Category: Industry News, Discrimination, WORKPLACE, learning disability, exclusion
Many of us take for granted the fact that we are able to work a job. It is something which is easy to overlook the significance of, especially if you have never experienced discrimination of adversity in the workplace before. For people with learning difficulties, discrimination is something that many have sadly experienced by the time they reach employment age.
While we have made great strides as a society in reducing or removing as many of the barriers that prevent people with learning difficulties from fully participating in society, there is still some way to go. For example, employers are much less likely to hire, or even consider hiring, applicants who suffer from learning difficulties.
Only one in 10 people with learning disabilities are in employment – but at least 65 per cent have said they would like a job. It’s a shocking statistic. According to Mencap, more people with learning disabilities are excluded from the job market than any other disabled group. The problem starts at school age – only one in three go on to take part in further education or training.
This is a terrible state of affairs; especially when you consider what we know about the connection between job satisfaction and overall satisfaction with our lives. Jobs are more than just something that we must do to generate money. Jobs are where we meet new people and form new relationships. Performing well at our jobs also gives us a reason to feel more positive about ourselves and our futures.
Perhaps most importantly of all, having a job means having a degree of security. A constant and reliable income stream provides some level of guarantee that an individual will be able to feed, house, and heat themselves. Some of those with learning difficulties will be entitled to some level of social security, but these payments won’t equate to a full-time wage.
Even in the wider world, there’s little hope of integration with so-called ‘normal’ society. Those with learning difficulties face routine discrimination, which is worse if their disability is a visible one. Part of the problem lies in the fact that many of the most common learning difficulties are poorly understood. For example, plenty of people have heard of dyslexia but, other than those with direct experience of the condition, exactly what it entails on a day to day basis can be a little bit more of a mystery.
Learning difficulties lie on a spectrum, they can be relatively minor and have minimal impact on an individual’s day to day life. However, even in the more severe cases, there is no reason that many of those facing learning difficulties should not be able to find a job if they want one.
In the workplace, barriers for people with learning disabilities are plentiful. Government apprenticeships are closed to those over 24, and as people with learning difficulties spend longer at college, they often miss the boat. Additionally, many don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills they demand. In theory, this should be easy enough to remedy. Colleges and universities up and down the country offer adult learning courses for those who need a GCSE or similar qualification.
“We are campaigning for a change in these requirements,” says Denise Largin, CEO of The Camden Society. For more than 40 years, this organisation has been supporting people with learning disabilities. By offering training-to-work courses and jobs through their social businesses, which include eight Unity Kitchen cafes, a garden centre, and a mail distribution business, they’re giving people a chance to shine.
This kind of work can make a tremendous difference to the future prospects of a person with learning difficulties. Being able to demonstrate an ability to work and perform well in workplace environments, as is evidenced by undertaking volunteer work and work experience, will inspire confidence in potential employers. Work experience looks good on anyone’s CV, but for those with learning difficulties who have a harder time landing work to add to their CV, having these references can have an even bigger impact.
And Big Issue Invest is providing support to help them break down barriers. Glenn Arradon, Big Issue Invest’s investment manager, says: “The Camden Society is driven by its passion, drive, and determination to support individuals and give them opportunities to succeed. We are pleased to have been able to support their excellent achievements.”
Employers have a major role to play, but Largin thinks they need support too. “Employers haven’t necessarily thought about what they can offer to people with learning disabilities, and they can be quite anxious about it,” says Largin. “We try to get people to see things differently.” One of the greatest obstacles to equality has always been education; most people simply don’t understand things like learning difficulties.
The Camden Society’s business development manager, Sara Buchanan, says the best way to break the ice is to show employers what they’re missing. “I think there’s a general lack of knowledge and awareness,” she says. “Often, they’ve never met someone with a learning disability before, and there are concerns to do with communication and understanding. But when you create opportunities for people to meet each other and show what they can do, their attitudes change quite quickly.”
They’re also tackling the problem at its source, by working in a specialist school, introducing children with autism to the prospect of employment. “We ask what’s next for them and find different ways of looking at work,” says Largin.
“Most people’s experiences of employment are Saturday jobs or work experience. But people with learning disabilities sometimes have low expectations of employment and educational experiences that don’t include vocational training. Also, their families can be nervous about them going into work.”
The charity helps 500 people a year access training, apprenticeships, and work. Maxime Soret, who has autism, trained as an apprentice at The Camden Society’s Unity Kitchen, then applied for a Level 3 NVQ apprenticeship at the House of Commons – a challenging kitchen environment akin to a large luxury hotel. He not only landed the apprenticeship and continues to work there, but in March he won an SME Made by Apprentice Award.
Work experience is also going well for 21-year-old Yeliz Dizman, currently completing an apprenticeship at the Unity Kitchen in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. “I’ve learned new recipes – cakes and things like that,” she says. Employment has increased her confidence and her independence. “Before I didn’t like going on trains,” she says. “But it’s helped me with that.”
To add to her blossoming CV, she will soon be doing work experience at the Waldorf Hilton. Yeliz and Maxine’s stories are just a few of the many that we have helped to create. We have helped thousands of people over the years to realize and achieve their dreams and ambitions. We don’t believe that a learning difficulty should keep anyone from pursuing opportunities in the same way as anyone else.
Vercida works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with Vercida to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email [email protected] for more information.
We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.