In a ground-breaking book and exhibition entitled Great Interactions  the renowned documentary photographer Polly Braden, in partnership with national charity MacIntyre, presents images and stories she has captured over two years which recognise the daily interactions and life achievements of people with a learning disability. The aim is simple: to challenge outdated perceptions of what it means to live life with a learning disability.

Braden’s photographs capture the everyday moments and milestones that organisations like MacIntyre help to make possible. The subject is complex but the aim is simple; to highlight the everyday interactions that enable life-changing experiences. The exhibition is being hosted by he National Media Museum and runs from 27th February to 10th April, with a special launch event taking place on the 1st March.

Commenting on her work Polly said:“In our daily lives, we can take for granted the countless interactions that enrich our life experience. From the friendly chat at the supermarket checkout to that encouraging smile or cup of tea from a work colleague when you’re having a bad day, these small interactions make a big impact on our wellbeing. For the 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability and 700,000 with autism, these interactions are even more fundamental to their quality of life.

“In Great Interactions, I have tried to convey stories about the challenges people with a learning disability and autism face in simply trying to have the same opportunities as everyone else but the stories are also inspiring. They represent the interactions between support workers and the people they support. These simple yet amazing interactions have enabled people to achieve what may have once seemed impossible, from finding employment and using public transport to graduating from high school and getting married. These interactions are not always obvious in the photographs but as is true for all of us, they are what make a difference between existing and living.”

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The national learning disability charity MacIntyre was set up 50 years ago by Kenneth Newton-Wright, the father of a disabled child who had been told his child was uneducable. He firmly believed that every child should have the same opportunities in life. Today MacIntyre provideslearning, support and care for more than 1,500 children and adults with learning disabilities and autism across the UK.

The exhibition is to be launched by MacIntyre Chairman John Berriman, whose brother James was one of the first children supported by MacIntyre. He said: “No-one would dispute that people with a learning disability and autism should live the life they choose. However, too often people are excluded from education, work and even areas we take for granted like forming friendships. My brother James has had the support to enable him to achieve his potential; he works in catering, is married to a lovely woman and enjoys going to support his favourite football team as well as playing himself. Great Interactions is about recognising the lives of people we support but is also an appeal to policy-makers, commentators and the wider public to ensure we all play our role in creating an inclusive society in which everyone has the same opportunities to live the life they choose.”

The Great Interactions launch is supported by London 2012 Paralympian and UK Sports Association Ambassador, Dan Pepper. Talking about his own journey to achieve his swimming ambitions as someone with a learning disability, Dan said: “I’ve worked hard to achieve my sporting success but it isn’t something I’ve achieved on my own. I’ve had tremendous support throughout my life from my friends, family, and coaches to name just a few.

“With the right support, people with learning disability can achieve their goals in life, just like anyone else. The Great Interactions exhibition and book are a testament to that. I’m proud to help open the exhibition and to be an Ambassador for the UK Sports Association. We’ll continue to show people that anything is possible.” 

National Media Museum Director Jo Quinton-Tulloch said: “Photography is such a powerful and accessible medium. Through the images presented in Great Interactions, Polly has been able to connect the audience with the real lives of people with a learning disability; a simple gesture, expression or action reminds us that we are part of a diverse, rich society in which every person should be able to participate. The National Media Museum is committed to engaging the breadth of our community and we are delighted to be working with MacIntyre and local partners to ensure Great Interactions informs, engages and includes all audiences.”

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