This week (18–22 November) is Learning Disability Work Week, celebrating what great employees people with a learning disability make. Two people speak to us about their experiences getting into paid employment.
Just six per cent of people with a learning disability in the UK are in employment. Mencap’s Learning Disability Work Week (LDWW) aims to change that by showing that people with a learning disability make great employees, just like anyone else.
Having a job is often something which is taken for granted, but it allows people to feel valued, contribute to society and remain independent – all important for self-worth and confidence.
Natalie and Charlotte both have jobs that they value, but the journey to find them was difficult.
“I looked for other work but it was harder because I didn’t know what work to look for,” stresses Charlotte.
“I didn’t know what kind of job was suited to me and I didn’t know how I would get on at work because it’s hard to adapt to.”
For the last ten years Charlotte has worked as a customer assistant at Tesco.
Like Charlotte, Natalie worried about adjusting to the world of work when she first started looking for jobs. Natalie now works for Mencap as a learning disability awareness co-ordinator, but previously completed a supported internship at the Financial Times newspaper.
Both Natalie and Charlotte ended up where they are today after completing Mencap’s supported internship programme.
Seeking support while looking for jobs, and providing the right guidance as an employer, is essential to getting more people with a learning disability into work.
“For me, even though I was quite able it was still hard as a person with a disability to get into work, a little support and help goes a long way,” explains Charlotte.
Through supported internships like the ones provided through the charity, this extra help is available.
“I am the person I am today because of the programme co-ordinators,” emphasises Natalie. “As soon as I heard about the supported internship I was on board because I needed something to boost my confidence.”
Workshops taken alongside other job seekers teach people what it will be like on the job, the skills needed and how they can get support from their employer.
If you do not know what support is available, or it is not readily available from an employer, the prospect of starting work can be scary.
“It was very daunting at the beginning and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for,” remembers Charlotte. “It was my first job and a big company to work for.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve become more confident and I’ve met new friends.”
Like Charlotte, Natalie has experienced a rise in her self-confidence, as well as the skills she needs to remain independent, she says: “It benefitted me in a lot of ways because back in the day I was quite shy and the supported internship made me realise how confident you can become.
“I wasn’t an independent traveller at that point so my job coach used to meet me outside my house and he used to take me to Financial Times and back, so it really helped my independence as well as confidence.”
Empowered by their own experiences, Natalie and Charlotte want to see more people with a learning disability enter the world of work, and do it with confidence.
“I’ve learned it’s ok to actually have a learning disability and it has also made me realise how important it is to show people that you can work,” explains Natalie.
“I want to do as much as I can to spread the word that it’s ok to employ people who have a learning disability and it’s a very important for people to know what it is as well.”
Visiting different businesses to raise awareness of what a learning disability is is a key part of Natalie’s job role. She would like to see more people with a learning disability in everyday jobs.
This knowledge is key to employers understanding how they can support more people with a learning disability into work.
“It’s hard for people with learning disability because employers need the understanding of what their needs are and how they can support them,” says Charlotte.
Find out more about LDWW from Mencap here.