Natalie Duo is an employment co-trainer at Mencap and has a learning disability. Here Natalie tells us about her journey into employment and supporting other people with a learning disability to get into work, as well as the challenges of COVID-19 and being furloughed.
Many people are finding it difficult in the job market now but for people with a learning disability, like me, it can be even harder.
People with a learning disability can work and want to work and, with the right support, can make fantastic employees. But, at the moment only 6 per cent of people with a learning disability known to their local authority are in paid employment.
I first got into employment after joining Mencap’s supported internship programme in 2017.
My internship was at the Financial Times on the admin team and it helped me to learn so much. It wasn’t always easy, but it helped me to become more independent, confident and feel more included.
It is so important to see people like me out there and for people to get to know the person behind the learning disability. That’s the only way we can really create a more diverse workplace.
Stigma and a lack of awareness around learning disability means many people are left behind, something that could become even worse during the COVID crisis.
After the yearlong programme, I was excited to be offered a role at Mencap in their employment team.
Now I support other people with a learning disability to get into paid employment through helping them to build their confidence and employability skills, write their CVs and apply for jobs.
Often people with a learning disability just need a little more support, like accessible application forms, doing a work trial instead of a job interview, or receiving on-the-job support through job coaches who can be paid for by the government.
I also work with employers and talk to them about how they can change attitudes towards disability in the workplace and raise awareness of the small reasonable adjustments that will open doors.
Now is exactly the time that things need to change.
COVID means workplaces and employers are already having to change everything with plans being turned upside down, so now is the perfect opportunity to think differently about who they employ.
I want employers to see people for who they are, not for their learning disability.
I love my job and it means the world to me but, like for many others, COVID-19 has challenged me and I was put on furlough in May. I couldn’t wait to get back and I was so happy to return this September.
I’m now readjusting to working from home and learning how to support people virtually without being able to meet them.
Normally the sessions are so interactive and I’m really missing the energy and interaction with people but, while it’s not the same, I know my role is more important than ever.
People with a learning disability can bring so much to our jobs as loyal and dedicated employees. Not only do we often stay in roles longer and have lower than average sick days, we bring life and happiness into companies.
Before COVID it was hard enough for people with a learning disability to get into employment and now it’s more important than ever that employers think differently about opening opportunities to different people.
We can’t let people be left behind.