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Essays on success, by high-achieving people with learning disabilities.

Have you ever heard a person with a learning disability talk about their talent, or share the secret of their success?

No. That’s why Made Possible needs to be published.

There are 1.5m people with learning disabilities in the UK today but our society – media, politicians and the public – barely gives them lip service. If ever learning disabled people do get a mention, they are usually talked about as scroungers who are a burden on the state, or superhumans who have triumphed over adversity.

People with learning disabilities are pitied or patronsised, but rarely heard from in their own words.

This new book challenges the current narratives.

It presents the authentic experiences of a range of professionals who have a learning disability. Their achievements are astounding – regardless of the fact they happen to have a disability. What’s unique about this book is that, for the first time, these high achievers tell their own personal stories of success, in their own words.

This book’s diverse range of contributors have won national accolades in competitive fields such as film, theatre, television, music, fine art, campaigning and politics. How have they achieved this? Raw talent? Determination? Money? Luck? Family help?

As a social affairs journalist, most of my work over the last 20 years has been influenced by the fact that I have a learning disabled sister. I know that her learning disability does not define her, but society inflexibly labels her in terms of her condition, instead of recognising her personality, skills and abilities.

Attitudes must change – and that’s why we need this book. It shatters the lazy stereotypes of people with learning disabilities. And nothing like it exists. Other non-fiction books on learning disability are either medical or academic.

Austerity and welfare reform are hitting learning disabled people hard – this book demands that people’s independence and talents are upheld, instead of undermined by cuts in support. It also rides a new wave in the learning disability movement, the burgeoning empowerment agenda. It explores the growing grassroots activism and self-advocacy to reveal the untapped – and so far unacknowledged – potential of learning disabled people.

Saba Salman is a freelance social affairs journalist and regular writer for the Guardian. She has reported on equality and disability issues for more than 20 years; as a reporter on London local papers, an Evening Standard correspondent, a freelance feature writer for women’s magazines and a writer on housing and welfare for specialist weekly publications.

Saba’s particular focus is the UK’s overlooked population of 1.5m people with learning disabilities. Saba volunteers as a trustee of the charity Sibs, which supports the siblings of disabled children and adults, and has a younger sister with a learning disability.

Recent articles on learning disability include investigations into the plight of the thousands of people languishing in long-stay institutional care, the need for new laws so people can challenge decisions about their care, and a focus on equal employment opportunities.

Selection of Guardian extracts:

“I saw being autistic as an opportunity, not a weakness”

Young autistic people want to be accepted by employers for who they are, says award-winning campaigner Jonathan Andrews

Jonathan Andrews was once advised to hide his autism from prospective employers. Instead, he is making his name by doing just the opposite.

“I saw it [being autistic] as an opportunity, not a weakness,” says Andrews, 22, who recently won campaigner of the year at the European Diversity Awards 2016. The law graduate, who starts as a trainee solicitor at Reed Smith in August, says: “I wanted to work somewhere that wouldn’t see the word ‘autism’ on an application and think, ‘This is terrible.’ The ones [prospective employers] that took it in their stride were the best workplace environments, rather than places that talk about it [autism] all the time, because they think you’re this strange, exotic creature.”

Andrews is a member of the first parliamentary commission on autism, and has advised the government on its green paper covering work, health and employment, which proposes to help at least 1 million disabled people into work and to consult on overhauling the notorious work capability assessment. Consultation ends later this month.

Although there are 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, the condition is widely misunderstood. The spectrum includes people with learning disabilities as well as “high-functioning” individuals and those who find interaction difficult.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘You don’t look autistic.’ But do you hear anyone say, ‘You don’t look dyslexic’? People understand dyslexia is a different way of thinking and that’s what we need to get to [with autism].”

Growing up, Andrews was an avid reader and writer but “not interested in the same things as my peer group”, he recalls. His younger brother defended him from verbal abuse at school. “It was words like ‘retard’ … I developed a thick skin, people used to tease but I felt it was best not to focus on them.”

Andrews’ anxiety made him a quiet teenager but, he adds, “just because you don’t speak doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say”. His bid to improve his confidence set him on the campaign path as he forced himself to speak up about autism. “I wanted to achieve things like going to university and into law, and I knew someone wouldn’t take you on just because you’re nice – it’s competitive – so I exposed myself to those [social] situations … learning how people expect you to talk to them.”

Andrews is positive about future employment equality for autistic people. Given rising diagnosis rates, he predicts a groundswell of support for action: “There are a lot more young people who will be diagnosed with autism than previous generations. A lot of them are not going to want to be handed a job – they’ll want to use their skills and contribute to a firm and be accepted for who they are. If firms don’t get that, they’re missing out on that talent.”

Published in the Guardian, Jan 31 2017

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Almost midway with Made Possible

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hello everyone,

Just 11 days since launch and Made Possible is already more than 40% crowdfunded - that's down to almost 100 brilliantly supportive people so far helping to create this groundbreaking book by pledging and pre-ordering it.

It's incredible that Made Possible is almost half way to being published, and this is entirely down to a group of diverse individuals united by a common cause…

Launching Made Possible

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Hello everyone!

First off, a HUGE thank you to all you brilliant early bird pledgers for getting Made Possible off the ground - I've been blown away by your support, feedback, encouragement and enthusiasm. 

Your help in creating this book means that Made Possible reached a major crowdfunding milestone after just 2 days - the 25% mark. Sensational - we've not even been going for a week and…

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