Brighton & Hove Speak Out Thumbs Up

“I have a learning disability, I may need some support.”

This simple statement has proven transformative for many people with learning disabilities in Brighton and Hove. It can be found on the front of a card produced as part of the Thumbs Up Scheme, which aims to improve customer service for people with learning disabilities in Brighton and Hove.

By simply showing this card, people with learning disabilities can let others know if they need support at any given time when they are out and be ensured that those around them are aware of their learning disability.

This is one of the many great resources created by the team at Thumbs Up, made by people with learning disabilities, for people with learning disabilities. They know best what people in their position need and are extremely proud of the change they are making.

Of course, the responsibility to make people with learning disabilities comfortable when engaging with customers assistants, baristas, or professional services, for example, lies in great part with those services themselves.

This is why, when a business decides to partner with Thumbs Up, they will receive free training from Speak Out, the umbrella organisation behind Thumbs Up which advocates on behalf of people with learning disabilities and campaigns to ensure they can speak up and take action about the things that matter to them. Once this training is completed, a business receives a Thumbs Up sticker to display so that people with learning disabilities can identify them as part of the scheme.

People with learning disabilities and autistic people, and their families and others who support them, have often found that there are many barriers to the critical professional services that are so essential to their lives.

The Thumbs Up To Good Health team remedies this through their workshops and training developed to help people with learning disabilities better understand the importance of health services and how to access them. By creating a greater understanding of, among others, annual health checks, flu vaccination and cancer screenings, and raising awareness around the importance of being on the Learning Disability Register, the Thumbs Up team are an extremely important aid to the nearly 5000 people with learning disabilities in Brighton.

It is not just people with learning disabilities and autistic people with whom the group tries to raise awareness. In fact, as many people who seek out these services are all too aware, it is those very support services who often benefit the most from the sort of workshops the Thumbs Up team provide. GPs and occupational therapists along with professionals from HMRC have all been trained by the group on how to provide good support to people with learning disabilities.

The Thumbs Up team completed two days training to become NHS quality checkers in 2019 and went on to work with Brighton’s Learning Disability Health Facilitator to develop a GP Learning Disability Quality Check, which assesses whether a surgery offers good support to people with learning disabilities and awards them a gold, silver, or bronze award. The Thumbs Up GP award scheme has also been taken up in West Sussex, where 3 surgeries have been quality checked.

This work is essential. Though, the Thumbs Up team have had to overcome challenges to continue delivering it.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown hit the team pretty hard, and it was a big challenge to move the meetings online. As most of us will be aware, online meetings can make connections with others difficult. Not being able to see workshop participants face to face and providing quality check training was difficult and complicated. As a member of the Thumbs Up team comments, “It’s scary training lots of people and presenting the PowerPoints”. This led to long days of concentrating and working hard – but they all managed it!

It comes as little surprise that the feedback the Thumbs Up team has received has been glowing! Among the many highlights:

“I wish every health professional had your training. It’s so important for equal opportunities”

“Really enlightening and informative session”

“This training sessions was fantastic!”

“The Thumbs Up card makes it easier for me to ask for help in shops, I feel less shy”

The Thumbs Up team are proud of the work they do, and rightly so. They find the important training they do, and the feedback they receive, to be very rewarding and they are proud to be mentors to the wider community of people with learning disabilities. This pride is also felt in being able to share their knowledge of things like flu vaccinations and Annual Health Checks with their peers.

In the face of the anger-inducing health inequalities which they can face, having the capacity to make daily life better for people with learning disabilities is a responsibility that the team relish. Any business or organisation which wants to make life easier for the people they service needs to take a leaf out of the Thumbs Up team’s book.