Everything but offside - what I've learned from my friend Freddie

How forming friendships with disabled people can open up a whole new understanding.

Felicity Clifford: I’ve learned so much from my friend Freddie… except the offside rule STV News

It’s the weekend and I’ve escaped from the city to the countryside. I’m surrounded by animals and it’s peaceful, apart from the sound of a few horses eating and people walking past the barn.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a tall man with blond hair and glasses standing at the door. He walks over to me, saying: “Hibs home game. Roads busy.”

My friend Freddie has a learning disability, but always makes sure I know when the football is on, so I don’t get stuck in traffic.

We’ve been friends for just over a year. We share the same birthday, making us, in his words, “twins”.

I’ve got to know Freddie quite well – he is a sports fanatic, with Hibs and Scottish rugby being the two subjects we talk about most.

Freddie knows far more than me and often teaches me about sports – although the offside rule still evades me, much to his amusement.

Taking the time to form a friendship with someone who has a disability is something Jenny Miller, from disability charity PAMIS, wants to see more often.

She asks: “What if we all learned together? That has been our thought because this group of people are the best educators we have. They teach you how to care, how to communicate and how to listen.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we had an environment where we were learning together and then we would have architects who graduate and absolutely understand what it is to build an inclusive environment?

“Or we have a hairdresser who totally understands that, when somebody can’t sit still, how you might engage them so you can cut their hair.”

I used to think I had helped Freddie with his speech, but in reality he was helping me.

I am a much better listener and have a far better understanding about the different methods people use to communicate.

When filming at Corseford – Scotland’s first college for people with complex needs – for Scotland Tonight, I was able to break through some of the communication barriers because Freddie had taught me a different way of thinking and how to adapt.

I was able to get to know Sophie, who has cerebral palsy and complex needs. We both enjoy fashion and sparkly nail varnish.

We have more in common with people who have complex additional needs than we might think.

It might take a bit of time getting to know each other, but you never know, you might find a friend like Freddie – who is kind, funny and looks out for you.

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