From education to employment

Learning Disability Work Week 2020 – Mencap celebrates keyworkers with a learning disability and / or autism


“The world of work has been thrown upside down by COVID, now is the time for employers to think differently about who they hire” says learning disability charity Mencap 

Learning Disability Work Week: 9-15th November 2020

As COVID-19 has forced businesses to change where and how they work this year, the UK’s leading learning disability charity Mencap is now calling on employers to think differently about WHO they employ. The pandemic has highlighted the invaluable contribution people with a learning disability and/ or autism can make as hardworking and valued employees.

Mencap are marking this Learning Disability Work Week by asking employers to finally open doors for this untapped talent pool, who face significant barriers to job entry. This is despite many employers reporting that they are often loyal and dedicated employees – as well as their employment helping to boost staff morale, champion inclusion and enhance diversity within organisations.

Mencap supports people with a learning disability and/or autism into a wide range of industries – from supermarkets to logistics and hospitals to hotels. Through their roles, many have been keyworkers throughout lockdown – the people society has all relied on to keep the country moving through the most difficult of times.

Peter* was supported by Mencap into his first paid job at a supermarket and found the job change significantly during lockdown, with panic buying, a queuing system and the need to wear masks. Even though it was harder, Peter was glad to be there:

“I’m proud that I worked during lockdown… It was a bonus to go to work and have something to do. If I didn’t have the job, I’d be lost.”

Another keyworker Katie* worked in the NHS throughout the pandemic. Katie’s role involves cleaning so her workload increased and everything in the hospital changed. She said:

“It might be hard but I appreciate having a job. I like talking to the doctors and learning new things from other people.”

Noel has a learning disability and works as a Facilities Officer at Islington Council in London. As lockdown started, Noel’s job – which focused on supporting people in the office at Islington Town Hall – changed but he adapted and began helping out in other ways by preparing food packets to distribute to food banks through Islington. Reflecting on the time Noel said:

“I wanted to do this. It kept me active and productive. I’m a very helpful person. I like helping people out, that’s my skill”.  

Many people with a learning disability and/or autism can work and want to work but are often shut out of employment, which can have a hugely negative impact on their quality of life. Paid employment can help make people feel valued and equal, included in society, and increase their independence and self-esteem.

Exclusion from employment can happen because of stigma, a lack of understanding about learning disability and autism, and unwillingness to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Many people simply fall at the first hurdle because the recruitment process is inaccessible.

Often all that is needed is small and cost-effective reasonable adjustments to open the doors for people with a learning disability and/or autism who want to work, such as offering accessible application forms or even something as simple as holding a work trial instead of a traditional job interview. Other adjustments include offering on-the-job support through job coaches who can be provided through government funding.

Noel, who Mencap supported into employment at Islington Council, says:

“Having a disability makes you lose confidence. You can feel alone. But work makes you more confident, you can be included, not excluded in society.”

Mark Capper, Head of Development in the Lifestyles & Work team at the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“The world of work has been thrown upside down by COVID, now is the time for employers to think differently about who they hire. This year every employer has had to adapt and innovate to support their workforce through this unprecedented time. Including people with different experiences and skills will only enhance businesses and their offer.

“People with a learning disability and autism can work and want to work and with the right support they can also make fantastic employees – with some even working as the keyworkers we’ve all relied on to keep things moving. They just need a chance to show they can do it.”

Through its employment programmes, Mencap supports people with a learning disability and / or autism to become more independent and develop their employability as well as helping people to find work placements. Work experience, alongside training courses, gives people the real training they need to get on the employment ladder.  

Mencap is also inviting employers to find out how they can open their doors to people with a learning disability and/or autism this Learning Disability Work Week. The charity can support with everything from making application processes more accessible through to providing job coaches, ultimately helping to open opportunities for this untapped talent pool. 

*Some names have been changed.

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