Telling Learning Disability Stories (by Rebecca)

Firstly, very many thanks to Rebecca who has spent several mornings editing audio for the project!

She has also taken the time to write this blog reflecting on her time working on the project. It is a follow-up to the one she wrote just before starting volunteering with us.

Rebecca:

As a disabled person, someone who has lots of disabled friends and someone who's been fairly involved in various aspects of disability advocacy over the years, for me the most important part of Hidden Lives Remembered is sharing the stories of learning disabled people. Disabled people, especially learning disabled people, are quite often left out of history and storytelling in general. And in this blog post, I'm going to talk about why this happens.

 

People often assume that disabled people don't have interesting stories to tell. They assume that we don't have interesting lives.

 

This is particularly the case with learning disabled people.

 

Of course, this is completely not true. I'm not learning disabled myself, I have a sensory impairment and a long term health condition, but I know learning disabled people who lead enjoyable and interesting lives.

 

It's really unfortunate though, that people often decide that disabled stories aren't worth telling. Disabled people as a whole, make up 20% of the population. This is a statistic not from a specific study, but that's internationally recognised by disability advocacy organisations.

 

So, that's a lot of stories that are often not being told.

 

Unfortunately, there are a range of issues around learning disability history and telling it, that often put people off.

 

Probably one of the biggest issues that doesn't get talked about enough is accessibility. People assume that making things accessible will be too hard, too time consuming and/or too costly, so they don't bother.

Accessibility [photo: symbols for visual and hearing impairments, learning disabilities and physical disabilities from  https://www.globalreach.com/services/web-development/siteviz-is-508-ada-and-wcag-friendly/ ]

Accessibility [photo: symbols for visual and hearing impairments, learning disabilities and physical disabilities from https://www.globalreach.com/services/web-development/siteviz-is-508-ada-and-wcag-friendly/]

Alternatively, they don't understand they need to make themselves accessible and just assume when they get no interest from learning disabled people, that there aren't any learning disabled people interested.

In reality, they may not have advertised in a way that would be accessible. For example, they may have used complex language or not promoted the project in places learning disabled people have access to. Or they may have made the project seem like it would be inaccessible, difficult or unappealing to learning disabled people.

 

This is very unfortunate, because we are literally losing history.

 

Yes, learning disabled people have access needs, but that doesn't mean their stories shouldn't be remembered.

 

It may be that they need things communicated in a more accessible way. Maybe they need things explained differently or broken down more. Maybe it will take them longer to process and think of answers. It may be that they need to have a couple of shorter opportunities to share their experiences, rather than one longer interview.

 

Some ways to manage this would be to communicate with learning disabled people, those who support them and learning disability organisations, to make things accessible.

Beth Richards has produced a fantastic animation about the difficulties people with learning disabilities face getting to and doing interviews. In this case, it is an audition for an acting part. Click on the photo to watch and listen to the video. [Photo: a knitted version of Beth confused by the needlessly difficult language being used. Photo from  https://www.hamilton-house.org/feature/2019/3/22/theaudition ]

Beth Richards has produced a fantastic animation about the difficulties people with learning disabilities face getting to and doing interviews. In this case, it is an audition for an acting part. Click on the photo to watch and listen to the video. [Photo: a knitted version of Beth confused by the needlessly difficult language being used. Photo from https://www.hamilton-house.org/feature/2019/3/22/theaudition]

Planning time and budget for accessibility and inclusion is really important. If there are limited amounts of time or money, the other option to consider is changing the scope of the project in another way. Maybe the amount of people included could be reduced to leave some resources for making the project accessible to disabled people.

 

The other issue with learning disabled history, is that people often assume that learning disabled people don't lead very interesting lives.

 

This belief is usually the result of internalised bias against learning disabled people and this is quite often an unconscious thing. 

 

Learning disabled people quite often lead lives that are different to most peoples'. Maybe they don't work. Maybe they still take pleasure in games and entertainment aimed at much younger children. Maybe they communicate through sign language or some other non—verbal method.

 

These are all quite interesting aspects of life for learning disabled people, that it is important to record in history, so we can examine how things have changed over time. Unfortunately, people often dismiss them as not interesting, purely because they're different.

 

The other issue is that many people haven't actually met learning disabled people. So, they only have misconceptions and assumptions to go on. So, they may not realise just how fascinating learning disabled history is.

 

I think historians really need to open their minds up to learning disabled history and make a conscious effort to explore the lives and history of this fascinating group.

 

Why should certain peoples' ideas about what's interesting or important dictate whose stories get remembered?

 

They shouldn't. Which is why learning disabled history is so important.