Columnist – Ciara Lawrence

In late September, the Government launched a brand-new campaign, ‘Ask, Don’t Assume’, encouraging people to talk to disabled people about their lives, and my heart sank. I’m quite open about talking about my learning disability because I want people to understand more about my life. I want to use my experiences to promote change for the better and challenge attitudes, but that isn’t the case for everyone. 

I know that many of my friends with a learning disability don’t want to share details of their private lives, and they shouldn’t have to do so to be treated equally. Everyone is different – and it’s the right of people with a disability to decide whether they want to be asked questions that are often insensitive and triggering.

These friends also told me how much they appreciate being able to talk about other aspects of themselves, without even mentioning their learning disability at all. They want people to see past the learning disability and treat them as a whole person. I can absolutely empathise with this. While, as I said, I love speaking out about my life and I’m proud of the challenges I’ve overcome, those things don’t define me, and I’d prefer to be able to choose what I share about my experiences and when.

By focusing on asking disabled people to, essentially, educate the public, the ‘Ask Don’t Assume’ campaign unfortunately fails to address the problems that are really affecting people with disabilities. For example, continued cuts to the benefits system, holding people with a learning disability in mental health units for years against their will and even the closure of ticket offices that will affect the way so many people like me travel. 

The campaign is a well-intentioned attempt to spread awareness about disability – even though people with a learning disability don’t feature very prominently. It can be good to have conversations, as long as everyone involved is comfortable engaging. 

Instead, ‘Ask, Don’t Assume’ has promoted widespread criticism from disability activists and paved the way for people to ask intrusive questions about disabilities – something they really needed no extra encouragement to do.

About Ciara Lawrence 
Ciara Lawrence is a well-known learning disability campaigner and a Shaw Trust Power 100 influencer. She has written for The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Independent. 
Search ‘Ciara’s pink sparkle podcast’ via Google.

There are currently 1.5 million people in the UK living with a learning disability, Mencap is here to help them live life to the fullest: