The following piece features in the ResponseSource Diversity in Journalism white paper, which can be downloaded here, and comes from Harry Roche, communications assistant and ambassador at Mencap.
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in
the UK. This is a big population and it’s shocking that the majority of the
public still don’t understand learning disability, partly because they rarely
see us in the media. Research
from Ipsos MORI and Mencap found that, in 2016, just 10% of the public had
seen someone with a learning disability featured in newspapers or magazines in
the past six months.
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability,
which can make everyday tasks harder and affects someone for their whole life.
But, with the right support, people with a learning disability can achieve
their dreams, whether that’s finding a job, getting married or even running a
It is so important that people with a learning disability
are visible in society, in order to change public attitudes, challenge stigma
and show the world what people with a learning disability can achieve. The
media plays a big role in this.
Through my role at Mencap as a Communications Assistant and
ambassador, I’m proud to have appeared in all kinds of media to talk about
learning disability. I’ve been interviewed live on BBC Breakfast about
inclusive sport, spoken about voting rights at the European parliament, and
regularly present at events. I also recently launched my ‘History with Harry’
YouTube series that received 22,000 views on
Twitter. The media I have worked with have always been very supportive by
taking time to help me understand everything and make sure I feel comfortable
and prepared. Now I want other people to have those opportunities as well.
When a journalist works with a spokesperson who has a
learning disability, they can better report on the issues that we are facing
and the reality of our daily lives, which can help to change attitudes and
tackle the stigma we experience every day. Mencap is the UK’s leading voice of
learning disability and we believe that, as much as possible, this voice should
come from someone who has a learning disability. Like with any charity, it is
the people with lived experience who can really understand the issues and share
their experiences. Because of this, we put forward spokespeople from the
charity who have a learning disability.
Some journalists may get this confused and think I am acting
as a ‘case study’. I am not a case study, I am a Mencap spokesperson and
ambassador who is sharing my experiences and advocating for others. If people
see that in the media, it plays a big role in reducing stigma and
Often all that people with a learning disability need,
whether it’s in healthcare, employment or the media, are reasonable
adjustments. These are small changes that can make a big difference. It can
include giving people with a learning disability more time, clearer information
and better communication. So, if you are interviewing someone with a learning disability,
avoid jargon, speak clearly and use everyday words.
The only way we’re going to improve diversity and inclusion
is for the public to see people with a learning disability and it can’t just be
a token appearance. The media should show the many different things we are
involved in – whether it’s employment, advocacy or sports – and they should do
it more often. My role at Mencap has already given me so many opportunities to
tell the story of learning disability and now I am ambitious to appear in an even
wider variety of media. I want different types of people to get to know me and
to show what I can do, so I invite you to get in touch with our media team to
help us shine a light on learning disability.
Harry Roche is Mencap communications assistant and ambassador. Mencap is the UK’s leading voice of learning disability, working with people with a learning disability and their families and carers. Mencap works collaboratively, fighting for equal rights, campaigning for greater opportunities and challenging attitudes and prejudice. For more information about working with Mencap, contact email@example.com or 020 7696 5414.