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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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2.1 Supporting people to have friends

Figure 2 shows Johanna de Haas with her friends Gloria and Steph. You may recognise Gloria from Video 2 earlier in this session. Gloria and Johanna met at an Open University conference a few years ago and struck up a long-lasting friendship.

Described image
Figure 2 Johanna (centre) with her good friends Gloria (left) and Steph (right)

Johanna’s family provided lots of opportunities for her to develop and maintain relationships. Here is Johanna’s mother Catherine reflecting on Johanna’s life:

Everyone has something to give whether they have disabilities or not. Everyone has something to gain from spending time with other people. I have been very privileged in my lifetime. I had a daughter with profound and complex learning disabilities. She never learned to talk, but she could make deep connections with other people. I learned so much from watching her with her friends. Like anybody else she made friends by participating in activities that were enjoyable such as singing together. She maintained her friends just like other people by doing things like going for a coffee or a meal. Towards the end of her life she could not eat, but she still enjoyed being in a cafe with other people. She loved to hear gossip, but has taken many secrets to her grave. She had a winning smile and a wicked sense of humour. Many people felt more comfortable with themselves after spending time in her company. 

Catherine’s words show that all people with learning disabilities can have fulfilling friendships. What Catherine describes here is not complicated – going for a coffee, a meal, or joining in a choir. Hanging out together. But Johanna needed someone to help facilitate these things for her. For many people with learning disabilities, the biggest barrier they face is not having the support they need to get out and about with their friends.