Category: Blog

My experience of living with a learning disability.

The aim of this blog is to talk about my experience of living with a learning disability, from the age of five onwards. My aim is to help people living with a learning disability. Also to demonstrate that everybody has a story. 

When I was five I had chickenpox on the brain that led to encephalitis. Soon after recovering, I was left without the ability to walk and talk, I was also left with a brain injury.

School and ongoing education

Later when I regained some of these abilities I was moved to a school for people with additional needs. The junior school was really good, but the secondary school wasn’t as good, all of the teachers were still really nice. I felt like I was taught to survive not to thrive. Where it should be, survive and thrive like mainstream schools i.e schools for people without additional needs. When I went for a Dyslexia test in year 11 to help with my exams at school and college. I was told there was no point in testing me because in there opinion people with learning disabilities had low IQ anyway. I was also told that I will never cope in a mainstream college and need to go to their six form. This was all very insulting so I ignored them and went to college after I finished. 

I left school with little to no qualifications and still not being very good at reading. But despite this, I went straight to Hadlow college that is a land-based college. Where I studied for five years and got two diplomas and one extended diploma. 

during college, I visited my junior school where I was introduced to their new reading and writing teacher who kindly taught me to read. 

In 2015, not being able to get a job in agriculture. Decided to do a humanities access course at the open university. After finishing i decided to go back in October 2020 to study law.

I believe it is so important to carry on learning, not only to gain new skills, but it is also good for mental health. Unfornently it is not always easy for people.

Inclusion and confidence building 

I strongly believe having the right inclusion at the right time can help improve a person and in some cases improve their life chances. It allows people to look at the world differently and builds up confidence. 

When I was seven I joined the scouting movement (Medway Towns) where I learnt a lot of life skills and survival skills. When I turned fourteen I moved up to explorers, that is one of the top sections. Soon after moving up, I was asked if I wanted to go to South Africa. In South Africa, we built a water hole for a local school providing them with water. We also built a play area for an aids orphanage. The whole expereonts not only improved my confidence, but it also opened my eyes to the amount of poverty and disadvantaged people in the world. 

Finding a job 

Once I left college I tried to find a job in agriculture or horticulture. But like many other people finding work that I studied in was not easy. I eventually found a job as a porter at ASDA. 

In 2019 my friend set up a forest school called BushKraft that i help with i have learnt a lot of outdoor skills and it has built my confidence greatly. 

In April 2018, there were 938 people over the age of 18 recorded on GP registers in Medway who have a learning disability. Only 2.3% of learning disabilities were in paid employment.

Mental health and learning disabilities 

Mental health problems can affect anybody. Evidence suggests that mental health problems may be higher in people with a learning disability than in those without a learning disability. Some studies suggest the rate of mental health problems in people with a learning disability is double that of the general population (Source Mencap). This can be due to several different reasons that are mentioned on the Mencap website i.e Biology and genetics may increase vulnerability to mental health problems, A higher incidence of negative life events, Access to fewer resources and coping skills, The impact of other people’s attitudes.

For me, it is the stigma of having a learning disability and other people’s lack of understanding of invisible disabilities. An example of this could be making and keeping friends and finding a paid job. Fortunately for me, this has eased as I have got older. 

Another thing that can lead to health problems is what you are told at school and through the media is that you go to school, get good GCSEs, then go to college or university, get a good job, get a house, get married. But things do not always turn out that way and that can lead to mental health problems.  

Disability Medway Network CIC 

During the European referendum, I started a blog called every vote matters to try to increase the vote among people with learning disabilities. After that I started Disability Medway Network, the aim was to increase the visibility and awareness of people with learning disabilities in society. After a couple of months, I ran my first signposting event As time has moved forward the aims of Disability Medway Network has changed slightly. But I still believe strongly that people with disabilities especially people with learning disabilities and other hidden disabilities. Should use their vote or be supported to use their vote. Because it will increase our voice both locally and Nationally it will also stop us from being ignored when it comes to making decisions. The other aim is to encourage people with disabilities to run for leading positions in the community and Nationally. 

Standing for local office 

In 2019 I stood to become a local councillor for the first time and got 816 votes and came forth.

See my post on standing for local office here


Learning disabilities, advocacy and fighting discrimination

Not Every Disability Is Visible

Disability Medway Network CIC is about encouraging people with both hidden and visible disabilities to use their voice in society. I believe people with learning disabilities do not have enough of a voice in society and are not considered when making decisions as a result of this.

