Disability Should Be No Barrier to Employment
We know that having a job is something that is important to the vast majority of people with learning disabilities. We also know that only a fraction of those who want jobs, have them.
And yet the benefits of working for even a few hours a week are huge – and it’s not just about money, important though that is.
It’s about being included; about being part of a social network; about making friends on an equal basis. It’s about the confidence boost and self esteem that comes from being valued for your abilities and for a job well done. And these benefits are not just for the most able; we’ve seen time and time again the benefits that even a few hours work a week can bring to people with complex learning disabilities who may never have worked before or worse, have been written off.
Thankfully, young people with learning disabilities have vastly increased expectations and aspirations about work – and so they should. We are seeing more and more demand from young people who want to prepare for employment. This could be about learning vocational skills but is also often about more general work readiness skills - in other words, learning about the things that many of us take as a given. How to get to work, what to wear, the routines and cultures and yes, politics, of being part of the work place and part of a team. There’s also the reality of the responsibility of a job. Like, yes, you do have to get up early (even when it’s dark) so that you are at work on time. And yes, you do have to go every day and yes, that includes when it is raining. A tough lesson for all of us!
Of course the elephant in the room is that for many people the jobs just aren’t there. The youth unemployment figures speak for themselves and in the current climate it’s tougher than ever for anyone to get onto the career ladder. But that’s only part of the story. Too many employers won’t see – or need a bit of help to see – beyond someone’s disability. And too many people with learning disabilities don’t have the confidence themselves to challenge this – and lack the support to do it. So the odds are stacked against people from the start.
But with the right support, people with learning disabilities have gone on to not just get, but excel at a range of jobs, adding real value to the organisations they work for.
For the employer, it’s often a question of confidence – and knowing there is someone there to ask for support when they are unsure, or to help the new employee to settle in. For some employers, it’s as simple as being asked to look beyond someone’s disability and to give them a chance.
United Response is proud to be part of Disability Works UK, a consortium set up to provide supported employment to disabled people. But getting a job is not just about the dedicated programmes or specialist employment services, as important and valuable as they are. Equally important is the day to day support that we provide – support that means that everyone we work with has the opportunity to find a job, if that’s what they want. Support that means that many more employers will have the chance to say “why not?”
Having a job is perhaps the most genuine form of inclusion that there is. Isn’t it time that everyone – regardless of their disability – had the opportunity to experience that?
Diane Lightfoot, director of communications and fundraising at United Response. United Response is a national charity that supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities to take control of their lives.
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