Made Possible

By Saba Salman

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

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Publication date: May 2020

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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.


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  • Saba Salman avatar

    Saba Salman

    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

  • 24th February 2020 Made Possible: hello hardbacks!

    Hello everyone - and hello special limited first editions of Made Possible!


    I'm thrilled that the books will soon be winging their way to all you excellent people who pre-ordered copies and therefore helped get Made Possible published (do look out for an email from Unbound asking you to confirm your delivery address).

    The paperback edition will be out on 28 May and is now available to…

    5th August 2019 Made Possible: cover reveal, publication date and supporter list

    Hello Made Possible supporters, and I have BIG news for you!

    I'm thrilled to reveal the bold, brilliant cover - I hope you love it as much as I do:



    Thanks to the thoughtful and endlessly creative minds at Unbound for enabling me to be fully involved in the design process (aka 'I've been an utterly pedantic pain in the arse'). I'm so delighted…

    30th April 2019 Made Possible: how to live an ordinary, successful life


                               My sister Raana, being busy - and aiming to live an ordinary life

    Hello all,

    Welcome to those of you who've pre-ordered the book since my last update in January - thanks so much for supporting Made Possible! 

    The manuscript's winging its way through the publisher's editorial process, so I'll spare you updates about fonts and proofreading…

    22nd January 2019 Made Possible: into pre-press and towards publication!

    Welcome to the first Made Possible update of 2019!

    News: this groundbreaking collection of essays by learning disabled high achievers has just entered the pre-press stage, and publication's set for February 2020 (check out the status on the book's webpage!)!

    It might seem a long way off, but this allows time to work on everything from copyediting to typesetting and cover design. It's crucial…

    6th November 2018 Made Possible manuscript delivered!



    Hello everyone,

    BIG and VERY brilliant news!

    Just over a year ago I launched the crowdfunding campaign for Made Possible - and now I'm delighted to say that I've just delivered the manuscript to the publisher, Unbound.

    Here's a shot of what my desk's looked like for the past few months (the final manuscript was neater than these scrawled-upon pages…

    22nd August 2018 The book Made Possible: summer/autumn update

    Hello everyone,

    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…

    21st May 2018 Made Possible: summer update

    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…

    8th March 2018 Made Possible: exciting, forthright, hard-hitting, surprising - and entertaining

    Hi all,

    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…

    24th January 2018 New Year, new coverage of Made Possible

    Hi everyone, 

    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…

    19th December 2017 Made Possible: looking ahead to 2018

    Hello everyone,

    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…

    20th November 2017 Made Possible is under way

    Hello everyone,

    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…

    22nd October 2017 Made Possible makes the Guardian

    Hello everyone,

    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…

    18th October 2017 100% funded! Made Possible is being made possible!

    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…

    15th October 2017 Made Possible is very nearly being made possible

    Hello all, 

    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…

    8th October 2017 Made Possible at the 90% landmark

    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…

    1st October 2017 A month of Made Possible

    Hello all,

    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…

    24th September 2017 Made Possible hits the midway milestone

    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…

    17th September 2017 Almost midway with Made Possible

    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…

    10th September 2017 Launching Made Possible

    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…

  • These people are helping to fund Made Possible.

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    steph jackson

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    Kaitlin Stober

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    Mark Haydon-Laurelut

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    Jordan Jackson

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    Lauren Avery

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    lynette harper

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    Sanchania Black

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    Mark Brown

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    Emily Lake

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    Ella Stephens

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    Germain Sahabandu

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    allen mukasi

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    Emma Harris

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    Jessica Ball

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    Gifty Owusu-A

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    Sumeya Mohamed

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    mercy akintunde

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    Rosemary Asabere

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    louise hobbs

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    Alfredo Leocata

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    phil williams

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    beth Tarleton

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