Jackie Downer MBE
This month, Rachel talks to Jackie Downer MBE about her career and experiences. Jackie Downer MBE is a black woman with a learning disability, who has been fighting for the rights of people to be treated equally her whole life. Jackie is Managing Director of The Quality Company, who assess the quality of support people with a learning disability receive.
Q: How did you first get involved with Thera?
I do a lot of networking, which is how I heard about Thera and the job I do now. Once I had got enough experience and confidence, I applied for the Managing Director job.
Q: Why do you do your job?
It’s about when you see people treated in a different way. I do it for people with a learning disability and for myself. If it wasn’t for people with a learning disability I wouldn’t be where I am today. People with a learning disability get discriminated against. You see discrimination, you don’t want it to happen. Everyone’s got a right to be who they are.
I went to a special school – my friends from there are still in a day centre. I have a job, I’m so lucky. I do it because people believe in me. I don’t want bad things to happen to people with a learning disability.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Interviewing people with a learning disability. When I first started with Thera I interviewed a group of people with complex disabilities that got a job, and some of them are still here years later. It makes me happy, because they’ve grown so much. People are doing things for themselves, they’ve got real jobs and real wages.
Q: You’ve been really involved in fighting for the rights of black women with a learning disability. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve done?
When you’re black and you’ve got a learning disability, it’s called double discrimination. It’s a double whammy. I’ve written lots of books with my support worker about black people with a learning disability. I created a black friendly group. I won the Black Disabled Achievers Award.
I got my MBE for the services I did in the community in Southwark and St. Georges.
Q: How have things changed for people with a learning disability in recent times?
Definitely. It sounds silly, but I never believed I would have a mobile phone, or my own chequebook. Linnett believed in me, and now I have them. I have independence now. People with a learning disability are going out into the community, they’re having jobs now. They’re living a life like other people. They have partners and children, that never used to happen. They’re buying their own place. It’s still not perfect, but things have definitely changed.
Q: If you could have a dinner party with anyone in the world, who would you invite?
My mum. All the people in my life, especially Linnett (my support worker). Other support workers, and family and disabled friends, and people I love.