Lee blogs about how he met his friend Ciara and how their friendship has brought them to campaign together on the issue of media and people with a learning disability. He's passionate about more people with a learning disability appearing on stage and in the media, and shares their story for Learning Disability Week.
Hi, I'm Lee, I'm 19 years old and I'm an actor. I've been a lover of performing arts since I was 14. I come from a family who aren't performers so I've very much had to learn 'on the job' as some may say. I never decided that one day I was going to do performing as my career, it very much just became my life. But that's my story out of the way, now onto the important things.
I met Ciara Lawrence when I went to watch a performance of the Spice Girls Musical Viva Forever at the Piccadilly Theatre in London. Ciara and I talked to each other through Twitter about seeing the show and we met that night. We have stayed in contact since then and our friendship has very much blossomed into something unbreakable.
When getting to know, Ciara she told me that she had a learning disability. Being completely honest, I knew very little about what that meant but Ciara explained how it influences her daily life. I don’t have to tiptoe around the word ‘disability’ with Ciara and any questions I have she is happy to answer.
Over time I could see how passionate Ciara was about her work at Mencap. She strives to make the world more equal for people with a learning disability. These chats with Ciara got me thinking about how I could support actors with a learning disability.
People with a learning disability face barriers to joining the performing arts industry. There seems to be limited number of characters who have a learning disability in shows, and where there are these roles are often played by actors without a disability. Furthermore, the industry does not fully understand the reasonable adjustments needed.
It would seem it's the easier option to hire someone without the 'hassle'. This isn’t fair, and it’s why I’m so passionate for change! I couldn't imagine being told I wasn't allowed to act because of the way I am, when I knew personally I was capable. My personal view is that anybody should follow the path they believe is right for them regardless of their disability and the world should encourage that! It is so important that we continue to raise awareness and support anybody choosing to do that.
I push to have the passion and commitment that Ciara does, so I can share my knowledge and experience with those I meet as I continue in the performing arts industry. This includes increasing the understanding of what a learning disability is within the sector and also supporting those who have a learning disability.
I currently feel that the industry is slowly developing to encourage actors with a learning disability to perform as a full time job. The world is changing and more people are encouraging others to aim for their goals, despite their race, age, gender or disability.
There are already some fantastic actors out there who have a learning disability – playing characters that have a learning disability and characters who don’t. I think that’s fantastic. One example is Sarah Gordy, who has also become a Mencap ambassador.
I noticed that there are a very limited amount of actors with a learning disability, on TV and the stage.