Learning Disability Week 2017

This year’s Learning Disability Week (L.D.W) focused on employment: from raising awareness about the barriers people with learning disabilities face when trying to get into work, helping them to find a role that suits their skills and guiding employers on how they can support disabled employees and the benefits of doing so. After arranging 218 placements for Learning Disability Work Experience Week (L.D.W.E.W) last year, I cannot think of a more fitting theme for Learning Disability Week 2017.

However, our work is not done. Although the UK has laws to protect disabled people from discrimination and many individuals and organisations strive to ensure people with learning disabilities are included in every aspect of society, many of us still make assumptions about the abilities of people with a learning disabilities. For example, the one of the UK’s learning disability charities Mencap has stated that: “Around 8 in 10 working age people with a learning disability have one that’s mild or moderate, but fewer than 2 in 10 are in employment.”

As a woman with a learning disability, I have also personally experienced the consequences of assuming disabled people cannot be as competent or successful at work as their non-disabled peers. For example, on occasion some people I had asked to assist me with my job search last year assumed that I wouldn’t be able to compete with others for administrative roles and had suggested that I work in the retail sector instead because they assumed that this role would be easier for me. This was until they learned I had a Masters degree in English Literature and previous experience in volunteer administration.

Once they learned about my experience and qualifications they altered their advice accordingly, but assumptions like this are why some people with disabilities or learning difficulties choose to not disclose their disability to their employer or interviewers, even though disclosing their disability may actually make their day to day working life easier and more enjoyable. I believe this is a great shame because after working nearly one wonderful year at Inclusive Employers (my first anniversary with the organisation will be in August) I cannot stress the difference it makes having a supportive employer.

For example, my colleagues have never made me feel ashamed and embarrassed about having a learning disability or treated it as a taboo subject to never be openly discussed or referred to. In fact, last week when one of my colleagues said I was a fast learner, I replied “that’s ironic considering I have a learning disability!” and they quite enjoyed the joke.

This attitude and the fact they have always asked me what they can do to make my job easier – such as asking me whether I need instructions written down or if I would prefer to be shown how to complete a complicated new task – is a prime example of how to be an inclusive employer and how making reasonable adjustments can bring out the best in any employee.

If you are an employer who would like to make a positive difference to someone with a learning disability, please keep an eye out for news about Learning Disability Work Week 2017.

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Zeinab Ali is Inclusive Employers' Office and Special Projects Administrator and has been an employee at our organisation since August 2016.