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.
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
The book Made Possible: summer/autumn update
Wednesday, 22 August 2018
So I’ve spent the last few months working with the incredible Made Possible essayists. Some pieces are still being written while others are almost complete. I’m delighted - but not surprised - to say that the ideas and stories across the essay collection are quite astounding.
The pieces of writing cover very different successes in a range of contrasting areas like the arts, campaigning…
Made Possible: summer update
Monday, 21 May 2018
Marvellous Made Possible makers – hello!
It’s been a while since the last update as I’ve been visiting people and places for research, and meeting more of the book's contributors.
First, a quick but important note of gratitude to those of you who've just recently pre-ordered the book. The word “success” is rarely associated with the 1.5 million people in the UK who have a learning disability…
Made Possible: exciting, forthright, hard-hitting, surprising - and entertaining
Thursday, 8 March 2018
I thought I'd update you about #MadePossible - partly because today, 8 March, is International Women's Day. This year's theme, Press for Progress, is all about advocacy, activism and support in the context of campaigning and equality.
Advocacy, activism, equality, campaigning are among the issues at the heart of Made Possible, a book in which high achieving people with learning disabilities…
New Year, new coverage of Made Possible
Wednesday, 24 January 2018
It was very cool to see Made Possible sweep into 2018 with a feature in the January issue of disability lifestyle magazine Enable. In the print edition, Enable used this shot of my baseball-cap loving sister looking (in my opinion) thoughtful and determined:
The article describes the book's aim of putting learning disabled people…
Made Possible: looking ahead to 2018
Tuesday, 19 December 2017
I'd like to kick off this month's update, the last of 2017, with some special thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for so generously gifting Made Possible (already such a timely book) with even more relevance.
In case you missed it, Phillip Hammond was roundly condemned earlier this month for implying that Britain's sluggish economy was the result of having more disabled…
Made Possible is under way
Monday, 20 November 2017
It’s a month since Made Possible reached 100% crowdfunding, so this is a quick update on progress.
If you've read my previous updates, then sorry for repeating myself, but this book would simply not be happening without its incredible supporters. Thank you - to be fully funded in just six weeks shows how much this book is wanted and needed.
Thanks also to those continuing…
Made Possible makes the Guardian
Sunday, 22 October 2017
As you know, Made Possible hit 100% crowdfunding a few days ago - a milestone marked by the Guardian running this article on the book:
In the Guardian piece, which some of you have shared (thanks - do continue!), I explain that at the heart of Made Possible lies the need to transform attitudes so that learning disabled people are no longer "regarded…
100% funded! Made Possible is being made possible!
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Well this was a great way to kick off the morning:
The only reason this book is happening is because of its supporters - so a HUGE thank you to each and every single patron who has helped to make sure this book gets out there.
To quote some of your fantastic messages and social media comments this morning, "woo hoo", "yayy", "brilliant", "so pleased", "hooray", "WOW!!!!".
You took the…
Made Possible is very nearly being made possible
Sunday, 15 October 2017
I'm delighted to say that we are just a few tiny steps away from hitting the 100% crowdfunding target for Made Possible - just 4% left to go as I write this!
Thanks so much if you've recently joined the campaign to get this book made - you're among almost 200 people and organisations helping to create Made Possible. Patrons include self-advocates, campaigners, care providers, family…
Made Possible at the 90% landmark
Sunday, 8 October 2017
Hello everyone - and wow, look what happened just a few days ago:
Made Possible reached the 90% funding milestone on 7 October - this is absolutely fantastic, as the campaign to create this unique athology only launched on 6 September!
The fact that this relatively new crowdfunding campaign only has 10% left to fund is down to almost 170 supportive…
A month of Made Possible
Sunday, 1 October 2017
I've developed a habit for alliterative headlines..More importantly, this Friday (October 6th), it's a month since the launch of the campaign to create Made Possible.
It's taken less than four weeks for this book to be more than 50% crowdfunded - and this is 100% because all of your brilliant support.
To hit such a milestone so soon reflects a determination (your determination…
Made Possible hits the midway milestone
Sunday, 24 September 2017
Hello everyone - and thanks and welcome to all of you most recent Made Possible supporters who've joined us in the last week.
And what a week!
Thank you all, because the surge of support for this book so far has driven us to hit the very important midway milestone - 50% crowdfunded - just two weeks after launch. Wow.
I'm so grateful to everyone who's pre-ordering Made Possible, as well as…
Almost midway with Made Possible
Sunday, 17 September 2017
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
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…
These people are helping to fund Made Possible.