I spent a good part of my previous working life as a social worker trying to get adults with learning disabilities a better deal. But you know how it is; ‘they’ are recipients of care, funding and a pat on the back when the local MP visits the day centre churning out toys that go with a McDonald’s kids’ meal. But the times may be a changing thanks to a very progressive combination of the Down’s Syndrome Association, caring parents and local authorities who are committed to a combination of the words ‘social’ and ‘service’.
Enter James, a young man with Down’s syndrome and a future more interesting and creative than an occasional foray to a shopping mall after a hard day doing mind-numbing nonsense. Today we did a really cool shoot with James in a W1 creative agency packed to the rafters with designers, copywriters and people who do interesting things between 9 and 5. You see, James works in this media company five days a week and has a travel buddy to help him get there and back.
While watching James at work in the post room and at other administrative chores I couldn’t help thinking that most of the creatives on the shop floor are around the same age as James and even five years ago the idea that they would have been on the same payroll as a person with a learning disability was as remote as my beloved Leyton Orient reaching the Champions League final (it will happen one day). James is their equal, he reports to a line manager, he has his daily quota of work to fulfill and he uses public transport to get to and from the office. And at the weekend he follows a certain football club in west London.
Getting James onto that shop floor is a logistical exercise of considerable complexity involving the Down’s Syndrome Association, James’ mother, local authority, transport organisations and of course the company who have given James this opportunity. And it will never be reported by the same media outlets baying for the blood of social services who have failed vulnerable people.
John Smithies, Press Officer of the Down’s Syndrome Association, tells me: “For James to have the opportunity to work in such an environment is unusual – but it needn’t be. We’re working to improve the awareness of what people with Down’s syndrome are capable of. We’ve achieved mainstream education for those that want it and we’re just starting to see the positive effects of this. Now let’s see how progressive employers – like James’s – can effect real change for people with Down’s syndrome.”
It’s with great pride that we publish these images taken by Sheena Kelliher, a new photographer on the Care Images roster. And we take great pride in having James as a model.