I love the RSA. I became a Fellow a few years ago now and I’m proud to be one. One of the things I love about it, is that it brings bags of intellectual credibility and rigour to a host of searching questions which we need to confront in an ever changing 21st century world. In fact some might say it’s a special place for intellectual heavyweights and so the last place you’d expect to encounter intellectual disability.
Intellectual disability, or learning disability as it is more commonly known here, is a disability related to a significant, lifelong condition which affects someone’s ability to understand information, learn skills and cope independently. That might make some think that the RSA Fellowship is no place for people with learning disabilities.
The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability’s new partnership with RSA Scotland is the perfect riposte to such a wrongheaded assumption. People with learning disabilities have assets like anyone else. Society all too often focuses on the notion that they just have deficits. But actually, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the social model of disability will tell you, those perceived deficits belong to society.
At the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, we work with people with learning disabilities every day and members of our staff team have learning disabilities. Working inclusively is a big part of who we are. And one of the key strategic outcomes of The Keys to Life, Scotland’s learning disability strategy is that people with learning disabilities are able to participate in all aspects of community and society.
Why is that so important? Quite simply it’s because the assets of individuals can protect and enhance resilience and wellbeing. So we’re constantly on a mission to promote those assets and enable them to flourish. And that’s what the partnership with RSA Scotland is all about. We’re looking for six people with learning disabilities in Scotland to bring their creativity to the RSA Fellowship.
One of the things that drew me to the RSA a few years ago was the idea of the social aspiration gap. That’s the idea that there is a gap between who we are as a society and who we really want to be. The RSA’s idea of the Power to Create is a response to the challenge that gap presents. It recognises that creativity is something each and every one of us has. And that includes people with learning disabilities. It just needs unleashing.
If I’m honest, I used to think the RSA was a bit stuffy, rather clubby. Back in the day you had to be nominated by a Fellow to become one. Now anyone with a passion for social ideas and action can apply to become a Fellow. But such is the extent of the social aspiration gap that, like many institutions, we’ve a way to go before that’s fully reflected in the Fellowship.
Our search for six new Fellows aims to go a small distance to close that gap and to encourage a change in attitudes which will go much further. We know that having a learning disability is no barrier to creativity, entrepreneurship or a desire to help make the world a better place. Society’s attitudes to learning disability can be though.
So if you’re in Scotland and you have a learning disability or you know someone who does, watch our video to find out more about our project. As my brilliant colleague Lindsay Kinloch says at the end of the video: "Go on, unleash your creativity and make a difference. We look forward to hearing from you."
Chris Creegan FRSA is Chief Executive at SCLD. Connect with him through MyRSA and follow him on Twitter @Chris_Creegan