By Charlie McMillan

THE American political activist Eleanor Roosevelt once remarked that our human rights begin “in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.”

The stark reality is that for many people with learning disabilities in Scotland, their human rights are not realised in these small places. They experience barriers in accessing employment, they are the victims of hate crime, and they experience hugely disproportionate health inequalities. Research shows that people with learning disabilities die up to 20 years earlier than the general population, and during the pandemic they were three times more likely to die due to covid-19, twice as likely to become infected and twice as likely to have a severe infection. This is simply unacceptable and is wholly at odds with the underlying principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which aims to ensure that disabled people enjoy the same human rights as everyone else and that they can participate fully in society.

However, we cannot take action to protect our human rights if we do not know about and understand them. It is this challenge that has led us at the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities (SCLD) to develop Human Rights Town, an app designed to help people with learning disabilities to understand their human rights as enshrined in the UNCRPD. The app invites users to travel around a virtual "Human Rights Town" where they encounter different scenarios at each location, such as using public transport or shopping at the supermarket. Through practical examples Human Rights Town introduces users to each of their human rights in turn and asks them to choose whether they believe their rights are being respected or not in each scenario.

Members of our app development group like Fiona Dawson, a professional swimming coach with Down’s Syndrome, have said that the app makes them informed about their human rights and empowered to make changes in their own lives and communities. The potential impact of our app has only been made possible by the leading role that people with learning disabilities, and their supporters, themselves have had in its development as co-designers. They are the real experts and this is reflected in the authenticity of the scenarios in Human Rights Town. This is the positive difference that people with learning disabilities can make when they are given the right opportunities and support.

Scotland is currently on a journey to become a world leader in human rights, and I hope this app can be one small step in the right direction. However, this journey will not be complete unless people with learning disabilities truly have their human rights realised, and are living their best lives in the small places at the heart of our communities.

Charlie McMillan is Chief Executive, Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities