By Saba Salman
My youngest sister has a talent for baking, an ambition to see her artwork widely displayed, an infectious giggle and the learning disability fragile X syndrome.
Characteristics, abilities and aspirations come first, diagnosis and lifelong support needs second. Or at least that is how 28-year-old Raana’s friends, family and social care support staff would describe her.
However, mention the term learning disability to most people, and the focus is on the personal deficit, not the personality. There are around 1.5 million learning disabled people in the UK, from people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, to individuals like my sister who are labelled with what is called a moderate learning disability.
As her sibling and as a social affairs journalist, I know personally and professionally that society has inflexible and negative attitudes towards people like my sister. Generally either pitied or patronised, they are regarded as somehow devoid of the individual qualities, hopes, dreams and quirks that make us all human. How often, for example, you directly hear from someone with a learning disability in his or her own words?
That is why I am developing the book Made Possible, a crowdfunded collection of essays on success by high achieving people with learning disabilities.
The book challenges longstanding misconceptions by presenting the experiences of a range of successful people with expertise in fields including film, theatre, television, music, art and campaigning. And they happen to have a learning disability. In Made Possible, they describe how they feel about their success and how they have achieved it with talent, grit, chance, family or social care support – and how young people can replicate such success.
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