In January of this year, United Response was proud to launch the first ever newspaper created for people with learning disabilities – Easy News. The launch took place at a House of Commons event attended by MPs and ministers from all the main political parties. Easy News really struck a chord; not only was it created in a format designed to be accessible to people with learning disabilities, but it is also written and edited by them. United Response hired experts in easy read, known as Consultants, to simplify the language of news stories and add visual cues to create news that is easy to read.

United Response has always strived to include the people it supports at the very heart of its work - promoting its continuing mission of independence and equality for individuals with disabilities. These values of independence and equality were created back in 1973. Forty years ago, people with learning disabilities had few opportunities to get involved in anything - even running their own lives. Most lived in long term institutions, excluded from society, with little to do and few rights. United Response focused most of its efforts on giving the people it supported more opportunities.

These values of independence and equality are still present in the organisation today. However, in recent years United Response has focused on gaining democratic equality - believing that through democracy people can gain true social equality. Until recently, most people with learning disabilities did not have any right to vote due to outdated electoral laws. Even in the 2005 general election, after the 2003 Electoral Reform Act removed major legal obstacles, just 16% of people with learning disabilities actually voted.

United Response found that one of the major barriers was the complexity of information about voting and politics. In response, it began creating accessible guides to voting for people it supports. In addition, it worked with the political parties on “easy read” manifestos, using simple language and visual cues. Because of such initiatives, nearly a third of people with learning disabilities voted in 2010, almost double the number of voters in the previous election. 

However, even though United Response is helping people during elections it knows there is still a lack of political knowledge the rest of the time – after all a person's opinions form over many years and not just over an election period.

United Response talked to people it supports and found that the way the news is traditionally presented is complex and difficult to grasp. When the charity conducted research to find out more, it found that only 4 out of 10 people it supported were sure they could name a major recent event in the news and only 11% regularly read a newspaper. Instead they relied on other people, such as family members or support staff, to update them about the news.

United Response knew that not only was there a demand for regular news but also news people with learning disabilities would understand and appreciate. Based on the charities findings, in 2012 it began to work with people it supports on a solution. United Response created Easy News. The first ever “easy read” newspaper for people with learning disabilities, using simple language and visual cues to keep people informed about political events and current affairs. The first edition was a roundup of major news stories from 2012, while future editions will appear every two months and will include more topical news stories.

Given that the success of Easy News depended on engaging with people with learning disabilities, United Response knew this group had to be involved in the newspaper from start to finish.

Employing people with learning disabilities made perfect sense for United Response. The Consultants know what learning disabled readers want, and how it should be presented. While the charity provided suggestions on what stories to consider, the Consultants had the final decision on which stories should be included.

The Consultants help to achieve the aim of the newspaper - getting more people with learning disabilities involved in politics and up to date with the news. This maintains United Response's continued mission for true social equality and independence for people with disabilities.

The result of the dedicated work of United Response's Consultants was a successful first edition of Easy News. Not only did many politicians from the House of Commons attend the newspapers launch, it also gained positive coverage across the media.

But perhaps most importantly, people with learning disabilities and their families are incredibly enthusiastic about Easy News with many of them seeing it as a big step towards social equality. The result of which is helping people to engage with the news and politics like never before.  

United Response hopes that Easy News will be another way in which it can create a level playing field for people with learning disabilities - making them equal participants in our society. It is an objective it believes can only be achieved with the involvement of the people it supports.

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