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Michael Ratcliffe: Severnside Housing customer and award-winning advocate for people with learning disabilities

Having a learning disability made me who I am; it’s part of my DNA. I don’t let it define me though. It’s not about your disabilities, it’s about your ability and my ability was to make a difference. I’m really thankful that young people with learning disabilities and autism now have far greater expectations, opportunities and ambition.

All my life I’ve tried to improve the lives of people who, like me, have a learning disability.

It all started when I joined a day service facility providing training in agriculture and horticulture. While I was there I met other trainees who had spent their early lives in psychiatric hospitals.

I saw people struggling to adapt to life in the community. They would often be medicated, confused and frightened of returning to the hospital. I wanted to learn about these places. To me, it seemed obvious that there should be more support available. I wanted to help.

Now I’m part of an advisory group helping NHS England improve the services it provides for people with learning disability or autism and their families. I do a lot of work with local and regional police on issues including disability hate crime, the treatment of vulnerable people in custody suites and the employment of staff with Down syndrome.

I also help adults with dyslexia and at the end of 2018, I was presented with an award from a Shropshire dyslexia group.

My role has taken me to Denmark and Luxemburg. Travel is an adventure but a challenge, too. When I have to get a train from Birmingham to London I just see a jumble of words on the departure board.

I was really lucky to have attended a special school in the 1960s, when there weren’t really very many educational opportunities for people with learning disabilities. When I grew up I think it was just expected that people like me would stay at home. I didn’t. I worked, I met my wife, and we have our own home with Severnside Housing.

I love to see young people expecting that they will go out and take their place in the world. I have always campaigned for change and for us to have a voice. Often, someone will tell me that they wouldn’t have done something in their own lives if they hadn’t seen me step up first.

The headmaster of my school would be very pleased if he could see me today. He always taught us that we mattered.