Everyone who supports Made Possible will be listed in the back of every edition as a patron. Supporters include care providers, self-advocates, campaigners and family members and there is still time to named in the book.
Why do we need Made Possible? Because social care funding cuts and welfare reform are adversely impacting on disabled people, undermining support instead of encouraging independence and talent. In a recent issue of Care Talk, for example (December, page 7), Margaret Willcox, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, described the social care funding crisis. By the end of this financial year, £6 billion will have been cut from councils’ adult social care budgets since 2010, despite the growing need for services.
Made Possible reflects the skills, creativity and goals of people with learning disabilities at a time when the employment of this part of our working age population is woefully low. Only 5.8% of people with learning disabilities are in paid work (compared to 74% of non-disabled people), but around 65% of people want to work [pdf].
The book’s contributors and I will spend much of 2018 working on the essays. As one of the essayists recently explained about the value of vision and goals: “You’ve got to have ambition and vision and a dream. You don’t want people to rubbish your dream. It doesn’t matter that somebody will say ‘this is unachievable’. I am ambitious – be ambitious.”
* Order your special edition of Made Possible and have your name listed as a supporter in the back of the book. Enter CareTalk10 at checkout before March 31st for 10% off your order