Through the Maze is one of several fantastic organisations that work in Leeds to help children and adults with learning disabilities. We went to speak to the Co-ordinator, Madeleine Fahy, to ask her about what Through the Maze was all about and what her role is.
We run information and signposting service for people with learning disabilities, their carers and professionals. We produce a quarterly newsletter and we have a website which has a directory of all services and businesses that provide information and help for people with learning disabilities. We also help people with on-going issues or requests – we are the first port of call for the signposting and advice needed.
I’m the coordinator and manage the day to day running of the service. I have 2 support workers with learning disabilities who work in administration and attend meetings here. They are great and fantastically helpful, and they give the perspective from a person with learning disabilities when I’m planning work.
What do you think are the main challenges for people with learning disabilities in Leeds – and what’s happening to overcome these?
I would say mainly finding things to do with their time, and also transitions between one thing and the next, for example, people coming out of school. They finish school, are waiting to go to college and then only get offered 3 days a week at college, what can they do to fill their time? Leeds City College and others are helping to close the gap.
Travel is also very difficult; bus drivers don’t always understand and are not always patient enough, setting off and not waiting for the person to sit down. Since you can’t always tell when someone has a learning disability, there have been bus passes of different colours but they can be a big signpost to say ‘I have a learning disability’. The new cards however are just scanned like a monthly pass and the bus driver gets extra information on his screen about the person without drawing attention to people – it’s a discreet way of informing people with what they need to know. Safe Places are also great ways of helping more independent travel for people with learning disabilities.
Safe Places is a scheme spearheaded by the council that businesses and organisations can sign up to isn’t it? They put a sign in their window and people with a learning disability receive an emergency contact card. If someone needs help, staff will telephone the numbers listed to get help.
Yes, it’s a great scheme from the council, and all these little things make me more optimistic for the future. More shared practice is needed – there will be more working together in the future between organisations in Leeds so the people with learning disabilities win.
Can you give us an example of someone whose life has been improved by Through the Maze?
A young man came to us last year after finishing his education. He has autism and a learning disability. He couldn’t make eye contact with me. It was really difficult to find out what he wanted to do. All he wanted to do was work in a comic shop. We found him an animation course to do, and he has since left me messages on my answer phone, written to me by email, thanking me for the animation courses we found him. He is making comics and he loves it. The course tutor has asked if he can attend a third course as a helper, meeting students off the bus, because he has interacted so well and socialised well with the other students. He really wants to do it and no one is telling him he isn’t good enough like all the way through his life. At 22 he found what he loves to do and he never stops talking now! All we did was listen and find him one course to go on.
This is the best thing about working in this field – giving someone a chance in life, and giving the parent or carer help too.
Thanks Madeleine. For links to Through the Maze and other Leeds based organisations for adults with learning disabilities, see our Leeds Learning Disability Week post.