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Creating a better understanding of the lives of people with learning disabilities

Mentally disabled woman hugging a dog

More than 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. Many are not fully included in the life of communities, and can have terrible education, employment, and health experiences. We need to challenge this exclusion by sharing stories, research and the history of their lives, argues Professor Jonathan Rix, who is leading work on a major new resource to get more people talking and listening, a way to better understand day-to-day realities, enhance support and provide more meaningful opportunities.

As part of the Open Societal Challenges scheme, The Open University (OU) is developing plans to set up a Learning Disability Archive and Media Hub for the UK: a living space for the stories of people with a learning disability. The Hub will enable the collection and redistribution of key texts and narratives about people and institutions from all over the UK. It will be a centre for workshops and exhibitions, and an active facility for people with learning disabilities to record and share their stories.

“People with learning disabilities remain one of the most marginalised groups in the UK and beyond,” said Professor Jonathan Rix, the project lead in the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport. “We aim to create a Hub that will be a platform for building an understanding of the lives of people with a learning disability, of their issues and needs and how these have changed over time. We want to be a means of securing rights and greater equality, a driver for collective action that changes how society views and values their lives.”

The Hub aims to become an internationally-renowned centre, benefiting a range of stakeholders, putting people with learning disabilities at the heart of everything it does. They will not only guide the development of the Hub but will also have employment and volunteering opportunities. They will work as archivists, event organisers and educators, and take part in research opportunities at the OU and beyond. For researchers, the Hub will showcase best practice, building capabilities around generating and analysing life stories, and creating inclusive networks and communities of practice. The resources will become a reference point for media journalists, ensuring reporting and content is rooted in modern realities. And for policy-makers, education, health and social care professionals, it will be a bank of evidence highlighting key issues and needs, and how people with learning disabilities can best be supported.

The OU team will build a base of support in the UK and other countries, working with a experts from organisations such as Barod, Generate, Tizard Centre, Langdon Down Centre, Royal Mencap Society, Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship, the Rix Centre, Learning Disability England, National Development Team for Inclusion, Open Story Tellers, KIDS, Talkback, and the universities of London, South Wales, Stockholm, Liverpool Hope, Manchester Metropolitan, Concordia, Helsinki, Wolverhampton and Trinity College Dublin.

Next steps include an evaluation report on the finances and management the Hub, creating multimedia materials to showcase ways of working, and the creation of governance structures and plans for fundraising.