This post will explain a bit about learning disabilities. It will also talk about self-advocacy and fighting discrimination.

Learning disabilities.

A learning disability affects the way the person develops and learns new skills. This varies depending on the type of learning disability ranging from moderate to severe and profound. For example, a person with moderate learning disabilities may be able to live independently with minimal help. On the other hand, a  person with severe and profound disabilities may require 24-hour care, and help with performing most daily living skills.

Advocacy and self-Advocacy.

Every Voice Matters

Self-advocacy is the ability to speak up for yourself and the things that are important to you. For example your health, your work, your education………..

You can also have advocates who will help you and speak up on your behalf if you are being treated unfairly.

Fighting discrimination.

Definition of discrimination

“The treatment of a person or a particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, sex, sexuality, etc.:”

People with disabilities suffer direct and Indirect discrimination nearly every day. even with the Equality Act 2010 (On this link you can find an easy read version Equality Act)


2019 local elections in Medway

May 2nd local elections

One of the goals of Disability Medway Network is to encourage people with disabilities to become an active member within their societies and to get the voice heard.

In February I got selected to stand as a candidate in the May 2nd local elections. The overall experience was really fun. I met some great people and talked about their concerns on the doorsteps I also had two fantastic running mates. The night of the count was long, tiring but exciting and the general atmosphere was really good.

To view, all of the Medway results click on the link Medway elects

Although this group is aimed at encouraging a wider involvement in society and politics I did not advertise my run on this group before the election as this would have been overtly party political. However, I feel it important, that our representatives should reflect the society around them and for this to come about, people of all ability should feel able to run for political office.


Disability Medway Network on tour on the 22 March.

On the 22nd March 2019 at St Justus church in Chatham. Disability Medway Network held it’s forth on tour signposting and networking event showcasing nineteen fantastic charities and community groups supporting people with disabilities in and around Medway, including Infinity Life Skills CIC, Club awesome and Club awesome teens, Medway Parents and Carers Forum, Healthwatch Medway, Medway Neurological Network, Parkinson’s UK Medway & District working age group, Medway Voluntary Action, Aztec Day Services ,Hi Kent, Involving Medway, Accessibility a University of Kent project helping students with disabilities, Medway Shared Lives, Mind, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Swale Chronic Pain Group, music man project, ms society and kent police.

At the event, Disability Medway Network had seven brilliant volunteers and thirty visitors exchanging their experiences of both living with and supporting people with disabilities throughout the day. Disability Medway Network is holding more events and activities throughout the year.

Medway has lots of brilliant community groups providing direct support for people with disabilities as well as tackling important issues like social isolation, hate crime and cuts in funding.  (Most of these groups are directly run by people affected)

Joseph Wastell the founder and organiser of Disability Medway Network

Disability Medway Network was first set up to act as a forum for people with disabilities, their friends, families and/or carers to discuss their experiences of disability in Medway After getting funding from involving Medway and Kent community foundation, I put on my first networking event which was attended by thirteen groups and charities.  After that, I decided to call the group Disability Medway Network. Now we are a signposting group and work with other groups and charities to, raise awareness of both hidden and physical disabilities, to campaign on stuff affecting disability and encourage people with disabilities to take a more active part in society.


What is Dyspraxia.

The guardian Dyspraxia article

Unfortunately there is very little awareness of dyspraxia. In this post I want to add some information about this disability. To read the article what inspired this post click on the link: The guardian

What is Dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia is also known as developmental co-ordination disorder. It also affects co-ordination skills and balance, that makes some tasks like learning to drive and other things requiring motor skills quite difficult. For more information, go to NHS choices Or visit the Dyspraxia association

Please click on the link to find more groups like this.


A history of disability rights in the UK.

This is a timeline of what I see as important events in disability rights history for both raising awareness of disability and gaining disability rights post world war one to the 2012 London Paralympics

Before and some time after world war one people with disability’s were treated awfully from the lunacy act 1845 to the idiots act 1846. There was so many other nasty little acts.

