D&AD Archive Dive: M is for……

Archive Dive: M is for Mencap

Rowena Roberts is a freelance copywriter, reviewer, marketer and compulsive scribbler. In other words, a storyteller. If you, too, believe in the power of stories, you can connect with her via www.rowwrites.com or @rowwrites.

I remember a day when I returned from school to find Mum sat on the staircase, her arms wrapped tightly around the bottom banister post, sobbing. I think I was eight or nine years old.

I sat down next to her, put my arms around her shaking shoulders, and asked why she was crying. And, proving how upset she truly was, she told me.

She’d been to Sarah’s school and spoken to one of her teachers, who had reported that my little sister’s progress wasn’t good. And who had said that, if Sarah carried on in this way, when she became older she would likely have to be placed in a home. A “mental” home.

I cried, too – not at that moment, but later, alone. But before that happened, I made a fervent promise to my mother that my sister, her daughter, would never end up in any such place, if I had my way.

That was many years ago. And it’s amazing to compare that day to this and realise everything that Sarah has achieved, and continues to achieve.

She finds it difficult to understand and follow conversations. But she’s one of the most intuitive people I know, with a gift for reading moods.

She finds it hard to express herself. But she doesn’t let that stop her from joining in.

She can’t tie her shoelaces. But she can show you how to cook a mean curry.

She’s a stubborn creature with a lot of pride. Which, speaking as her sister who had to grow up alongside her, could be a right pain in the arse. But which, speaking as her sister who loves her, I am grateful for. Because it’s what motivates her, drives her onwards, keeps her trying no matter what, when most people I know – myself included – would likely have given up long ago.

The biggest challenge for many people with learning disabilities is their inability to communicate coherently and successfully. For my sister, this was a source of massive frustration throughout her childhood, leading to raging tantrums, storms of weeping, even episodes of self-harm.

But she also had sources of help: loving family, stimulating friends, remarkable teachers. And the television programme Countdown, from which, several years after we’d given up on the idea that she ever could, she learned the first tools for reading – the letters of the alphabet.

Without communication, we are all isolated, lost, frustrated and frightened. Without communication, we lack understanding, recognition, appreciation and control.

Which is why this design project by Fontsmith is so much more than an elegant typeface. Researched and developed in conjunction with Mencap, it makes text easier for people with learning difficulties to read. Thus, in its own seemingly small way, it helps to make the world a freer, more expressive, more understanding, more inclusive place to live.

As communicators – indeed, as people – shouldn’t that be an aim for us all?


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