Lanarkshire man Stephen Beattie may have a learning disability, but he understands much more about his entitlement to equality – and the right to have a voice – than the bullies who have used theirs to hurl hurtful names at him over the years.
Proud Stephen, 50, is among the inspirational individuals with a learning disability and autistic people who are standing strong alongside three Scottish charities to call for the appointment of a commissioner to champion their human rights.
He hopes that his story – and the important role he is playing in persuading political leaders to include in their Scottish Parliamentary Election manifestos a promise to appoint a commissioner to speak up for people like him – will be a catalyst for real change.
Stephen, who grew up with his four brothers at his back, knows that not all people who have a learning disability can claim to have had the happy childhood that he enjoyed.
“In my mind, I was just like all the other people going to school,” he explained.
“I was just like everybody else. I made friends and we all got on with each other.”
With PE and home economics among his favourite subjects, Stephen as a schoolboy loved to roll up his sleeves and give his all to practical tasks.
On leaving school, Stephen bucked the trend. Although around only four per cent of people who have a learning disability are in employment – compared to 45 per cent of physically disabled people in Scotland – Stephen was able to follow his brothers into his dad’s demolition business.
“At that time, I was too young to get out on site, knocking down old buildings,” he said.
“So, I worked with my dad and my brothers on other things to do with demolition. I enjoyed that.”
Stephen also enrolled as a student at Cumbernauld and Coatbridge Colleges – a confidence-boosting experience that equipped him with valuable life skills that allow him to live independently on his own today.
Don't miss a thing from your area - sign up for the new Lanarkshire newsletter!
From the latest breaking news to the agenda-setting stories, get it all in your email inbox.
Put your email at the top of this article or follow the instructions on this link!
It was during a night out with friends at a disco held in a local club that Stephen became introduced to the work of ENABLE Scotland.
“I didn’t know at the time, but ENABLE ran the disco,” he explained.
“I had just bought a round of drinks and was sitting down when a lady came over. I didn’t know her then. Hollie worked with ENABLE Scotland and was starting up another group and was looking for people to join.”
The Lanarkshire man became an active and enthusiastic member of the charity, and four times a year represents the views of his local Cumbernauld group at national ACE meetings.
His involvement in Our Voice Our Rights is not Stephen’s first foray into actively campaigning for positive change.
Through the high-profile #BetheChange campaign, Stephen – who has himself been the target of cruel bullies – found a way to stand up to those who mock people like him simply because they have a learning disability.
ENABLE Scotland is empowering its members to challenge bullying in the bold, highly-charged campaign that, at its launch, propelled their refusal to tolerate the act on to station concourses and main traffic thoroughfares.
With two-thirds of young people who have learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders having been bullied, the campaign focuses on promoting change through understanding to challenge people’s perceptions and break down barriers.
“People can’t just turn around and say and do things like that. It’s not right,” said Stephen, who has been involved in a number of other campaigns to end stigma, isolation and discrimination.
Those campaigns include ‘In Safe Hands?,’ which insists that all children in Scotland have the right to be safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and to be included – and, when they go to school for the day, have the right to expect that they’ll be in safe hands.
Yet, in 2018, there were at least 2674 incidents of restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools – a statistic ENABLE says is unacceptable.
In Safe Hands? calls on the Government to: issue stronger guidance; roll out positive support strategies in schools through skilled staff; introduce a duty of candour around restraint and seclusion in all schools; and strengthen transparency and accountability.
Stephen was also a campaign champion for #ENABLEtheVote, which set out to make the voting process and politicians significantly more accessible to people who have a learning disability.
It worked across the political spectrum, empowering people who have a learning disability to have their say, influence the debate on the issues that matter to them, make informed choices about who to vote for, and increase the number of people who have a learning disability who vote.
More than 80 per cent of people who engaged with the result-driven, dynamic campaign used their vote in the Scottish Parliamentary Election in 2016, and 91 percent exercised their right vote in the Local Council Elections the following year.
ENABLE Scotland and its members, including Stephen, are now looking forward to further improving on these more than marginal gains when polling stations open in May.
“Everybody should get their turn to speak about what they want to say,” insists Stephen, who clearly endorses the purpose behind each of the passionate campaigns in which he’s been involved.
Of the call for a commissioner who would act as an advocate for people who have a learning disability and autistic people, he said: “I hope it works out, and lets everybody get to do what they want to do, and get the chance to say what they want to say.”
Although Stephen admits he’s found the challenges of lockdown particularly tough, he has taken steps to stay positive by joining a weekly walking group, through which he has met new friends.
And when the restrictions are finally eased, he’s most looking forward to a return to human interaction.
“Everybody likes a friend,” said Stephen.
“Everybody likes to see them and talk to them and be happy with them. You want to go out and meet your family and friends and do whatever you were doing before all this happened.”
Asked how his friends would describe him, modest Stephen says he’s just like everyone else.
But ENABLE Scotland’s regional co-ordinator for campaigns and activism, Charlotte Scott, told him: “You are a really good listener. You pay a lot of attention. And you’re always watching and listening, and making sure everybody gets a chance to be heard.”
And with those admirable qualities, there could be no greater advocate for a campaign to turn up the volume of the voices of people who have a learning disability and autistic people than Stephen Beattie.
To join ENABLE Scotland and find out more about the campaign, visit www.enable.org.uk, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 0300 0200 101