OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYoung people with a learning disability gathered together at the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast  on Tuesday 24th March to ask a panel of local candidates questions about the issues that matter to them. The event, which is part of Mencap’s Hear My Voice campaign, was organised by 16 young people with a learning disability from Belfast and Omagh.

The Hear My Voice Campaign is about empowering people with a learning disability and their families to have their voices heard by their local MPs in Northern Ireland and candidates in the lead up to the May 2015 General Election.

There are around 33,000 people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland but many feel they are not listened to by those in power and the issues that are important to them – like hate crime, better healthcare and education – are often not talked about.

The event is also celebrating the successful completion by 16 young people of Mencap’s IT’s Politics, a 12 week programme on using ICT to engage with local politicians which is funded by the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, The IT’s Politics Project equips young people with a learning disability with the information, skills and confidence to make local political parities and their candidates sit up and listen to issues that matter to them through ICT and social media.

Group photoPete Neill, a 19 year old with a learning disability from Greenisland, who spoke at the event said, ‘I enjoyed taking part in the IT’s Politics project as it give me more confidence to speak out in a large group. I think it is important for young people to learn about their rights and their identity. I liked meeting new people and learning about their culture. I think it would be great to keep doing a project like this with more new people.’

Paschal McKeown, country director (acting) for Mencap in Northern Ireland, said, “candidates listen to young people with a learning disability and their families about the problems they face and the changes they wish to see. They are the experts in what matters to them, so prospective candidates should be listening to what they have to say when they are out on the campaign trail.”

To find out more about Mencap’s’ Hear My voice campaign, visit www.hear-my-voice.org.uk.