Fast forward to equality

Making a video can be an empowering experience for those with learning difficulties, says Sally McKeown

In this age of apparent equal opportunities, few would dare claim that adults with severe learning difficulties are ineducable. But we still give them a raw deal. The unspoken assumption is that they need a solid diet of skills-based training to "normalise" them - basic skills, life skills, social skills, skills to make square pegs fit round holes.

Fast Forward is a project run by Mental Health Media, an organisation that specialises in helping adults with learning difficulties to make their own videos. For the past two years the project has run conferences and training events and has provided an information service, challenging conventional approaches to working with the media.

Jerry Rothwell, who works for the project, argues that video can be a powerful tool for people with learning difficulties, but that media training is inaccessible to them. "Most training courses require high levels of literacy or are technically specialised. Video, though, is a great leveller. It is visual, not text-based, so it is a good medium for people who have literacy difficulties," he says.

Elsewhere, video is being used as a way of consulting people with learning difficulties. They can give their views of the services they use. Video can also be used to develop personal profiles. For example, people can prepare and rehearse what they want to do. This can be useful for people applying for jobs working with individuals who have profound and multiple disabilities.

In partnership with MENCAP and the self-advocacy organisation Europe People First, Mental Health Media is developing an EC-funded course in video journalism for people with learning difficulties. The project is working with other groups in Ireland and the Netherlands to create a model of vocational training for adults with learning difficulties. This will be an accredited course and will include modules on self advocacy, research, using a camcorder and editing.

The process of making a video can be empowering. An individual with learning difficulties rarely gets the chance to address the director of social services but, as part of a video crew, the ordinary person becomes someone special - someone who can stop people in the street and ask them questions.

The Kennedy Report, from the Further Education Funding Council, could revolutionise education for adults with learning difficulties, especially if, as proposed, there is to be a lifetime entitlement to education up to level 3, with free courses for those who have no qualifications or are on low incomes.

The report claims: "there is a trickle-down theory of education - that concentrating the bulk of educational investment in the top cohorts produces an excellence which permeates the system. For centuries, this thinking has blighted not just the British economy, but the whole of British life." Fast Forward could be one sign of changing times.

Mental Health Media, The Resource Centre, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA. Tel: 0171 700 8101011

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