My name is Aaron Hynes. I am 17 years old and have a learning disability.
For much of my life the one thing people chose to focus on was my learning disability. My interests, personality and ambitions were often overlooked. However I recently became one of Mencap’s Young Ambassadors and through their charity partnership with Land Securities I have just completed some work experience at a major clothes shop. I’d like to think I’ve gone some way to challenge what society thinks can be possible for people with a learning disability.
Like many people I understand how important it is to get a good job, and am desperate to have the best opportunity to do so. I decided to reach out to Mencap’s Inspire Me team about becoming a Mencap Young Ambassador, as I knew I was hardworking but needed to develop my skills outside of school.
I was told Mencap had a charity partnership with Land Securities, who own some of the biggest shopping centres all over the country. Together Mencap and Land Securities have set up a campaign called Look Beyond The Label, seeking to encourage people to look past the label of disability, and focus on the individual.
I heard Land Securities were doing lots to help people with a learning disability and Mencap arranged a meeting where we talked about the possibility of some work experience at the GAP outlet store in the Galleria shopping centre in Hatfield.
There are just 7% of adults with a learning disability in employment and I know how hard it can be to get any type of work experience. I also know that without experience you can really struggle to get a full time job. I was therefore over the moon to hear it was going ahead, yet also very nervous at what lay ahead for me.
On my first day I met the store manager and he told me about the health and safety information – like where the fire exits were. The staff even gave me an easy read health and safety guide, which was really helpful as I was getting used to my new surroundings.
I then met all of the people at the GAP store who I’d be working with. My hours were 11am to 3pm each day and I got taught how to do a number of task such as scanning items, how to label the clothes and how to help out in the stock cupboard.
Everyone at GAP made me feel incredibly welcome and the fact I have a learning disability made no difference to my time there. The experience helped me build my confidence speaking to the public, and also how to listen to instructions carefully. I spoke to a lot of people whilst at GAP and it was nowhere as scary as I thought it might be.
On the last day one of my team members said how much I had improved and that I was even better than him at some of the jobs. The whole experience has given me the drive to look for more work experience and understand what is possible if everyone is given the same opportunities in life.
More employers need to be open to new ideas about who they employ. It’s been shown that 77% of the public think more highly of organisations that employ people with a disability, and I hope more can offer opportunities like the one Land Securities gave to me.
Are you an employer interested in giving people like Aaron a work experience placement? If so, find out how you can support Mencap’s Learning Disability Work Experience Week at www.mencap.org.uk/workexperienceweek.