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60 Stories - Kenneth McGowan

Alexandria’s Kenneth McGowan is a typically confident, out-going and chatty eighteen-year-old, who is a member of ENABLE Scotland – the country’s leading charity for people who have learning disabilities.
 
Known amongst his friends at his local youth group as ‘the man with the plan’, he is an active member of the group, always keen to contribute his ideas and help his peers.
 
But Kenneth openly admits that he is unrecognisable to himself and to those who knew him before joining the youth group and that he has undergone a huge transformation from a once nervous and profoundly shy boy. 
 
“My ENABLE Scotland worker suggested that I join the Speak4Yourself Group in West Dunbartonshire when it first started,” explained Kenneth.
 
“I was 13 at the time and she had noticed that I was seriously lacking in confidence and unable to speak to people that I didn’t know. It took a lot of encouragement on her part to get me to go along and when I did, I was extremely anxious. I really clamped up in the beginning and I would only speak if I was asked a question. Now they literally can’t get me to shut up!”
 
When Kenneth is asked what brought about the dramatic change in his personality, his answer is quite simple: friendship.
 
“Building friendships with other members in the group was the key that unlocked me. I noticed that other people were nervous too so I started to talk to them. The more I got to know them, the more they began to feel like my friends rather than just strangers in a room. As a result, I  felt more comfortable and opened up.” 
 
With his new found confidence, Kenneth is often at the forefront of planning the group’s activities and he has learned more about team participation and his personal capabilities.
 
“We all come into the group and decide on our activities as a democracy. We then take responsibility for planning and organising how we will do it. I find that whole experience really fun and energising. “My absolute favourite activity is our trips to Laser Quest. I love it. I thought it was something that I wouldn’t be very good at because you need two hands to hold the gun and one of my hands is much weaker than the other. But I have discovered that I can do it and actually, sometimes I do it very well!”
 
Kenneth’s physical disabilities mean that he is in a wheelchair, but he is determined not to let that prevent him from being independent and able. He passionately believes that un-able bodied people should be free to do the things that any able bodied person can and this belief has driven him to become a leading light in the Speak4Yourself group’s campaign activities. Their current campaign, ‘Help Us Be Spontaneous’ (HUBS), focuses on train travel for people with a disability and aims to reduce the length of notice that wheelchair users require to give to train companies before they can travel. 
 
“At the moment, we have to give 24 hours’ notice and we want to see that reduced to four. Most other teenagers can be spontaneous so why can’t we? It makes me annoyed to be told that there is no assistance for me if I try to book a train at short notice or get on a train to go home from the group. To see the doors close on you while you phone a taxi really makes you feel rubbish. My ultimate goal right now is to make a success of this campaign because I know how important and how life-changing it has been for me to feel like a normal person. The MSP Jackie Baillie supports our campaign and invited us to the Scottish Parliament to discuss our issues.”
 
Contrary to the timid and reclusive boy he once was, Kenneth is now well accustomed to public speaking and is an enthusiastic representative for Speak4Yourself’s national group. When it received a special commendation at the Care Accolades awards ceremony, Kenneth attended the pre-entering stage meeting in Edinburgh to present a case for the group and spoke at the Keys to Life launch as part of the government’s Learning Disability Strategy Bill. 
 
“I think speaking at these events really is my proudest achievement because I would never have been able to do anything like that a few years ago,” said Kenneth. 
 
“I feel compelled to share my opinions now because the work of this group has helped me - in fact it’s changed me for the better. That is important and it’s why I won’t let anything hold me back from speaking up now.”
 
Kenneth’s positivity and determination saw him recognised as one of ENABLE Scotland’s 25 Inspirational Young People - but he modestly attributes even that to the friendships he has gained over the last six years. 
 
“Everything I have achieved is through the confidence and independence the group has given me. I have made friends here that I know will be friends for life. I love the sense of community, the laughs and the banter. It feels like being a normal teenager.” 

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