Success story: The rise of an employee with a learning disability

Written by
Ciara Lawrence

11 Nov 2016

11 Nov 2016 • by Ciara Lawrence

My education

When I was at college I did an NVQ in admin, I really enjoyed it, and I was very good at it. I wanted to use my NVQ to get an office job, and then move my way up the career ladder. But when I left college I found it difficult to get a job in admin, even with my NVQ. 

Trying to get a job

After a lot of hard work and a few jobs stacking shelves, I got an interview for an office job – doing office admin for a local sports centre. I knew I had the skills to do this job really well, but I was still very nervous when it came to the interview. At the start of the interview the manager looked up and down my CV; he started to talk through my education, but then when he saw that I had gone to a Special Education Needs school his face fell. I knew that this wasn’t going to go well.

Too often people with a learning disability get overlooked when it comes to employment. Just 6% of people with a learning disability known to local authorities are in paid jobs – 6%! That’s a huge amount of talented people that companies are missing out on. 

Given a chance

Eventually I got a full time office job, working for Mencap, and I have been here for 15 years. I’ve been given the right support and have achieved a lot here; from being promoted to being interviewed live on TV.

I’m not alone – research shows that employees with a learning disability are harder workers, can make the office a happier place to work, take less sick days and are more loyal. Plus the general public will probably think better about your company too; the benefits are pretty amazing.

Employing people with a learning disability

Then, you ask yourself: “How can we employ a person with a learning disability, where should we start?”

If you haven’t done it before, you might be worried that it can be a lot of work – but it really doesn’t need to be, it’s all just about making things accessible. Simple really.

A big issue is the interview. If you are interviewing someone with a learning disability it might be worth seeing if it is possible to change the interview into a work trial. Not everyone with a learning disability will be able to perform in an interview as well as they can do the job – so this gives them a chance to better show off their skills.

If that isn’t possible, then have a think about how accessible the interview and application is. Make the language accessible, get rid of any jargon and use words that everyone can understand. It also helps if you can allow a support worker to come along to the interview and offer a little extra support if needed. It’s all about making small and reasonable adjustments so that everyone who has the skills for the job can have an equal chance.

Success, made simple

If you do have a new staff member with a learning disability, make sure you make things accessible for them before they start. Ask if they need any computer software to help them do their job, or anything else that will need to be bought in before they start. Also have a chat with the people they are working with and make sure that they understand what a learning disability is – this will make sure there aren’t any awkward conversations later!

You can also offer learning disability training and Mencap has lots of information on its website that can help with this. Their Learning Disability Work Experience Week programme helps companies get a sense of what it is like to employ someone with a learning disability.

It’s also a good idea to take things in stages; to sit down and talk with people, and work out if they need help or training with anything – and break the job down into chunks if you need to. 

Making a happier, loyal and inclusive workforce

The government will also help you provide support for an employee with a learning disability, via the Access To Work scheme. It’s a scheme that a lot of people don’t seem to know about, but it is so useful! The scheme provides money to help pay for any additional support a person with a disability may need to help them remain in their job.

If you are thinking of including people with a learning disability in your recruitment, I would say – just do it! It’s up to you to help change the attitudes in your work place; and when you do you will see amazing benefits and a much happier, loyal and inclusive workforce.

Learning Disability Work Experience Week (running 7-11th November 2016) is geared to raise the awareness of learning disability across the UK. This year they're celebrating friendships and relationships.

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