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Michael Cole
I didn't want to believe I had a disability


Thirty-five-year-old Michael Cole is a former full-time Development Officer with Destined. He currently lives with his mother in the Glen area of Derry, but he intends to develop the skills to live independently.

“My childhood was good. It was full of good times and relatively happy memories. My parents got divorced when I was about four years old. But I got on well with my mum most of the time.

“The first primary school I went to was Steelstown – I don’t remember much about it as I was only five when I left. Unfortunately I was seeking a lot of attention from the teachers, and they thought I’d be better off in Belmont. When I was growing up I didn’t really like the idea of going to Belmont because of the reputation it had for being a school for people with disabilities. I just wanted to be like everyone else and go to a mainstream school.

“I know now that I while I might have learned more in a mainstream school, I would have been bullied a lot more. I was even bullied at Belmont. Some of the boys thought I was too soft and pushed me about a bit, and it was hard to get it stopped because the teachers thought I was provoking it. I was hurt, and there were times I wanted to lash out. But I knew as I got older that sort of behaviour would get me into trouble. If I’d gone to Carnhill or another school, though, it would have been much worse.”

While a teenager, Michael spent two years at Greystone Boarding School in Limavady, which he enjoyed.  But he found being away from home for five days a week too much and persuaded his mother to move him back to Belmont.

During his schooldays, there were times that Michael felt excluded and isolated. And as he readily admits, he reacted badly to rejection – and picked on other people in turn.

“I felt that, while my friends were happy to play football with me, when it came to other things I was left out. Like when they were talking about girls, they would say, ‘Don’t say things like that in front of him.’ I was embarrassed about that because at that time I didn’t realise I was different from everybody else. Even now I don’t think I am too much different. If they were going out on bikes or up to the planting, they would make excuses to make sure I didn’t know that they were going. If I did find out, they would just run on. Children are very cruel.

“Most of the trouble I got into was caused by people calling me names like ‘spastic’ or saying, ‘You go to Belmont because you are stupid’. I was very frustrated and angry. Sometimes I wanted to hit out, and sometimes I did.

“I realised myself that I was a bit cruel too to other children. I passed it on down. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t any different than the children who were mean to me, as I did the same thing to people less able than me. I wouldn’t really bully them, but I would say things that weren’t nice. I think that was a result of my own low confidence. As I grew up I realised it was wrong.”

Outside school as well, Michael could be a bit of a tearaway. But he was quick to learn the error of his ways.

“Me and my brother decided to wag school one day, and we ended up going up the town. We decided to get some lunch, but we had no money. So I went into Dunne’s Stores and decided to help myself to a bar of chocolate. But just as I was getting on the escalator, the security man grabbed my left arm and said, ‘I saw that.’

“Other times I would just been spoiled and fought with a lot of people, physically and verbally. But mostly it was a reaction to other people picking on me because of my disability or provoking me. And I didn’t have the sense to ignore them, like I do now.”


A very articulate young man, Michael left school without any formal qualifications. But he has done several courses in literacy and numeracy since then, and would now like to pursue a career in administration.

“There were several teachers who were very good to me. Mrs Mallon helped me a lot; she taught me how to read. She was a nice teacher - I liked her. Mrs Bryce was also very kind.

“Since I left school, I have completed English Entry Level III, and also did some maths so my maths has improved as well. I am currently about to start the ECDL [European Computer Driving Licence] at the Tech and I have also started a catering course. The ECDL will be a bit of a challenge but I know I am able enough for it.

“I would like to work in basic administration. Some people might think it is too high because of the exams needed. But I have found out through Dermot that basic administration doesn’t necessarily require exams - that’s why I think it is realistic.”

Since leaving school, Michael has found it difficult to find full-time employment. Though he did work in Destined for a year as a Sports Development Officer, before the funding for the post expired.

“Before that, I worked in Shantallow Training Services, where I experienced a bit of discrimination from the other young people. But I was also in the Youthways training group, which I liked.”


Michael has never been in respite care, though he has been admitted to Stradreagh, as a voluntary patient, on a number of occasions because of mental health issues.

“When I was about eighteen or nineteen, I was in Stradreagh a few times. The staff were generally okay; some were better than others. Sometimes I would have to challenge them to get to do things I would normally be allowed to do. I wasn’t really happy there but I knew I wasn’t well enough, and I needed to be there. I was a voluntary patient, so it wasn’t too much bother when I tried to get out.

“The last time I was in was 2007. I haven’t been unwell since then, so I think it’s clear I am on the mend.”


Michael’s involvement in Destined has, he states, been extremely beneficial for his confidence.

“When I was at school, I didn’t want to believe I had a disability. But at that age you don’t. As the years progressed I accepted it. I realised it was nothing to be ashamed of. Since I came to Destined I have got a lot more confident and a lot more accepting of my disability.

“I haven’t been lonely since I joined Destined. But before that I would have been lonely a lot. Destined has made a significant difference to my life. I am getting out a lot more, doing more things and going more places. I have even delivered speeches in the City Hotel and at the Guildhall, which I wrote myself.  I would go out with Destined members from time to time to the Don Bar or the café. I don’t drink except on very special occasions, but I like to go out for the craic.”

Under Destined, Michael has taken part in the Access to Citizenship programme, which aims to empower adults with learning disabilities.

“I live with my mum, but one of my three goals under the programme is to become confident enough to live on my own. I am going to be doing courses to help me like cooking and so on. I can’t cook now but I can do the basics - beans and toast and eggs. I can do most of the domestic stuff as well; I just need to learn how to use a washing machine.

“I don’t have a girlfriend, but it is something I would think about. We are going to be doing relationship training in November. It’s going to teach what skills you need to have relationships - how to go out on a Saturday night and talk.”


A football nut, Michael spends a lot of free time following his beloved Liverpool. He also likes listening to music, reading and watching TV.

He believes that support for people with learning disabilities is improving – but still isn’t perfect.

“People understand more. There are still some people out there that will never be educated and probably don’t want to be. There’s still the odd young person who would shout something. But if you don’t respond to them, it’s not giving them a laugh. That’s the way I see it.”