Learning Disability and the Media

Hello everyone,
I have started to write a blog, not just about what is going on in Oxfordshire, but about issues that interest me, and I hope might interest you too. Here is one of my blogs. I would love to hear any responses, good or bad.

Learning Disabilities and the Media
Last night (November 25th 2015) I attended Mencap’s second annual lecture in the name of Lord Rix. It was a thought provoking occasion, about the representation of people with learning disabilities in the media. Two speakers, John Harris, Guardian journalist, whose 9 year old son has autism, and Sarah Gordy, one of very few actors with Downs Syndrome to make it onto mainstream TV.

A few things have stayed with me. One is the statistic that almost a third of adult social care spend is on people with learning disabilities, but they rarely feature in discussions about social care, which mostly assume it is all about older people. How can we change that? We need to because, even though the Spending Review has released Councils to raise more money through Council Tax, there is no guarantee that they will use it for adult social care, and anyway it is not going to be enough.

Another is John Harris’s view that learning disabilities is the final frontier when it comes to civil rights. No longer is it acceptable to ‘Black Up’ like the Black and White Minstrels. But it is Ok to have non disabled actors playing disabled people (Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking) or autism (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man) or learning disabilities. I was not quite sure what I think about this. If these films had had little known actors, albeit disabled, would they have had the same huge audiences. I very much doubt it. Is the end justified by the means?

I also pondered that issues relating to people with learning disabilities are not necessarily the same as for other groups who have beem misrepresented. Some people, however benign the media, however advanced the technology, will not be able to represent themselves. Other people will always need to speak for them. So we may be just arguing for re-drawing a new frontier, including those who can self advocate in media representations, in blogging and tweeting, but still leaving others unheard and unheeded.

Good to be pushed to think about these things anew. The biggest question for me is, how do we get issues relating to learning disabilities discussed in a well informed way in the mainstream media. If we are ever going to change the world so that everyone is included, that has got to happen.


Great to read your first blog @jan you’ve raised some thought provoking issues. I find the statistic that about 33% of the social care budget is spent on leaning disabilities interesting, as we hardly ever hear or read about this fact much in the media.

I think that politicians and local authorities tend to clump everyone needing social care together into one big group for ease of classification and administration of care assessments. However, local authorities will be allowed to charge up to a 2% levy on council tax and this must be spent exclusively on social care. It is important that people with learning disabilities get representation to ensure they receive a fair share of the revenue to fund personal budgets for activities and services specific to their needs.

I think too many organizations claim they know best and put forward ideas etc for people with learning disabilities one organizations claim they care deeply about personalisation and yet it is the least person centered and would never cross the boxes for me or mine.

Their web site is amazing and yet they do not deliver!!! They are carefully selected people with successful stories great to hear about that too but still a lot of others are not well served.

We have some amazing people on the ground working in care because they really do want to make a difference. Managers etc arrive in their carriage well suited and booted but I am not sure they represent the people in their services but more likely they represent their service.

Call me cynical? frequent visits to my sons house enables me to witness what really goes on lack of opportunities to go out no drivers short staffed poor communication constant change in staff. Continuous use of Agency staff no continuity of care and little chance of getting to know some one or someone getting to know what works for you.

Try complaining to the organization concerned and then wait for the fall out!

There is so much work to be done I want to be there when these large organizations talk about the wonderful work they are doing and what is being achieved “in their opinion” I would speak for those who cannot and what I see…

Thanks to both of you for responding to my blog. It is always a shot in the dark. You never know if anyone is listening. So I am grateful.
It is a while since this posting. But I see that the first issue you commented upon, that one third of the social care budget is learning disability related is still of concern. A letter to the Guardian this week, signed by CEOs of major providers, argued that there is simply not enough cash to enable people to lead ordinary, let alone good lives. Who can disagree? Some providers still appear to be delivering but a recent piece of work I did indicated that this was more easily achieved in Low wage areas than in the south east. Staff turnover, difficulties recruiting, all meant that too much time was spent recruiting, not enough on developing excellent staff. So sad. Which brings me to the second post in response to my blog. I have seen what you describe. It is heartbreaking. Seems to me that in learning disability we seize on new ideas, like supported living, direct payments, or, in the past, community care, but they fail. Why? Under resourced, and societal attitudes to people with learning disabilities are my two answers. Will this ever change? I admit to pessimism at present, but not willing to give up.