Learning disability branch editor, Rebecca, was shocked to find that individuals close to her were unaware that a disability does not change a person’s desire and right to be in a relationship
My partner asked me a question the other day, which in my opinion was completely pointless.
He asked: ”are people with learning disabilities allowed to have relationships?”
Pointless in my opinion because the answer was so obvious to me - of course they are!
But it got me thinking. To individuals not working with the learning disability community and who don’t understand that the people we support are just like you or I, the idea of people who are perceived to be different (which they aren’t) being in a relationship would, I guess, be unthinkable.
Individuals with a learning disability experience feelings for others just like you or I do, and they also have different sexual orientations. We know this because it is something we work with these individuals everyday.
”Individuals with a learning disability experience feelings for others just like you or I do”
But in the eyes of those who are still naïve to the world of disability, those who require extra support and have many professionals in their lives making decisions for them (ideally decisions should be made with them, but all to often this isn’t the case) it may seem fit that the decision of whether or not to be in a relationship is made for them.
The media has helped open many eyes to the “unimaginable” concept of individuals with a disability having a relationship, through shows such as The Undateables on Channel 4, but still the general public don’t always seem to get it.
The individuals on these sorts of programmes are often perceived by the general public as being “cute” and responses like “it’s a shame” are all too common.
But why is an individual being in a relationship “cute” and why is it a shame?
Yes they have a disability, but at the end of the day it’s just two individuals in a relationship.
”At the end of the day it’s just two individuals in a relationship”
There was a BBC documentary on a few years ago, “Otto: Love, Lust and Las Vegas” (I know Otto personally, and he is a great guy and a talented actor). It followed a young man with Downs syndrome on a quest to explore relationships and to have sex.
It was a great documentary which again gave insight into relationships in the learning disability community.
But why do we feel the need to publicise the fact that a human being with a disability is having sex? Surely it’s nothing to rave about, sex is part of who we are as human beings, it’s nature. it’s another example of individuals with a disability being perceived as different and expected live their lives differently to everyone else.
Living together as a couple is another question my partner raised. He couldn’t quite understand how individuals with a learning disability could live together as a couple if they needed support with living their life to the full.
”I felt disheartened having to explain how two individuals could possibly live together”
I explained the concept of supported living and the penny dropped, but again I felt disheartened having to explain how two individuals could possibly live together.
I did some reading after answering my partner’s many questions and came across an interesting statistic from mencap 2016: just 3% of people with a learning disability live as a couple, compared to 70% of the general adult population.
Why is it so few?
I can’t help but feel it is influenced by the stigma attached to individuals with a learning disability being in a meaningful relationship.
My mission for the future is to ensure that the stigma surrounding relationships in individuals with learning disabilities is minimised, how successful I will be I am unsure, however I will keep fighting no matter what.