Missing in the Media

Gary Bourlet being filmed

People with learning disabilities are missing in the media. You hardly see people in new stories or documentaries. Lots of things that should be in the news are swept under the carpet. And then when there is a story about learning disabilities it’s non-disabled people who are speaking about it. And it usually comes out negative.

For far too long, we’ve had people speaking on behalf of us. That’s not the voice of people with learning disabilities and what they talk about is not necessarily what people with learning disabilities want to talk about.

I think that the more people with learning disabilities speaking in the media, the better.

Speaking up in the media will help people with learning disabilities learn skills and it will make them more confident.

Speaking up in the media helped me get better and better – my confidence grew and I gained more self-esteem. I wasn’t afraid to speak up.

The first time I tried to speak up in the media is when I talked to a local newspaper about my day care centre back in 1979. I said I was unhappy with the way people were being treated. But what I said didn’t get published and I took it as the norm – I was used to not being listened to. It made me feel discouraged from speaking up.

Something I’ve learned about the media is they always cancel at the last moment! It doesn’t always happen. But I would say to anybody get your words down on paper and someone else from a different type of media might want to print it.

When I joined my first self-advocacy group in 1982 I had support and encouragement from my support person, John Hersov, who I still speak to today. I felt able to speak up again – speak up with confidence and not be afraid.

Since then I’ve spoken to lots of media. I even presented a television programme called Life of Our Own and was a reporter for the Link programme. I’ve done interviews for television, radio and newspapers. Last year I spoke on Channel 4 News about Winterbourne and I was speaking to Norman Lamb MP.

People can be supported to talk in the media by doing training. People First England have just run our second lot of media training. It gives people experience of speaking in front of the camera and teaches them how to talk on issues that concern them. Ben Furner, who runs it, makes it friendly.

A good thing about the training we run is that people can link up and they can network.

A lot of people need to do it – the more people who can speak to the media, the more we can share the workload out. And people will come from different places – that’s important because people from urban areas will have a different opinion from people living in rural areas. And people in the North have different opinions from people living in the South.

I would also like to see people with learning disabilities doing journalism and learning to use the camera and things like that.

The way people are portrayed in the media is not good. The wrong language is used as well. It seems to be always negative language. You don’t get a lot of media coverage on disability and coverage on people with learning disabilities is even more rare.

People are portrayed in the media as scroungers, unworthy, sort of like ‘them and us’. We’re portrayed as people that can’t fight back. The fact that we are portrayed as scroungers has a domino effect – one person says it and then another person says the same thing. Benefits are being cut – ESA has been cut by £120 a month. And the way we’re portrayed also increases hate crime.

Learning Disability England needs to educate the media people in learning disability awareness. I would like to see people who run the media being trained by people with learning disabilities about equality.

Learning Disability England will get people with learning disabilities to do our media training and then they will be able to go out and actually speak to the media.

In Learning Disability England people with learning disabilities will speak for themselves – organisations and other people shouldn’t be speaking for them.

Families and friends will have their own issues to speak on and I hope they will be able to do media training as well.

The situation now is a vicious circle. Organisations don’t let people speak for themselves and that makes it easier for the media to ignore us. Then because the media ignores us, that makes it easier for the organisations to not support us to speak up.

Learning Disability England will be launched on 14th June and hopefully we’ll be able to take these things on.  Change is needed.