A new disabled-led exhibition aims to challenge perceptions of people with learning difficulties by highlighting the role they play in their local communities.
The Through Our Eyes exhibition by All Wales People First (AWPF) tells the stories of people with learning difficulties through photographs and video, and is running in the Welsh Senedd until 4 February.
Members of AWPF – a disabled people’s organisation that represents self-advocacy groups and people with learning difficulties in Wales – decided which stories they wanted to share though the project.
There were 40 photoshoots with AWPF members and People First groups across Wales, involving more than 250 people.
AWPF says the images “highlight the importance of self-advocacy, human rights and access to the essentials in life that most people take for granted”.
Simon Richards, vice-chair of the All Wales People First National Council, says in a film promoting the project: “I value being able to do so much variety of stuff in my life now.”
He talks about how he travels independently, and his enjoyment of karaoke nights, visits to the local pub, watching football and listening to music.
He says: “It should be encouraged because we are adults at the end of the day and that’s exactly what anyone else should be able to do, so why can’t we?
“With the right level of support and a little bit of planning, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be able to happen.”
The exhibition aims to challenge perceptions and stereotypes by highlighting the roles and activities people with learning difficulties play in local communities, such as in employment, volunteering, sport and education.
The project was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund’s People and Places programme.
On Saturday (3 December, the international day of disabled people), AWPF will launch a free online image library, which will offer images from the project of people with learning difficulties in their day-to-day lives.
Lucy Hinksman, a Through Our Eyes project worker and photographer, said: “It is amazing how people with learning disabilities and autism have a great lifestyle and I was proud to go around Wales and capture everyone’s lives, doing things like sport, employment and being parents.
“The exhibition shows the things we want to tell the world about. We are all equal and we all have a voice.”
Hinksman, who took some of the photographs for the project, said: “We should have the opportunities to do the same things that everyone else can.
“People with learning disabilities can do things that other people wouldn’t expect, like driving a tractor and winning medals doing sports.
“We hope that people can see all of the incredible things that we do and realise that everyone can achieve their goals in life.”
Ffion Poole, chair and executive assistant at Caerphilly People First, said: “The Through Our Eyes exhibition is important because it shows other people that people with learning disabilities are no different to anyone else.
“We can do the same things like go to the pub, stay up late, have relationships and be employed.
“People think that we need to be kept in a small bubble because we aren’t capable of doing these things but as long as the right support is there, never say never.
“I’m proud to be in the exhibition and it made me realise that I make a difference and I can be a role model to others.
“I’m really proud of Caerphilly People First and it is nice to know that we are able to make a difference.
“I was nervous about going to the exhibition but I am glad I did. We just couldn’t stop smiling afterwards.”
Joe Powell, chief executive of AWPF, said: “For too long other people have owned the narrative for people with learning disabilities.
“If other people own our narrative then we become whatever others say we are.
“This has contributed to negative, deficit-centred perceptions which have kept us isolated from our communities and unable to take our place as active and equal citizens in Wales.
“Our members wanted to change this, by portraying learning disability ‘Through Our Eyes’.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fact that many people with learning disabilities are viewed as having lives that are of less value and quality than other citizens.
“This was especially prevalent in the issuing of highly inappropriate do not resuscitate notices for some.
“I hope this project helps, not only to show that people with learning disabilities are ‘people first’ but are human beings, with hopes, dreams and aspirations like anyone else.”
Picture by Lucy Hinksman/Through Our Eyes
This news story is part of an ongoing Disability News Service series that highlights the vital work of the UK’s disabled people’s organisations
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