Busting myths to break down barriers

Mencap announces The Myth Busters – a group of people who are living life with a learning disability, challenging misconceptions and providing greater representation for the 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK 

18 new ambassadors have been announced by the learning disability charity Mencap to shatter misconceptions, reduce stigma and campaign for societal change and greater inclusion of people with a learning disability

  • The group of new ambassadors represent the diversity of the learning disability community and include a dancer, an actor, a model, a football coach and a rock-popstar, to name a few!
  • The announcement comes after a recent survey by Mencap revealed that two in five people in the UK (42%) hadn’t seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year, highlighting how much representation matters
  • Photographer India Whiley-Morton was commissioned by the charity to capture a portrait style photography series of each member of the group, showing them living happy, healthy lives and busting myths at the same time. To find out more about The Myth Busters head here: mencap.org.uk/mythbusters

Mencap, the learning disability charity, has today announced it has welcomed a whopping 18 new ambassadors from the learning disability community to the charity. This extraordinary group of people called The Myth Busters are all living life with a learning disability and through their work with Mencap will be helping to challenge wider stigmas and societal misconceptions about what living life with a learning disability looks like.

The Myth Busters, featuring some familiar and famous faces people may recognise, are a group of people that demonstrate just how unique learning disability is and how everyone in the community deserves to be equally seen and heard. They include Michael Beynon – the first man in Wales with Down’s syndrome to run a marathon, who also set-up his own successful business producing the best Welsh cakes in the country; Sophie Potter – a self-identified ‘Party girl’ who loves Sex and the City and going dancing on nights out with her sister; and Ellie Goldstein – face of Gucci and Glamour Magazine’s ‘Gamechanging Model of the Year’, to name a few.

Alongside them are celebrities such as George Webster who took Cbeebies by storm as their first children’s TV presenter with Down’s syndrome, BAFTA Award-winning Tommy Jessop and actor Sarah Gordy, OBE.

Speaking about being a Mencap Myth Buster and a person living with a learning disability, a few members of the group comment below:

Marathon runner Freddie, who is known not only for his performance on the track but also for his infectious sense of humour and wit, says – ‘I think people with a learning disability can teach the world about living life to the fullest.’

Brendan, a powerful activist, Arsenal superfan, local celebrity and Karaoke star says – ‘I want people to know I’m always happy. I never give up at all. I always try my best to do what I need to do.’

Heidi, a history-making activist who last year took her case for disability rights to the High Court, says – ‘I love being a voice for those who can’t speak, or those who may find it difficult to speak’ 

Harvey, a college student, train announcement enthusiast and self-confessed no.1 fan of his mum is taking his first steps to living independently. He said – “Harvey can do lots of things!’

Sophie, a party girl, actor and pina colada enthusiast said: ‘I hate being called cute [because I have Down’s Syndrome]. I am gorgeous and sexy and fun. Not cute.’

George, who recently took CBeebies by storm by becoming the first children’s TV presenter with Down’s Syndrome the broadcaster has worked with, said: ‘It’s a myth that people with Down’s Syndrome are always happy. I want to show that we are just people; we feel the full spectrum of emotions just like everyone else.’

Sas, a football coach for young people, Mencap charity shop volunteer and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community said: “The thing I’m most proud of in my life is being a Myth Buster and being in Cosmo magazine recently talking about my life and dating [with a learning disability]. I even had stars shaved into my hair especially before the Myth Busters photo shoot because I want to show everyone that people with a learning disability are all stars.”

Jenn, mum to Alastair, a skater, raver and all-round-life-enthusiast who runs a creative print-making and t-shirt printing shop called Smiling and Waving, says: ‘Not everyone realises that [being] non-verbal does not necessarily mean being non-understanding. Alastair is a typical eighteen-year-old. He likes to be spoken to in an age-appropriate way, though sometimes he gets spoken to as if he’s in pre-school. He likes going to gigs and festivals with his mates and dancing around. He likes triking and surfing and skating and people-watching. People are often surprised at what he gets up to and how much he gets up to, but our response to that is that we figure all eighteen year olds are rather busy…’

Nigel, a hockey player, magician and the joker of the squad said: ‘I want people to understand the difference between care and support [for people with a learning disability]. I love being independent. Supporting me means teaching me to do things myself, not just doing them for me. It helps me live my life. I also want to see more people like me on TV; that would be brilliant.’  

To welcome the new Myth Busters to the Mencap family, India Whiley-Morton – a photographer, who herself has an aunt with a learning disability – has released unique portraits of each of them. India is the daughter of Radio DJ and Mencap ambassador Jo Whiley, who campaigned in spring 2021 to get people with a learning disability prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, after she was offered the vaccine before her sister Frances who has a learning disability and diabetes. The images India has taken of The Myth Busters showcase them living happy lives and busting myths at the same time, demonstrating the diverse range of ages, ethnicities, different types of learning disability and regionality each member of the group uniquely brings to the charity.

Commenting on her role in this announcement, India says: “I’ve grown up with my Auntie Frances who has a learning disability and she is the life and soul of my family. I’ve also spent my whole life helping out at the nightclub my Grandma runs for people with a learning disability – dancing with the people and generally being very involved in the community. When Mencap approached me about capturing these amazing Myth Busters on camera, I was really keen to be involved.  

“I wanted to be part of this campaign to show the amazing personalities that exist in the learning disability community.  I loved working with each and every one of the Myth Busters – hearing all their stories, learning about their passions and getting to know them while shooting. It was great fun and everyone was amazing! I also loved meeting the families and carers and seeing all the special and unique relationships unfold on set.”

Late last year, Mencap released some statistics which revealed that two thirds of people in the UK cannot correctly identify a learning disability as a reduced intellectual ability, with 40% of people thinking it’s dyslexia and 28% believing it to relate to a mental health issue. The survey also revealed two in five people (42%) had not seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year, with a third (33%) saying they would feel more comfortable talking to someone with a learning disability if they saw them featured more often in the media.

These statistics prove just how important representation and inclusion is. Those who were surveyed also revealed they’d be more likely to engage with people with a learning disability if they lived on their street (39%), worked on their local high street (37%) or participated in local sports activities with them (29%).

It’s Mencap and the Myth Busters’ hope that by showcasing this diverse mix of people as ambassadors and giving them all a platform to talk about what living life with a learning disability means to them, they’ll increase the visibility of people with a learning disability not only in the media but also in wider society.

Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“Each and everyone of these Myth Busters are amazing and I can’t thank them enough for joining the Mencap family. To have this diverse group of unique, talented, interesting, energetic, and fun people on board to help us shatter misconceptions, reduce stigma and campaign for societal change and greater inclusion of people with a learning disability is a real pleasure and privilege. We want the UK to be the best place in the world for people with a learning disability to live happy and healthy lives and I’m delighted the Myth Busters are helping us to make this a reality.”

For more information on the launch of The Myth Busters, including a chance to see the portraits by India Wiley-Morton and behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot, visit: mencap.org.uk/mythbusters