People with learning disabilities have come together to improve their lives with the JAM Card scheme, thanks to support from the NOW Group in Belfast.
The scheme was the brainchild of the members of the Kidnap Wednesday club, a weekly meet-up for people with learning disabilities from all over Belfast which the NOW Group started in 2009. Six years on Kidnap Wednesday is still meeting every week at the Black Box to chat and discuss ideas to make life better for their community.
Pauline Fitzsimons, head of services at NOW Group, said: “Adults with learning difficulties tend to be very isolated. Some of them had lost confidence or didn’t have any social interaction at all.
“Many of the members had stories of problems using public services or in shops. One of our members, Gabriel Murray had a bad experience using a bus. He got off to look at the bus number every few stops to check he was on the right one. The bus driver didn’t realise he had a learning disability and drove off and left him. He didn’t know where he was. So he lost confidence and wouldn’t take a bus alone any more.”
In 2012, the Kidnap Wednesday group decided they wanted a discreet way to show they need a little time and patience. That’s when they came up with the JAM Card. They helped design the card, which has a colourful jam jar logo on one side with instructions on the opposite side asking people to “Please be patient. I have a learning disability/difficulty”. JAM Card holders show it at participating shops and services, who in turn will give Just A Minute of time and patience to the card holder. JAM window stickers have also been produced for shops and businesses welcoming JAM Card holders to come inside.
The card spread quickly across Belfast, with hundreds of businesses and public services including Cityside Shopping Centre and Translink supporting the scheme. In March this year the scheme launched in Fermanagh.
Gabriel Murray took about a year to build up his confidence using public transport again, but now he hands over the card when he gets on a bus and the driver knows to be patient.
“I’m more confident using public transport now because of the JAM Card,” he said.
Pauline said the Kidnap Wednesday members’ idea had made a real difference to people’s lives.
“They recognized the problem and came up with solution, and it is far better than anything we could have come up with. We’re not the experts. They are the experts in living with a learning disability,” she said.
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