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“We made politicians sit up and listen”

ENABLE Scotland’s ACE Youth programme empowers young people with learning disabilities to campaign on issues that matter to them. In the latest members’ spotlight, Jordan McKenna and Lucy McKee explain

ENABLE Scotland is a charity working for an equal society for every person who has a learning disability. We were founded in 1954 by 10 parents of children who had  learning disabilities. They knew that their children should have the same rights as everyone else. This is still what we believe and fight for today. As the largest member-led learning disability charity in Scotland, our members are the voice of our organisation. Our activism groups and committees provide us with a way to find out our members’ views and give them a platform for their voices to be heard, locally and nationally.

ACE Youth is an Active Community of Empowered Young People who have learning disabilities, and has been a core project of ENABLE Scotland for more than 10 years. Its purpose is to challenge barriers to an equal society for every person who has learning disabilities, in every community across Scotland.

The ACE Youth project brings young people together to reduce isolation, identify issues that matter to them, and be empowered to use their voices to campaign for equality. For young people who have learning disabilities, our ACE Youth groups play a significant role in supporting them to feel valued and included in their community. 

There are seven ACE Youth groups, with three further groups in development. Currently, more than 70 young people attend weekly groups across Angus, Fife and Greater Glasgow.

Lucy’s story

Chair of ACE Youth Lucy McKee first became involved in ENABLE Scotland’s anti-bullying campaign, Be the Change, and later trained to deliver workshops addressing stigma and promoting understanding of learning disability.

"I was 14 when I first went to the Youth Group. I was shy, had no friends, no confidence and I was being bullied at school. It’s not easy to ignore when someone suggests that you should never have been born. So I decided to do something about it.

"I was going to concentrate on what I wanted to say. I asked to speak at my school assembly on bullying behaviour. I told them that the nasty comments and jokes can ruin lives. They can really affect people like me. It was difficult to stand up and say those things to the whole school. But I’m glad I did it. It needed to be said.

"I joined the #IncludED in the Main?! campaign and shared my experience as someone who has a learning disability and attended a mainstream school. Through the campaign I was able to talk to newspapers, radio and television journalists. I went to the Scottish Parliament and spoke to ministers and then to representatives from Inclusion Europe.

"#IncludED in the Main?! made politicians sit up and listen to what was going on in schools. Because of this campaign, the government is changing the guidelines on how people who need support are treated at school. I think that’s an achievement, and I’m proud that I helped to make that happen.

"When I think about the bullies now, they don’t bother me. I think, I’ve been in the news and visited parliament to speak with ministers – so who’s the failure here?

"ENABLE Scotland is an organisation that wants to make the world better for people who have learning disabilities. The way I see it, that’s something that’s worth being part of, and that’s why I’m a member."

What does ACE Youth achieve?

Young people who have learning disabilities typically find it more difficult to make friends and usually have smaller social networks than young people without learning disabilities. ACE Youth is vital in not only amplifying the voices of young people who have learning disabilities on issues of importance, but also the general skills many take for granted such as the opportunity to develop confidence, independence and friendships. 

Research by Mencap (2016) shows that almost one in three young people with learning disabilities spend less than one hour outside their home on a typical Saturday. Sadly, additional research by Scope found that 85 per cent of young disabled adults from the 18 to 34 year-old age group feel lonely. More than half of working age disabled people who have felt lonely in the past year said they experienced depression (62 per cent) and anxiety (58 per cent); and half experienced stress. ACE Youth seeks to combat this through reducing isolation and increasing participation.

To ensure all groups are heard throughout Scotland, ACE Youth elects two representatives from each area to meet as National ACE Youth. National ACE Youth guides ENABLE Scotland, providing accountability to young members. It is also a forum to consult our membership on key issues to inform our influencing work. 

The impact of ACE Youth

The project has grown from strength to strength over the last decade. Led by young people, ACE Youth has:

Campaigned for and secured the right to free bus travel for people who have learning disabilities;

Championed equal access to transport by securing a 20-hour reduction in the notice required for passenger assist on trains; 

Challenged political parties to think differently and #ENABLEtheVote for people with learning disabilities; and

Trained young people to deliver community workshops to challenge stigma as part of their #BetheChange campaign.

Most recently, through the award-winning campaign #IncludED in the Main?!, ACE Youth secured the right to be included at school, achieving specific guidance from the Scottish Government on the presumption to mainstream.

ACE Youth celebrated Year of Young People by hosting an inclusive music event – You Can’t Stop the Beat – at SWG3 Glasgow. This formed part of their latest campaign to influence change in the live music industry; ensuring young disabled people can enjoy gigs alongside their peers. This and other ACE Youth projects have attracted media coverage from outlets such as the Daily Record and Third Force News and has been highlighted by Scottish Government ministers on social media.

ENABLE Scotland will celebrate our 65th year in 2019, and alongside some very exciting anniversary celebrations, we will continue to work towards an equal society for every person who has a learning disability.

ACE Youth is continuingly looking to expand its groups throughout Scotland. If you, a family member, or someone you know would like to join, visit the website.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at ENABLEScotland.

Jordan McKenna is ENABLE Scotland’s Chief Storyteller.

What ENABLE Scotland said about Children in Scotland membership:

“Being part of the Children in Scotland network offers an excellent opportunity to connect with like-minded third sector organisations and to hear their latest ideas on improving the lives of kids in our country.”

This article first appeared in Issue 189 (December 2018 - January 2019) of Children in Scotland Magazine

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