People with learning disabilities are all too used to having people without learning disabilities speak for them and tell policy makers, law makers and practitioners what is best for them and what their needs are. What civil rights movement would accept this state of affairs?
Mark breaks the mould; he speaks directly to those in power about his experiences and people’s needs.
People with Mark’s background face great barriers to accessing an ordinary life, let alone having the opportunity to let their individual qualities and skills shine and inspire others.
Growing up in an educational apartheid, low expectations are the norm and can have terribly damaging consequences for future work. Socially, life can be very lonely.
Mark has faced serious personal challenges in his life to the extent that at times, he has really only had himself to rely on and trust.
Most people don’t know this feeling but Mark works to overcome and use his experiences to reach out to people, to reassure people and to tell them that they are not alone in what can be sometimes a hostile, and almost always a challenging environment.
Against this backdrop, Mark’s achievements are even more extraordinary. He is a leader for and of people with learning disabilities.
He presents with great force and impact to hundreds of people at conferences, trains and challenges frontline and senior police and is consistently taken seriously as he suggests ways forward to address some of the most difficult problems affecting people with learning disabilities in the UK today.
People with learning disabilities are frequently surprised, inspired and proud to watch Mark hold his own in all kinds of situations.
The fact that he has personal experience brings a nuance and authenticity to his message and he shows no hesitation to speak truth to power.
In the same way that his approach can transform people with learning disabilities’ ideas about what is possible, Mark’s interventions are transforming the attitudes of police, prosecutors and policy makers.
While he is challenging in putting his perspective forward, he has a tremendous sense of humour, which has lightened many a situation and connected people in new ways.
Mark brings people’s experiences directly into places where they wouldn’t usually go. He talks of people being spat at, hit and abused simply because they have learning disabilities.
He explains the impact of this sometimes daily harassment, and his approach is innovative in its authenticity and originality.
For example, he talked to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, about his experiences and their impact, which was later included in the first speech about disability hate crime given by a DPP.
Through his sheer tenacity, Mark convinced his current employer, Dimensions, to strategically focus on hate crime as a key campaigning and policy issue. It took him over five years but he didn’t give up.
This determination contributed to the successful and ongoing #ImwithSam campaign, as part of which Mark made a first appearance on BBC Breakfast.
Mark has also been a part of Havering People First since 1999. He has freely shared his knowledge, experience and skills with generosity and kindness. Operating at the national – and increasingly, international – level has given him experience and connections, which he generously shares.
There can be few people who have travelled across the UK more than Mark. Every week he visits people living in supported living services and finds out how they are doing. This peer connection is priceless and brings a depth of quality assurance to Dimensions services that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Mark has touched hundreds of people with learning disabilities and demonstrated that leadership and achievement is possible when all too often they are given the exact opposite message.