Newport People First works for a more accessible south Wales led by and for people with learning disabilities. Zarah Kaleem, a member since 2008 now a Training and Awareness Leader, talks about how the project has helped remove barriers for its members.
“Growing up, I felt like an oddball in my family and at school. It wasn’t until I heard about Newport People First and started attending meetings that I was diagnosed with a mild learning disability. It made sense to me and although I didn’t like the label at first, I understand now that it doesn’t define me as a person.
Part of being in the group is helping to educate people. Our members deliver learning disability training to first-year police officers, medical students, trainee nurses and primary school children. We show people first-hand what it’s like. It’s about learning to treat everyone as an individual.
The local area has improved for our members, and the weekly trips, walks and historical visits that Newport People First organises are all great. It’s at the weekend where me and a lot of other members wouldn’t really do much, mainly because we didn’t feel comfortable going to pubs or the cinema or anything like that.
Trips to places our members normally wouldn’t go like parks and museums has helped build their confidence. Maps and directions can be confusing so I’ve created videos showing members how to get on the right bus or train and where to walk. They make it a lot easier for the community to meet up at events.
One weekend this summer we went to Barry Island. For a lot of our members, it was the first time they’d felt sand between their toes. It’s something that lots of people without a learning disability take for granted.
The community is more accessible as well. Some of our members go to dance classes and go to restaurants and cafes a lot more. There’s now a nightclub in town that’s specifically for people with learning disabilities. We’ve made a huge difference to our members’ confidence and independence. Now, I don’t worry about the learning disability label and I’m not phased at all about changing people’s minds.”
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