Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.
People with a learning disability aren’t from Mars
Sarah Gordy 15/06/2015
Mother and daughter relationships are always important, but for Sarah and Jane Gordy there’s an extra reason why theirs is unique. Daughter Sarah has a successful drama career and has appeared in various BBC and ITV dramas, and mother Jane is her manager. In their blog for Learning Disability Week, they chat about how and why attitudes towards learning disability in and outside of the media need to change.
How would you describe your relationship?
Sarah: We live together easily and happily sharing the domestic chores. We know each others strengths and weaknesses. We feel very protective of each other.
Jane: It’s a loving, adult, respectful, creative and supportive relationship.
What do you like about each other the most?
Jane: I admire Sarah’s professionalism. She’s the one who decides to take on a project after we have discussed it in detail. Once she says yes she’s 100% behind it and will do whatever it takes to create a high quality performance.
Sarah: I admire how my mum talks through a project making sure that I fully understand how much work it would be. How long it will take etc. Also I like the way mum encourages me to have a go at new things.
Sarah, you have previously described your mum as your superhero – why does she do that so well?
Sarah: She makes sure I am fully prepared, I’m confident because of it. She is quietly there somewhere watching, if I give her the look she comes close listens and talks if she has something to say. Mum enjoys life, she is very funny. She wants me to have a go at anything. She says have a go. If it does work never mind.
Do you remember when you first wanted to act, Sarah?
Sarah: Not really, when I was very little my classmates forgot what to do on stage and got frightened, I didn’t so I could help. So I got used to having good parts from the age of 5. Before that we, my sister and I, did little plays so I was just born that way.
What are your memories Jane, of Sarah saying she wanted to act?
Jane: Acting was just there from the beginning. I knew that drama helped development but I wasn’t thinking of it as a career. Granada TV was searching for a girl who could do quite a complicated part for Peak Practice. Three weeks filming. Somebody from a theatre company had seen her act and told Granada about Sarah. Different members of the caste and crew were impressed and asked what she had done before as she was good. After that experience she said to me, “Mum I want to take this further and be a full time professional”. I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
What does learning disability mean to you in terms of what Sarah wants to achieve with her life?
Jane: It means Sarah cannot be an accountant. She can continue to develop as an actor. Having a learning disability means that some paths are not worth taking, like accountancy, she must concentrate on the gifts she is given.
Do you think enough people understand what a learning disability is – there seems to be a lot of confusion sometimes?
Sarah: Some people think it is a mental illness. It is not. Sometimes people think that a person with Down’s syndrome is a ‘Down’s syndrome’. That’s like saying once you have seen one Welshman you’ve seen them all. Everybody is an individual. I think people are also beginning to understand that a person with a learning disability is not dull or boring. They are probably bad at some things, good at others and possibly be great company.
Do you think people are sometimes afraid of approaching someone with a learning disability because they don’t often understand the conditions people have?
Sarah: Yes, we always say smile and be friendly to anybody. It usually works. People with a learning disability are not from Mars.
How different do you think the world would be if more people understood what a learning disability is?
Jane: So much happier. It takes people with a learning disability longer to learn stuff. I also find that they have the ability to enjoy every small good thing in life. Getting to know different people with learning disabilities may be a shortcut to wisdom!
Sarah, how important was it for you to play a role in Call The Midwife that made people pay more attention to learning disability in the media?
Sarah: Call The Midwife (see picture, right) was very important to me. I met Heidi Thomas during the filming of Upstairs Downstairs. She was the writer and I played Pamela Hollands. Heidi also writes Call The Midwife. She contacted my agent about my availability before writing the episode and it was a very good role. Unfortunately it is set in the 1950s when people with Down’s syndrome were hidden away, so no real chance of bringing me back into that series. It was also good that my character’s boyfriend did not have a learning disability, he had Cerebral Palsy.
Jane: Sarah is currently working with a successful producer on a leading role in a new TV programme. Why not a BAFTA one day?
Finally, tell us something about your relationship that most people wouldn’t know.
Sarah: Lets see, you know we like bubbly when we can get it. I try to encourage mum to do her exercise and keep her weight down. When I see a gorgeous man in a magazine she insists he is her toyboy and we have a little fight. Great fun.