Scott Watkin: If you get it right for people with learning disabilities, you get it right for everyone

Many people with learning disabilities aren’t given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential: charities should be asking what they can do to change that

Scott Watkin
Scott Watkin

Hello. My name is Scott Watkin.

I’m so excited to have a new column in Third Sector. I think this is a first for a person with a learning disability.

I work for SeeAbility, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, autism and sight loss. I’m the first person with a learning disability to be part of its leadership team, but more on the world of work a little later in the column.

My job is about giving the people we support a bigger voice, not just within our charity, where we help people live the lives they want, but also because we want to change society. I have a team of three associates who are helping me do just that: Emily, Gabby and Greg. I’ll be talking about their work in future columns.

When I was thinking what to write about in this first column, I wondered what could I be saying that would help all charities support people with learning disabilities, not just those in social care or the world of disability?

One of my regular sayings is “if you get it right for people with learning disabilities, you get it right for everyone”. After all, there are 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK. We watch the news. We fundraise. We campaign. We all live on the same planet and we care about all sorts of different issues. So one thing to think about is being inclusive in the ways you reach us with your messages.

My second point is that it takes only one person to see our potential and we will shine. I was told in my special school that I would never live independently, never have a job and never have my own family. Today I am married, have a child and am in a job I love. I have won national awards and was awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours List in 2018.

So I’ve stuck two fingers up to what was expected of me. But I’m one of the lucky ones: I met people who believed in my potential and I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that’s come my way.

Many people with learning disabilities are not given the opportunity to demonstrate their potential. It’s a scandal that only 6 per cent of people with learning disabilities manage to get jobs, when 65 per cent of them want to work. So please, ask yourself what we, as the charity sector, can do to help change that statistic. If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch with me.

Lastly, I would like to talk about the current situation: lockdown and coping with Covid-19. How we get through this is on everyone’s minds right now because these are tough times.

I and my team of campaigners, with our lived experience of disability, are finding it hard, but we know many people with learning disabilities are finding the isolation even harder to cope with. Many, including the people we support at SeeAbility, have to isolate from all family and friends, so their support workers are a real lifeline.

How awful it is that it took a tragedy such as this pandemic to put social care in the limelight. We should value our support workers in social care because they are going above and beyond for everyone we support every single day. One of my colleagues, Jade, a senior support worker, recently made an incredible sacrifice to do what it takes to stand by the people she supports. Her daughter has gone to live with her sister so that Jade could continue to offer support.

Jade told me: “I knew that if I couldn’t come into work people would be supported by someone they didn’t know, which would only add to their distress. I had to do my part to keep them safe and minimise their risk of coming into contact with the virus.”

So thank you to our support workers and those working in social care and NHS, and to all front-line workers for their hard work, grit and determination. You are all our heroes.

Scott Watkin is head of engagement at SeeAbility. You can also find him on Twitter: @mrscottwatkin

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