June 13, 2024

Seeing Beyond A Learning Disability: Rachel’s Inspiring Journey

Meet Rachel, a passionate volunteer whose experiences with Williams Syndrome highlight the challenges and triumphs of living with a learning disability, emphasising the need for understanding and opportunity.

This year’s Learning Disability Awareness Week theme, “Do You See Me?” is a powerful call to action for society to recognise, understand, and appreciate the lives and contributions of people with learning disabilities. To bring the theme to life, we spoke to Rachel, a valued and inspiring CPSL Mind volunteer with Williams Syndrome, who has kindly shared her experiences with us.

Meet Rachel

Rachel is a positive, engaging and articulate woman who, with a little patience and understanding, can express herself eloquently. She has been a dedicated volunteer with us for over 20 years and has been recognised with awards for her contributions, most recently a Room to Reward award in 2022. Rachel demonstrates the positive impact that individuals with learning disabilities can have on their communities when given the opportunity.

Navigating Life with a Learning Disability

Rachel has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition characterised by medical problems, including heart issues, developmental delays, and learning challenges. It can cause a wide range of physical health conditions and, in some cases, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. “People’s ability varies to the extend of the condition”, she says.

Rachel faces several physical conditions and mental health conditions which are linked to her learning disability, the mental health struggles are often exacerbated by her physical symptoms.

Even minor illness can have an impact mentally, for instance when articulating her feeling and symptoms to medical professionals: “Sometimes I feel that I’m not took seriously, and that people don’t always believe me, for instance, if I say, ‘there seems to be more problems with X than usual’.

“If I’m quite unwell and things are not very good, I can get very stressed, upset, very emotional, and even angry. I think the anger comes from frustration because I know what I’m trying to say and I can’t put it into words effectively. In that situation it can be very hard to get people who don’t know me to get understand what I’m trying to say”, Rachel shares. Rachel wants people to understand that this is part of her disability and is simply frustration and to be supportive it’s important to find a way to communicate with her when she’s struggling.

Maintaining Good Mental Health

For people with learning disabilities to maintain good mental health Rachel emphasises the importance of having things to do, having hobbies and being able to occupy her time. She enjoys spending time on her computer and listening to music and finds volunteering helps her enormously.

Celebrating Strengths

Rachel recognises that having a learning disability has given her a unique perspective and empathy which she has been able to use to help others.

“My volunteering has always been in settings where I’m talking to people and giving appropriate information and advice. Where appropriate, and importantly only where appropriate, touching on my own personal experiences, it can really help someone who is in a difficult situation to talk to somebody else who’s been there and does truly understand.”

Challenging Barriers and Celebrating Contributions

Rachel’s story is a powerful reminder of the need to challenge the barriers faced by people with learning disabilities. Society often focuses on what they can’t do, rather than recognising their potential and contributions. Rachel’s volunteer work with CPSL Mind has led her to volunteer within several services and currently at a Good Mood Café in Peterborough where she enjoys helping people, and her numerous awards are a testament to her abilities and dedication.

Rachel wants you to see what people with learning disabilities can do. She emphasises “Try and view people with learning disabilities and mental health issues in a positive way. Try and find out what they can do to contribute to society. Try not to make everything about what people need help with and what they can’t do. You need to find out what they can do.”

A Call to Action

Rachel’s final message is clear and compelling, her words encourage us to change our perspective and see beyond the disabilities to the person and their potential.

By providing people with learning disabilities the understanding and opportunities they deserve, we not only improve their lives but also enrich our society. Rachel and countless others like her have so much to offer, and their contributions make our communities stronger and more vibrant. Let’s celebrate their achievements and recognise the unique value they bring to our world.

 

For more information on Williams Syndrome and information and advice for people with a learning disability, visit mencap.org.uk

Or call 0808 808 1111  for Mencap’s Learning Disability Helpline.

Our colleagues at national Mind have an excellent resource list available detailing further support for those with a learning disability, go to mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/learning-disability-support/

 

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