Yesterday I went to the Learning Disability England conference in Birmingham where the station is extraordinary and the venue more ordinary.
In a vast room, full and crackling with anticipation, there was much laughter, honesty, heckling and a smattering of sadness too.
Donald took to the floor shortly after lunch. He described himself as a man with learning difficulties and then taught us a lesson. He found himself some years ago with no friends and eaten up with loneliness. His fridge was full of milk he didn’t drink and bread he wouldn’t eat. He bought them to make himself feel validated, to prove that he existed. It was the only time in the day someone spoke to him. Things got so bad that the police were called.
He turned things around with support at work where they might just put an arm around him and tell him it will be ok on a bad day. He has also found his tribe at his beloved MK Dons, it is not just the football he loves but the people around him. Unexpectedly, at the old folks home he found a new passion. He was persuaded to join in a pamper session and loved the experience so much he now wants to train as a nail technician. He flashes his shiny black nails. What a man. I can’t help feeling that not only has Donald’s life improved but so has the lives of all the people that know him.
At lunch I met a lovely young woman, long flowing hair, deep eyes, who spent 7 years at college learning administration and volunteers at hospital in Nottingham. She longs for a part-time job as she wants to earn her own money. She is told she is either too over qualified or too under qualified. I would hire her in a flash.
What are we doing when we cannot see the extra stuff that people with learning disabilities bring to the workplace? We miss out not just on their skills but also their humanity, their honesty and their challenge to us to see the world differently. What are we doing when we exclude them from our perfect social circles?
Check out this video from Casa Carlota a Barcelona based design studio and see what might happen if we open our eyes to the possibilities of a good new world.
If you are not in a position to offer someone a job, take a tip from Donald. Say hello to someone you don’t know today. You might be the only person they speak to all day.