My learning disability will open doors not close them, says tsar Watkin

Special Olympian seeks to inspire others to succeed through government role

Scott Watkin, the recently appointed national co-director for learning disabilities, wants to be seen as a role model for other learning disabled people.

He has his own blueprint in predecessor Nicola Smith, the first person to take on the senior government post created three years ago for people with learning disabilities.

Watkin, 27, also a service user, does not see his learning disability as a disadvantage, but an opportunity.

“I don’t let it get in the way. I would not be where I am today without it,” he says. “I am proud of having a learning disability.”

Watkin’s message is a positive one: although he recognises the challenges ahead, he is unafraid. His experience as a Special Olympics medallist – in the 200m and standing long jump – shines through.

“People with learning disabilities need to fight for things in life,” he says. “I know what it’s like. If you don’t have the right support and backing you don’t achieve what you want.”

Watkin’s appointment comes three months after the publication of the government’s Valuing People Now policy, which sets out plans to empower people with learning disabilities.

He has direct experience of putting this into practice in his own life. Watkin explains how he used person-centred planning to “realise my dreams”, including planning his wedding and getting his own home two years ago.

As former chair of his local learning disability partnership board on the Isle of Wight, Watkin recently challenged his local council, which provides him with housing and “emotional” support, over £1m in cuts to the adult care budget.

“We managed to get 150 people, including family carers, people with complex needs and day centre staff, to challenge the director of adult and community services, and we had many political discussions,” he says. “The council still cut the budget but said they would not lower the standard of care.” 

Watkin is determined to ensure this pledge is kept. “Any cuts will personally affect me because I get support from the council, so I will hold them to account.”

Watkin welcomes the move to a national stage where he hopes to ensure that the message of choice and control becomes a reality for others.

He is keen to use his experience to encourage people with learning disabilities to speak for themselves on a national level: “We need to make advocacy and self-advocacy stronger and ensure that groups get funding.”

Watkin is optimistic, citing progress in bringing together service user groups.

“Before, a lot of people didn’t work together but Valuing People [the government white paper of 2001] and Valuing People Now have helped people to work together more,” he says.

With the government due to produce an employment strategy for people with learning ­disabilities next month, Watkin wants more service users in similar high-profile posts.

“There should be training for employers, so they sit down and take time to talk to us,” he says.
Watkin believes his role over the next three years is “critical” to ensuring more people with learning disabilities have their voices heard.

“If I can get this far, other people can do it too,” he says. “I want to make an impact and change people’s lives for the better.”

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