Post world war one  

  • 1918 – Awareness of physical impairments is heightened as the troops start coming home after the first world war. Many of these troops returned with physical and mental impairments such as, lost limbs, blindness, deafness or suffer severe mental trauma or brain damage due to the four-year conflict.
  • 1919 – The Central Council of Care made up of medical professionals was set up to care for the tens of thousands of injured ex-servicemen returning from the first world war. These medical professionals aim was to cure the ex-servicemen in order to reduce the “burden” on society. (The Central Council of Care later became Disability Rights UK)
  • 1920 – Partly bowing to pressure from a march of blind workers, the government supports the Blind Persons Act 1920, which requires local authorities to register blind people and make arrangements for their welfare. Later that year a national society for lunacy law reform is established that largely consisted of angry former patients. (lunacy law 1885)
  • 1930 – A Mental Treatment Act (1930) brings in the concept of voluntary patients and recommends out-patient clinics and observation wards.
  • 1944 – The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act sets up a quota system requiring employers with 20 or more employees to ensure that at least 3% of their workforce are disabled people. Also in that year the Education Act concedes that mainstream schools are likely to be the most appropriate environment in which to teach disabled children.
  • 1948 – 5 July, the NHS was launched by Aneurin Bevan the then Health Secretary for Labour. So for the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella to provide services for free at the point of delivery.

  • 1970 – The Local Authority Social Services Act creates a single social services department in each local authority area in England and Wales. The departments are responsible for providing services such as, residential homes and social care. Also in that year the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, introduced by North West MP for Labour Alf Morris, this was the first in the world to recognise and give rights to disabled people. Local authorities are given the responsibility of providing welfare services, housing, practical assistance for people in their own homes, meals (provided at home or community centres) and adaptations to people’s homes. The Act also gives disabled people the right to equal access to recreational and educational facilities, including help with travel. Councils have a duty to provide educational facilities for children who are both blind and Deaf, later extended to include autism and dyslexia. Buildings open to the public are required to provide parking and toilet facilities for disabled people. Disabled driver badges for cars are introduced with exemptions for parking and other access.
Alf Morris Mp
Alf Morris MP (Labour)

  • 1972 – Alf Morris becomes first disability minister.
  • 1981 – The United Nations designates 1981 as ‘The International Year for Disabled People’. Disabled people do not play a large part in most of its key events. Their response is to challenge the ‘for’ of the Year and insist on the ‘of’ aiming at self-organisation. Disabled People’s International is formed this year and now has consultative status with the United Nations.
The International Year for Disabled People
The International Year for Disabled People 1981
  • 1986 – The Disabled Persons Act strengthens the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and requires local authorities to meet the various needs of disabled people.
  • 1992- Disability Living Allowance is introduced (Read history of welfare state in the United Kingdom)
  • 1995 – Protests by disabled people lead to the landmark introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). This makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises. Service providers must now make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access their service.
  • 1996 – Bowing to pressure from the National Centre for Independent Living and the Independent Living Movement, the government makes direct payments for social care legal in The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act. Direct payments lay the foundations for self-directed support, upon which initiatives such as personal budgets are now building.
  • 2001 – The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act extends anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people to cover education providers.
  • 2004 – The legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to make buildings accessible comes into effect.
  • 2005 – The Disability Discrimination (Amendment) Act extends protection to land, transport, small employers and private clubs, extends the definition of disability and introduces a duty for public bodies to promote disabled people’s equality and ‘involve’ them in the design of services and policies.
  • 2010 – The UK Government ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. It applies to the 12 million disabled children and adults in the UK. Also in this year The Equality Act is passed by Parliament days before the general election. It outlaws direct or indirect discrimination and harassment in employment, vocational education and the provision of goods and services, for a total of nine protected characteristics including disability. It also outlaws discrimination because of association with a disabled person or because of the perception that someone is disabled.
  • 2011 – The Welfare Reform Bill proposes the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments.
  • 2012 –The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are held in the United Kingdom. Extensive media coverage by Channel 4 portrays disabled people winning medals as elite athletes.

Throughout history people with disabilities have struggled for rights and better recognition In society and world-wide.

For more information go to.


How Joe overcame the odds to make a big impact at Asda and in the local community

Joe and his mum
Joe and his mum

From childhood Joe Wastell has had to overcome the odds, fighting illness that left him with learning difficulties and unable to walk, talk, read or write for a year.

But he’s gone from strength to strength since getting a job as a porter at our Chatham store three years ago, and he’s hugely popular with colleagues and customers.

Joe, who’s 24, goes above and beyond to help shoppers – and does lots of fantastic charity and community work, including setting up a disability support group.

His mum Pauline said: “He tried for all sorts of jobs and was absolutely delighted to get the job at Asda, and we were delighted for him. It’s helped his confidence and we’re incredibly proud of him. He’s got such heart and compassion – he’s got so much to give.”

Joe’s role at Asda is his first full time job and he says it’s boosted his confidence, as well as giving him the skills to help others.

