Letter: Mencap: taking a pragmatic view of terminology for the disabled

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The Independent Online
Sir: I cannot let some of Declan Treanor's comments about Mencap (Letters, 22 July) go without comment. Continued accusations of Mencap's 'patronising and paternalistic' approach denies the reality of a pioneering organisation which has been campaigning for almost 50 years.

Mencap started out as, and remains, a parent-based organisation. If you look back at the key developments in civil rights for people with learning difficulties, you will find Mencap initiatives at the root. The inclusion of children with such disabilities in the state education system; the first experiment proving that institutional care repressed true capabilities, and the first projects which led to real employment opportunities are all attributable to Mencap.

It is sad indeed that an organisation which has grown to become the country's largest manager of community residential housing and work opportunities for people with learning difficulties, and campaigns for ring-fenced community care provisions, better day services, anti-discrimination legislation, proper statementing for children and a host of other civil rights issues, should be derided for its pragmatic view of terminology.

Before making accusations about Mencap's use of the term 'mental handicap', Community Care's Terry Philpot (Letters, 23 July) should look at Mencap's advertising over the past year. He would see campaigns which used the term 'learning disability' throughout.

The one campaign which used 'mental handicap' was a deliberate 'first step' communication to the wider general public; an attempt to provoke thought and empathy with a group of people who, as Mr Treanor rightly says, have been robbed of their right to be regarded as 'people'. The view was taken, and we stand by it, that to address the public at this stage in terminology that research showed they did not recognise was wasteful and ill-advised.

Mencap will go on campaigning to enable society to reach a level of understanding and achieve a stage where 'learning difficulty', or whatever the buzz word of the next decade is, does not join its predecessors - cretin, mongol, imbecile, or sub-normal - as the next insult.

Yours faithfully,

STEVE BILLINGTON

Director, Marketing and Appeals

Mencap

London, EC1

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