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Isabella Springmühl: paving the way for people with learning disabilities

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This week I read that Isabella Springmühl, a 20 year old Guatemalan lady, has made history at London Fashion Week by being the first designer with a learning disability to have her clothes featured.

She has designed her clothes specifically for women of all ages with Down’s syndrome, inspired by the challenges she has faced finding nice clothes that fit well due to the physical characteristics associated with Down’s syndrome.

“This success was not without pure determination”

This got me thinking about the opportunities that we give people with learning disabilities and whether we really provide enough support at a young age to enable people to reach their full potential.

This success was not without pure determination and a drive to succeed in her passion, she was denied the chance to study fashion design at university because of her condition, and yet despite this she exceeded all their expectations… I’m sure they will be kicking themselves!

For me, this is just another example of how people’s abilities can be misjudged through the misrepresentation of people with learning disabilities, a topic I have spoken about in my previous blog surrounding Sally Phillips’ documentary ‘A world without Down’s’.

Isabella talks about the support she has received from family members in order to teach her the relevant skills to succeed as a fashion designer. Obviously, I was incredibly elated that she has had enough support to succeed in what she loves. But the learning disability nurse in me can’t help but feel disappointed that so many people like Isabella don’t get this kind of opportunity.

“She has had enough support to succeed in what she loves”

Sadly, it is more likely that young people with a learning disability don’t live in their family home, whether this is due to a break down in family dynamics or because their care is too complex to facilitate home care. Having experienced working in a day service environment at times you can feel like the care in these services is generalised. This can be because of the service user to staff ratio or the lack of funds to provide more person-centred care. Saying this, staff have a good knowledge of the people who use the service and support them in activities they wish to do as much as possible.

I wonder, then, if these services had more funds available to them whether people with learning disabilities would have a better chance within education and eventually within occupations that they have a passion for and not just jobs that people feel they have the ability to do.

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