He said: “This is the only job I’ve ever had, and I was definitely grateful to be given the chance by Asda. Everyone is really helpful and friendly, and the job has helped my confidence.

“The best parts of my job are meeting new people and helping customers.

“I recently started Disability Medway Network on Facebook. The aim is to give people with disabilities a bigger voice within society. We recently held our first meet and greet event where people could talk about their experiences with disabilities, and also meet organisations who can offer support.

“I’ve also been involved in all sorts of charity and community projects. In January, I spent a night on the streets as part of ‘the big sleep out’ to raise money for Porchlight, a local homeless charity. I’m studying an Open University course in social sciences, and I’m hoping to do a counselling course in the future too.”

Joe contracted chicken pox when he was five, leading to a rare complication – a brain inflammation called encephalitis.

Pauline said: “He lost everything – his speech, his memory, the ability to walk. He’s always been a really bright lad, and he gradually learned to walk, read and write again, although he was left with a deficit in his learning.

“He loves his job. He enjoys helping people put their shopping in the boot, especially if they’re elderly, and is really popular with everyone.

“We’re incredibly proud of him. He’s had a lot go on in his life with his health, but he’s never complained once.

“Joe has always been so determined to work. He’s really making an impact in the community, encouraging other people in all sorts of ways.”

Caroline Miles, who’s a service host for self scan at the store, said: “Joe is a fantastic, outstanding colleague who goes above and beyond and will help anyone with anything.

“He goes out into the community a lot through his support groups, setting up meetings and functions. He’s a star.”

The store’s community champion Leonie Samways said: “Joe always has a smile and a helpful attitude to make our customers’ experience that little bit better.

“He does so much out in the community – he’s involved with the Scout movement, he’s walked Hadrian’s Wall and helped to lead an expedition to the Three Peaks, as well as raising money for a homeless charity.

“Joe’s one of our hidden aces and everyone here at Asda Chatham is extremely proud of him.”

Article by ASDA

Joe enjoys helping customers
Joe enjoys helping customers

Disability awareness and networking event January 2018

On the 19th January 2018 Disability Medway Network held its first disability Information and Support Fayre. We had fourteen groups ranging from  Medway MS society, Headway Medway, MAGIC,  St A’s Parent Support Group for ADHD,  Medway NHS Foundation Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Medway Neurological Network, Involving Medway, Wilbersway, Step And Learn Kent, Medway Parents and Carers ForumAztec Day Services and Medway Working Age Group 

To find a group in Disability Medway’s Network, please follow the link 

The young founder of what is thought to be Medway’s only online disability network. says he is delighted at the success of the group’s first off-line event, which took place recently at St. Justus Church in Rochester.

Twenty-four-year old Joseph Wastell, who himself has a disability. Set up the Disability Medway Network on Facebook only a year ago. The aim is to encourage people with disabilities in the region to take a more active part in society, by providing a central place for them to find the support they need. He initiated the group following his own experience of finding it difficult to access information.

thirteen groups and charities took part in the event, which was hosted at St. Justus Church – of which Joseph is a member. The aim was to allow people and carers of those with disabilities the opportunity to meet groups and charities from across Medway in person; it also allowed organisations to network with each other too, with some meeting for the first time.

Joseph, who is committed to getting the voice of disabled people heard, said that everyone should have the chance to lead a fulfilling life:

“I believe that the way to improving people’s life chances is to build up their confidence. Many disabled people are missing out, simply because it can be so hard to find out what groups are out there to support them.”

He added: “By bringing information about all the different disability needs groups together in one online place, and by running events like this fayre, I hope that disabled people will find it easier to access the help they need, and that this in turn will allow them to take a more active part in society.”

The event was funded by Involving Medway, an initiative run by Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, designed to encourage people to get involved with and help make decisions about health provision in the area. It aims to help residents lead healthier, happier lives through improved participation in community groups and activities. Rosie Anderson, Project Manager for Involving Medway, said that she had initially been unware that a group like this didn’t already exist:

“I was very surprised. An event like this is therefore so vital, as it brings together the community in Medway who have identified that they have a disability and would like to share information and support each other. This can only be beneficial to improving their health and life outcomes.”

Reverend Helen Burn, vicar of St. Justus Church said:

“As a church family we would always seek to be a welcoming and supportive place for people with disabilities, but just as with wider society, we know there is always more we can do. I am therefore really grateful that we have Joseph to help us learn and challenge us on what we do.

“I’m thrilled to see such a wonderful turn out and can only congratulate him on his commitment to making it happen.”

(Article from the Diocese or Rochester about the event)