Mencap Northern Ireland launches a new awareness campaign, Here I Am, backed up by an initial release of the first in-depth survey of public attitudes towards learning disability for over 30 years run by Mencap and Ipsos MORI, alongside a new campaign video and website.

Key results from the Mencap and Ipsos MORI survey of 2002 people in the UK show that the general public is highly confused but supportive of learning disability, despite a core group with discriminatory attitudes and concerns over contact with a person with a learning disability.

Of the 200 people from Northern Ireland who took part in this survey: 

  • only 36% said they would feel comfortable sat next to someone with a mild learning disability in the cinema, or during a show or concert
  • 33% of people think that learning disability is a form of mental illness
  • 28% of people think learning disability does not last your whole life
  • 4% of people agree that increased spending on care and support services for people with learning disabilities is a waste of money
  • 96% of the public agree that people with learning disabilities can be productive members of society.

The ‘Here I Am’ campaign video features a DJ with Down’s Syndrome visually challenging a Professor who said there should “be no guilt about putting a Down syndrome child away” in 1968 and a ‘Understand Me’ website allowing the public to ask questions they’re too afraid to ask about learning disability.

Barbara, from Belfast has a learning disability, works two part time paid jobs, lives independently, has a busy social life and is in a long term relationship, she said:

“Mencap’s Here I Am campaign is raising awareness of people with a learning disability and I think how people treat me, comes down to their approach and their thoughts and perceptions of learning disability. This campaign will challenge perceptions about what people think learning disability and downs syndrome is, we are all individuals and people need to understand me.”

Mencap’s Here I Am campaign wants to use the media to give the public more contact and understanding of learning disability, by allowing people with a learning disability to be seen and heard across the media in order to increase contact which we know is the most effective way to change attitudes.

Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap Northern Ireland, said:

“Mencap are developing a robust picture of how society views learning disability and so we are launching ‘Here I Am’ our biggest ever public effort to challenge some of those views. Far from being objects of pity and sympathy, Here I Am shows people with a learning disability as they really are; comics, music lovers, actors, swimmers, artists, friends or lovers – whoever they want to be.

“The research shows that on the whole there is support from the Northern Ireland public for people with a learning disability, but this is being affected by widespread confusion about what it means, a real nervousness about coming into contact with someone with a learning disability and a small core group who continue to hold profoundly negative attitudes. There’s no reason why in 2016 anyone should say they wouldn’t sit next to them in a cinema, show or concert.

“We understand it can be scary to come into contact with something we don’t understand and with Here I Am we want to take away that uncertainty and with it the option to ignore, and bring the general public and people with a learning disability together, so that people with a learning disability can be understood for the individuals they are.”

Dave, from Bangor, has a learning disability, he is a volunteer youth worker and volunteer Travel Buddy with Translink, as well as a Mencap Ambassador, Dave said:

"I think people need to be more understanding and take their time with me. I might talk too much or stutter at times, it’s about time that people had more respect for people like me who have a learning disability. I would say that people should always listen to the person if you think they have a learning disability, just take your time and don’t rush them, just be more understanding.”