Posted on Tuesday 4th October, 2011
Sometimes you come across such a good idea that you can't really believe that someone hasn't thought of it before. In this case the stroke of genius is a small social enterprise company which trades under the name, I'm a Person Too - IAP2 to its friends.
Of the 1.5m or so people in the UK with a learning disability, just over 5% have meaningful employment. IAP2 is changing that: the social enterprise delivers training around learning disabilities, delivered by learning disabled people themselves.
It really is a win-win situation: society at large is educated about learning disability - something that so-called 'alternative comedians' would do well to sign up to. The people who deliver the training have worthwhile jobs and become 'net contributors' to society.
Jonathan Evans from Rotherham has autism and is a good case in point. He observes:
"I never thought I would become a trainer, never mind a co-director. I'm really glad to have earned this position and I'm really enjoying it. I'm included in all the decisions the company makes. I go out and meet clients and tell them why it's important to commission organisations like ours."
Not exactly the traditional view that people have of those with learning disabilities.
Vicky Farnsworth has two children and says it's really important that people like her have jobs:
"Having a job and being a trainer has helped me have a mortgage and bring up my children," she says.
IAP2 has already given training to more than 1,700 people, including employees of the police and other emergency services, NHS, PCTs and civil servants.
Although the company has close ties to South Yorkshire, the social enterprise was formed by three established self -advocacy groups, the other two being based in London and Wiltshire.
Such a brilliant idea can't hide its light under a bushel for too long: IAP2 recently won a National Training Award in the Yorkshire and Humber region and went on to compete at national level.
Naturally enough, the company felt it should make something of a splash of its success. So along with a few dozen others, I was invited to join them at the fabulous Sheffield Millennium Gardens. In fact, the organisers were kind enough to ask me to speak about my life and work and, in particular, to address the idea of removing barriers.
I put together a modest presentation which people were polite enough to describe as "inspirational". I don't know about that: I was personally more than inspired by the can-do attitude on display at the event.
Those of us who care deeply about achieving equality for disabled people often find ourselves frustrated by the pace of progress. But when I reflect upon my half century of living with disabilities, I have to acknowledge that the shift in perceptions of disabled people - particularly those with learning disabilities - is seismic.
Of course, there's a long way to go. The excellent Stephen Brookes works away tirelessly to expose the injustice meted out to anyone who is considered 'different' and who becomes the latest victim of disability hate crime.
Over time, people like Jonathan Evans and Vicky Farnsworth will do more to change attitudes than the tin rattlers and others who seek to 'represent' the views of disabled people without ever asking them what they think.