Vicky Young knows what it feels like to be treated unfairly because she has a learning disability. She was subject to relentless bullying throughout primary and secondary school and despite reporting it to her teachers, it continued to happen until she left at the age of 16.
“I went to mainstream schools and the other kids didn’t get me at all. They thought I was stupid or mad and I had to deal with nasty name-calling almost every day. It was absolutely horrible and I used to cry about it a lot because it was so hurtful. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
Although she found it difficult to stand up for herself, Vicky has found her voice by speaking up for other people as a member of the Advisory Committee of ENABLE (ACE). For the past 14 years, she has channelled the effects of her difficult experiences in the most positive way – by campaigning to raise awareness of the challenges faced by young people with learning disabilities.
“I joined ACE when I was 19. I was a member of another action group at the time and one of the support workers there was involved with the committee. She suggested that I went along to speak to them about my experiences and I’m really glad I did.”
Vicky was lacking in confidence when she joined the committee, and admits that it took some time before she felt fully able to contribute her opinions. But that soon changed when ACE embarked upon an anti-bullying campaign.
“I had a lot to say on the matter! When you’ve had a personal experience of something you know how it feels and you know what needs to be done differently to change things. I’m very passionate when it comes to speaking up about that.
“I was part of a team that visited schools to raise awareness of how it feels to be bullied because you have a disability. We talked to pupils to explain how painful that can be for a person in the hope that they would understand their actions and be more considerate with how they treat people.”
Representing people with learning disabilities gave Vicky a new-found determination. She began to grow in confidence and found that doing something positive for other people raised her self-esteem. When the anti-bullying campaign was complete, she switched her focus to other important issues surrounding the treatment of people with learning disabilities.
“I flew out to Brussels to promote advocacy in the EU. We attended conferences and workshops and informed people about the way things were for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.
“I also went over to Dublin to work on a sex education campaign which educated young people on sex and relationship issues and more recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work surrounding benefits cuts and raising awareness of the impact they will have on the lives of people with learning disabilities.”
Her tireless campaign efforts did not go unnoticed and in 2011, Vicky was elected chair of ACE for the period of one year – an honour which shocked and surprised her.
“I was really emotional about that. Even though I had put myself forward for chair, I didn’t expect to be elected. I was very pleased to be in a position where I could make a difference to people and make sure they got the support and respect they are entitled to.
“I think that the role of ACE is very important because people with learning disabilities can advise Enable on what they want. They are listened to and they have a chance to gain more independence and I was happy to have the opportunity to work on a committee which supports that.”
Vicky also sits on the Scottish Council, the governing body which advises Enable on the work that they do, but in spite of her significant contributions, she believes that she has gained more than she has given and that her involvement with the organisation has changed her life.
“When I left school, I was very scarred by everything that had happened to me. I had tried a few different work placements but I couldn’t settle because I expected not to get on with people. It wasn’t that anyone was unkind to me or that they were doing anything wrong, but I had it in my head that they wouldn’t like me because that’s what I was used to.
“Joining ACE changed all that. No one treats me badly or judges me because they have been through similar things to what I have and, most importantly, they want to listen to what I have to say. I have made so many new friends and all the travelling, attending meetings and speaking up for what I feel is important has really helped to build my confidence.”
With the gradual increase in her independence and self-esteem, Vicky is delighted to have moved into her own flat and she has also taken a voluntary job at a stray dog shelter three days per week.
But she maintains that her proudest achievement is providing people with learning disabilities with a voice by speaking up for what they need.
“I’m so proud of all the campaigning I have done, especially the work on anti-bullying. I may not be able to change the way that things were for me, but in some small way, I hope that what I have done can help to change things for other people.”