If the Charter for Inclusion for People with Learning Disabilities existed ten years ago then Michael Cole’s life would have been very different.
The charter was launched at An Cultúrlann on Friday morning and elected and civic representatives attended to show their support.
The Charter for Inclusion was a key proposal to emerge from the City Vision 2020 process.
It was during the process that people living in the Derry City Council area put forward reasons why they thought that Derry could become a more inclusive society committed to equality, diversity, interdependence, responsibility and non-violence.
Destined have acted as the voice for adults with learning disabilities for years in Derry and they are one of the major stakeholders in the Charter.
The event was chaired by Sinn Fein councillor and Destined worker Maeve McLaughlin.
The Mayor of Derry, Alderman, Maurice Devenney was one of the first people to speak. Derry’s First Citizen said that he was honoured to be involved in the charter.
“This is something that I regard as very important. It’s up to us all to make sure that our society is 100 per cent inclusive. We have a responsibility for each and every vulnerable person in society and I think that this charter is a step in the right direction.”
Whilst the words of politicians and public sector representatives were to be welcomed it was the honesty with which Michael Cole told his story that captured the imagination of everyone inside An Cultúrlann.
Michael said that joining Destined in 2004 was the best thing he had ever done.
“I started off my education at Steelstown Primary School but by the time I was five years-old I was moved to Belmont House.
“I was bullied and called names when I was at school but I have to say that all of my teachers were great.
“I was quiet and shy so as a result I found it hard to make friends, have fun or have a girlfriend.
“I left school in 1991 with no qualifications and soon after I started to feel very lonely. I started to walk the streets and as a result I was called names and made to feel very small.
“However, everything changed when a friend told me about Destined. I went along to a meeting and things have never been the same. Joining Destined was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“By joining Destined I’ve learned about the art of public speaking, got a job and made so many new friends. I don’t know what I would do without them.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me but it’s my ambition to get another job, develop a personal relationship and live independently.”
It’s through such initiatives as the Charter for Inclusion that barriers to training, employment and learning are broken down.
However, there is still much work to be done if today’s society is to truly include adults with learning disabilities.
Junior Minister, Martina Anderson, MLA, conceded that people with learning disabilities had been failed “collectively” in the past but offered hope by saying that people will start to notice a change very soon.
“I think that the way we have approached this issue in the past has been too processed.
“The research and stories are there. We know what it is that needs to be done. This is something that I am very passionate about and each time I listen to a personal story like Michael’s it makes me want to do more.
“I’ve no doubt that Derry can become a place where other towns and cities can look to. The work that Destined has done for adults with learning disabilities in Derry has been second to none.
“I also have to point out that I attended a dinner dance for Disability Action last week and the only people who took me out dancing was my friends from Destined.
“There’s been a collective failing in the past but change is coming and if we all work together we’ll realise it together.”
If you are interested in signing the Charter for Inclusion contact Derry City Council’s Equality Officer on 028 7136 5151 Ext. 6706.