Finding work when you have a learning disability

22nd May 2015

Ian working at Squire's Garden Centre

Blog by Marianne Radcliffe, Director of Fundraising and Communications

In recent conversations I’ve become aware that there is a serious misconception that having a learning disability stops you from being in paid employment, and that businesses only employ people with learning disabilities as a token gesture.

We want to dispel this myth as it’s preventing people who have lots to offer finding work and contributing to their wider communities. Most of us know work isn’t just a means of making money; it plays a big part in meeting new people, learning new skills, and most importantly feeling a valued part of your local community, and society at large.

Lots of the people FitzRoy support have jobs; jobs they love; jobs that pay them well; jobs that mean they don’t need to claim benefits, and jobs that value their skills and input. On a recent visit to FitzRoy’s Maidenhead services I saw this first hand.

Sam, who I first met in 2012 when he told me about his experiences as a volunteer GamesMaker at the London Olympics, now has a full time job at Eton College. He works in the kitchen and serves food to the students. “Just because I’ve got Down’s Syndrome doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I get free food and meet different kinds of people from different backgrounds. The best bit is making new friends, and sometimes they have big parties.”

Sam’s mum is thrilled “Working is good for Sam’s self-esteem; it makes him feel good about himself. I’ve always brought him up to integrate in mainstream society. In his work he does the same as everybody else, and has the same salary as everybody else.”

Ian has been working at Squire’s garden centre for 17 years. “I love being on time, and I always get in early to have a cup of tea. I’m the compost manager. The best thing about my job is my boss, Karl Robinson, I really get on with him and we have a laugh together. He is a wind up merchant and we have lots of banter. I get regular customers who are all nice.”

Serge has worked at Legoland for the past few years. “I work in admissions, give out guides, and I show people where to go. They say I’ve done very well in my job, I’m always really happy when my boss says I’ve done well. I’ve also made friends and attended a cookery course.”

Hearing first-hand how having a job has transformed their lives is wonderful. We have come a long way from the time people with learning disabilities were a number not a name and destined to spend their lives in institutions. But we still have further to go if we are to improve the chances of people with learning disabilities being a valuable part of the workplace. A good place to start is by dispelling the myth that having a learning disability prevents you from working.