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One in five Brits say they feel 'reluctant' just talking to someone with a learning disability

Research by Mencap revealed a gulf of understanding around learning disabilities in the UK. Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability, yet a large proportion of the country can't even define what it is

Ellie Goldstein, model and disability advocate, is a Mencap Myth Buster. Image: Shutterstock

Around 33 million British people are unable to correctly classify what a learning disability is, new research from Mencap has found. That’s nearly half the population.

This week is Learning Disability Week, which is all about celebrating people with learning disabilities and challenging the barriers they face. It runs from Monday (17 June) until Sunday (23 June) and this year’s theme is Do You See Me? – which means making sure people with a learning disability are seen, valued and heard.

It’s why Big Issue has partnered with people with learning disabilities and Mencap to create a magazine which celebrates their achievements and busts myths and stigma.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Mencap’s research also found that a little more than a quarter of people (27%) said they had been
or would feel nervous speaking to someone with a learning disability for the first time. And almost one
in five (19%) said they would feel reluctant in talking to someone with a learning disability.

Of those, almost half (48%) said this was because they didn’t want to say the wrong thing or offend. Meanwhile, 28% said they would be worried that the person would respond negatively, and the same proportion said they wouldn’t know how to interact. Around 16% of people said they have or would avoid a person with a learning disability.

Mencap believes it is at least partly down to a lack of positive representation in the media.

Ciara Lawrence, engagement lead at Mencap, said: “Growing up there was nobody in the media like me. I had no role models.

Ciara Lawrence

“People with a learning disability weren’t shown and weren’t talked about. I wanted to change that and it is great to see Mencap’s Myth Busters [ambassadors working with the charity to challenge misconceptions around learning disabilities] in the public eye – whether that be Harvey Price, George Webster, actors Tommy Jessop and Sarah Gordy, or model Ellie Goldstein, who made history becoming the first Vogue cover model to have Down’s syndrome.”

More than three quarters of Brits (77%) said they could not identify a person in the public eye with a learning disability. That is 44 million of us.

Of the people who had seen someone with a learning disability represented in the media, 37% said it was a mostly positive stereotype. Just over one in five (21%), said the representation was neither a positive or negative stereotype. And just under a third (32%) said they had seen both positive and negative stereotypes represented in the media.

Lawrence added: “Representation in the media should focus on the positive stories and what people can achieve rather than what they can’t.

“The research clearly shows that the majority of people don’t recognise what a learning disability is and more needs to be done to raise awareness and boost understanding. Doing so could lead to a more inclusive and supportive society.”

To find out more visit Mencap.

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