Learning Disability Week launched today (20th June) by Mencap to highlight the barriers people with a learning disability face when trying to make friendships and relationships.

A survey carried out earlier this year by Mencap has revealed how almost 1 in 3 young people with a learning disability spend less than 1 hour a day outside their homes on a typical Saturday, and much of this fear comes from public attitudes:

  • Of those who were too worried to leave the house:
    • 33.7% were worried about being bullied.
    • 25.7% worried about being laughed at when leaving the house.

The survey went on to explore issues of isolation for young people with a learning disability, finding that;

  • 30.1% spent less than 1 hour outside their homes on a Saturday.
  • 49.3% would like to spend more time outside their house.
  • 44.6% do not think they spend enough time with friends.
  • 17.8% feel alone and cut off from other people.

Learning Disability Week will also be celebrating 50 years of Mencap running local Gateway leisure groups which have helped build real and satisfying social networks for people with a learning disability. A video showcasing how life has changed over the past 50 years for Gateway clubs has been produced and can be seen here.

To celebrate the week a range of events will be taking place across the country to help people with a learning disability engage with their local communities. Mencap is also calling on people to volunteer with its Sidekicks Programme, which asks members of the public to volunteer time to help someone with a learning disability take part in the types of leisure activities others may take for granted.

Jyoti has a learning disability and experienced loneliness before she attended a Mencap support group where she met Vitesh. The two of them now both enjoy a meaningful friendship. Jyoti said:

“Sometimes I’d like to meet more people. Sometimes I do get lonely. Vitesh and I became friends, and we do things together like talking and sports. We enjoy the company. I like his personality, he makes everyone laugh, he’s a good person to talk to. When he’s upset I’m there for him, and when I’m upset he’s always there for me.”

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap said:

“Imagine what it must be like to wake up every Saturday and know you will only get to leave your house for a single hour of it. This is what it’s like for almost 1 in 3 18-35 year olds with a learning disability, who face bullying and stares when they leave the house instead of being able to feel the excitement of going to the cinema, pub or nightclub with their friends like most young people.

“Having the chance to feel the thrill of making a new friend or falling in love is simply a dream for many of the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. From a general public who find it easier to ignore than engage, to cuts to benefits and social care that make it harder for people to leave their homes; having a learning disability in the UK today can mean a life of isolation and loneliness.

“The best way we can tackle this is to increase opportunities for people with a learning disability to get out and interact with their local community, showing the talents and personalities that are too often shut away. We want people to use this week as a chance to think differently about learning disability, and consider joining us in making a new friend this Learning Disability Week.”