Living a full life with a learning disability

Learning disability does not stop Ciara from leading a normal life.

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Living a full life with a learning disability

In this episode, Our Voices focuses on Ciara, a woman who has refused to accept the limitations that society has outlined for her. She talks about how advice from a supportive and successful cousin, The Edge from U2, helped her to unleash her own potential.

A supportive voice

When Ciara was young, she had a famous cousin to look up to: The Edge, lead guitarist in the band U2. He would often give her advice. When Ciara was just 12 years old, he said to her 

“Just because you have a learning disability, it doesn’t make you any different. It just means you might need some extra support in your life. And everybody has some kind of difficulty in their life. Everybody has barriers.” 

This advice has proved to be invaluable for Ciara throughout her life.

having the right support if you have learning disability matters alot.


Being at school with a learning disability


But she didn’t always have adequate support and had a particularly difficult time at school. It wasn’t until she was aged 10 that she learned she had a learning disability. Until then, stress and learning were commonly associated. 

The challenges she faced at school were put down to a desire to be disruptive and an unwillingness to learn. Teachers’ general approach to Ciara rested on isolating her from the class when she was struggling to keep up with her peers. Describing her feelings at school, Ciara says “I was very upset. I felt isolated. It was really difficult. And people didn’t understand.”

An uncomfortable assessment

Finally, Ciara had an assessment to determine whether she had special needs. The process was particularly difficult.The process was particularly difficult. 

“I saw language therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, I think I saw every therapist there is in this world at the age of 10, when all you’re trying to do is grow up and be a child. It was heartbreaking. I thought: why am I having to go through this? Why nobody else in my family? Why me?”

Starting a new school


As a result of the assessment, Ciara discovered that she had learning disability and she was transferred to a new school focused on helping her with her special needs. She was naturally nervous about making the transition to a new environment. 

This was made even more difficult by the fact that the school was 90 minutes away from her home. In order to spare Ciara the commute, her parents made the decision that she would board there throughout the week. “I was away from my family. I was away from everything I ever knew. And I had to get used to this new school and the people around me.”


Meeting Sally

One of the benefits of her new environment was that she discovered Sally. Sally was the person Ciara shared a dorm with, and, when they first met, one could say that neither individual made a wholly positive impression. “She hated me. She thought I was a snobby what’s it. I didn’t like her, because she was a gobby what’s it. And we didn’t like each other at all.”

A lifelong friendship

Despite these initial impressions, Ciara found Sally to be particularly supportive one night after a classmate had insulted her. Ciara was sobbing and Sally put her arm around her. This kind action proved to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. 

“She actually then became my best friend. And she stuck up for me. And we used to then go to the same evening clubs together. We would hang out together, we would have fun together, we would laugh together.”

Overcoming the barriers of her learning disability


Ciara’s dreams for the future saw her wanting to have a career and a family like other people. She drew inspiration from people such as her cousin, The Edge, and she has now worked for Mencap for the last 21 years. In this way, she has been overcoming the barriers of her learning disability. 

She is currently working as Big Plan Engagement Lead, which involves providing learning disability support and helping those with special needs by talking to them to ensure that they are included in the charity’s strategy. “I love my job so much because it means to me that I’m respected. I’m listened to. I have value. And it means that I can live the life that I want to like anyone else.”

Learning disability doesn't stop you from having a loving family.


What normal life looks like


As part of her role, Ciara has been exposed to prejudicial attitudes towards those with disabilities, particularly those who tell her what normal life looks like and how those with learning disabilities can never fully participate.

At a conference with Mencap colleagues, a support worker who was sitting next to her turned to her and said “ ‘People with learning disabilities don’t have relationships… They can’t love. They don’t have boyfriends, girlfriends, they don’t get married.’ And I was in a relationship. And it really rocked me. And I went home that night going, but we do! Why can’t we?”

Inspiring others

Ciara decided that the best way to change this narrative was to show the world how successful her own relationship was. When she got married to her partner, Mark, she made sure that the news was communicated all over social media. 

This led to a young woman contacting Ciara. She said that she had heard about Ciara’s career and marriage via Mencap, and that she had been inspired by her and was about to go on her own first date. “My heart just felt so wonderful. That just was amazing. Because, you know, she wanted to be like me.”

helping her with her special needs


Ciara’s Pink Sparkle Podcast


This experience gave Ciara the desire to set up her own platform so that she could help even more people like her cross barriers and reach their full potential. During lockdown, she found a way to do this by starting her own podcast called “Ciara’s Pink Sparkle Podcast”. Describing the podcast, Ciara says

 “What I hope when people listen to this is that they change their perception of people with a learning disability.”

The first episode of the podcast featured none other than her famous cousin. “For years now I’ve grown up watching him on his stage. And now, he sees me on my stage of what I do. We’ve got that mutual respect for each other and love for each other. And I think that’s always something that can never be taken away.”

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Our Voices podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Our Voices podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

 

Experience in Industry: 3

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Favourite Food: Potatoes

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Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

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I’m the community manager at Our Voices. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests from all around the world. What I love most about working for Our Voices is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

 

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

 

Industry experience: 2.5 Years

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Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

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I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Our Voices podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years

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Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Our Voices’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

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Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

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I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Our Voices podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

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Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

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Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live by.

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I am the host of Our Voices. I help to find the guests that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and many of these people had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Our Voices’ because I wanted to give these people a platform to share these stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!

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Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.