Please giving people with a learning disability like me a chance to work

I like helping people, that’s my skill. 

So when I was made redundant from my retail job in 2014, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

As someone with dyslexia and a learning disability, it’s not always easy for me to learn new skills because I find writing difficult. I wasn’t worried though, I knew what I wanted and I was ready to go after it. 

For people with a learning disability, working gives us confidence and helps us feel included in society. I wasn’t prepared not to have a job, so I had to get back on the horse and do whatever I could to get one. 

Unfortunately, too many people with a learning disability don’t get the same chances to prove what they can do. 

As of last year, only 5.9% of people with a learning disability known to their local authority were in employment. 

It might take us longer to learn new things, but with the right support we can develop skills and make great employees. Often we just need a little extra help – like accessible forms or doing a work trial instead of a job interview. 

Other adjustments include on-the-job support through job coaches, who can be paid for by the Government. 

Sadly, not a lot of employers realise these are options, and so those of us with a learning disability who want to work are never given a chance to showcase what we could bring to a role. 

When we’re shut out of employment, it can also limit our independence and knock our self-esteem. It can make us feel even more excluded from society. 

I had worked in retail for years when I lost my job. My dream at that time was to move into a role in an office. 

There were lots of hurdles – including my fears about being bullied and excluded at work – but I eventually found a placement at Islington Council, which helped me learn new things. It was a gateway to new opportunities. 

From there, I found out about an apprenticeship the council were running, and with support from Mencap – a learning disability charity that supports people into employment – I applied. 

I was excited to find out I was successful and that I would get support from Mencap – a learning disability charity that supports people into employment – throughout my apprenticeship.

At first I felt a bit nervous as it was my first office job but they helped provide me with the tools and the knowledge I needed and they supported me to get my qualification.

I studied one day a week and learnt so much – I absolutely loved it. Through Access to Work funding, I got Read and Write software, which reads out text as I write it. It has really helped me improve my written skills – it’s like having an invisible person next to me.

It helped me to excel and feel more confident, I never had that confidence before. It turns out that I didn’t need to be worried about bullying either, as everyone was really welcoming. 

I am proof of the contribution that people with a learning disability can make as hardworking and valued employees

If you’re doing something new, it takes a while to find your feet into the role but once I was stuck in I absolutely loved it. It was a big stepping stone for me and I feel really proud of everything I’ve achieved.

Everything changed when the first lockdown started though, about a year after I started my apprenticeship.

My job involves supporting people in the office so there was less and less work for me to do. I’m a person that likes to be busy and I don’t like sitting around, so I found it hard. 

When I was asked if I wanted to help at a food distribution centre instead in July, I was so happy to be able to do something to help.

I started at a sports centre before moving to the Emirates Stadium filling pallets with donated food, which was then sent to food banks around the borough. I’m grateful I had an opportunity that kept me active and productive during lockdown, and I’m happy that I was able to help people who were most in need.

Even though my role has changed, my confidence is sky high. I know how important employment is to people with a learning disability. It’s why I want employers to think differently about who they hire. 

Mencap is marking this Learning Disability Work Week (9-15 November) by asking employers to open their doors to people with a learning disability.

I’m so proud of everything I’ve achieved and I want to encourage other people with a learning disability to try to do the same.

I am proof of the contribution that people with a learning disability can make as hardworking and valued employees. It makes me feel part of something and helps me be independent.

Working back at the council now, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to better myself and – after my apprenticeship – I know there are even better things to come.

Find out more about Learning Disability Work Week 2020 or visit Mencap for advice and support.

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