Chat Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Making it possible – in my own words

Made Possible, by Saba Salman, is a powerful, one-of-a-kind anthology that presents the authentic experiences of a range of professionals from diverse backgrounds, who have all made remarkable achievements – regardless of the fact they happen to have a disability. Here one of the book’s essayists, Gary Bourlet, Co-Founder at Learning Disability England, tells us his story.

I have been in the self-advocacy movement for over 34 years and I founded the People First Movement in the UK back in September 1984. As a campaigner for people with learning difficulties, civil disabilities, and human rights, I actively support the rights of people with learning difficulties and promote change.

It first began in 1982 when I met John Hersov who, at the time, was working for Mencap. All the people with learning difficulties who came along, and there were a lot of us, came from day centers, meeting in the attic of the headquarters of Mencap in London. We all had a chance to speak freely without getting into trouble. Why? Because people with learning difficulties were scared. Service providers, parents and carers had a lot of power!

The issues were mainly about day centers. All of us were angry and upset with the running of our day center. John Hersov supported all of us and to this day we keep in contact with one another.

My first ever speeches were about ‘Dull food makes dull minds’ and ‘Who makes the rules?’ My Dad helped me but sadly he did not get to hear me speak, as he passed away before this happened. I was extremely nervous, especially as when I did my speech on ‘Dull food makes dull minds’ the dinner ladies from my day center were present we needed a Jamie Oliver at that time!

In 1983 I spoke in front of 200 people at the Greater London Council. Again, I was nervous, but all I could do was be myself. I had my speech written for me in my own words and my Mum was in the audience. The guest speaker, who I think I put to shame, was Ken Livingstone

In 1984, I went to America as part of a British delegation to a conference in Seattle. The conference was part of a new international movement called People First. I was impressed and learned a lot about self-advocacy. My head was spinning with ideas to take back home on how I could start a People First here.

I am now sixty years young, have mild learning difficulties and epilepsy. I live alone, but have family scattered around the south-east of England. I have many friends, mostly made through the work that I do.

I am proud of my achievements which are many and varied.

My media work includes presenting BBC’s Life of Our Own episodes in 1988, reporting on ITV, interviews on Radio 4, Channel 4 and in The Guardian and The Financial Times.

I have held many different roles with People First England and now work for Learning Disability England (LDE) which I co-founded in 2016. LDE is a democratic organisation that brings together self-advocates who may have a learning disabilities or autism or even both.

Recently I have been putting together my life story for Saba Salman’s book, Made Possible: Stories of Success by People with Learning Disabilities. It’s a wonderful book and worth a read, not just about my life story, but other people with learning disabilities who have achieved their goals in life. Please tell others to buy this lovely book and hopefully it could be made into a film!

Made Possible: Stories of Success by People With Learning Disabilities — In Their Own Words edited by Saba Salman. Published by Unbound, and available now from Amazon



Edel Harris





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