Putting the 'can' before the 'can't'
"The biggest fear an employer has, is not knowing what to do.”
At Brandon Trust we're working hard to create employment opportunities for the people we support. Recently I carried out some research for Brandon, to learn more about challenges surrounding employment for people with learning disabilities. My manager Matt sent me off to spend the day at Advance, an organisation commissioned to run the government’s ‘Work Choice’ programme which supports people with disabilities into employment. Although I learnt a lot at Advance, it was the above comment which interested me the most.
A fear of the unknown and of "not knowing what to do" – that is, how to appropriately communicate, support and progress learning disabled employees - is holding both employers and prospective employees back. A study of employers reluctant to hire and accommodate workers with disabilities found that 80% of respondents agreed that they "don’t know how to handle the needs of a worker with a disability on the job" (Kaye at al, Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 2011). Back at Brandon Trust, I spoke to Caroline, one of our Job Coach and Employment Officers about this particular issue. She said:
"Most employers don’t know enough about learning disabilities in the first place and are very focussed on what people with learning disabilities can’t do rather than what they can."
If it's a lack of understanding of learning disabilities that causes employers to discriminate, could we put an end to it simply by educating them? I don’t just mean educating employers of the practicalities of having someone with a learning disability as an employee, but also of the benefits of having such a person in the workplace.
Research has shown that employees with learning disabilities stay in the job for longer, have a strong commitment to work, excellent punctuality records and low absentee rates (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2004). They are people who have something valuable to contribute. They're also people who want to be employed despite the challenges it presents. An estimated 65% of people with learning disabilities want to work yet only 7% are actually in employment (Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, 2015).
As a charity, our vision is of a future where people with learning disabilities can exercise full UK citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities. This includes the right to employment. Unemployment in the UK is falling but I find it hard to believe that this will be reflected in the learning disability community. To rectify this we must continue to work on changing the perception of what people with learning disabilities are capable of. Success for us will be when someone with a learning disability applies for a job and the prospective employer puts the 'can' before the 'can’t'.
Social Enterprise Development Assistant