My main role is to give training to employers who are taking on people with a learning disability, either on a voluntary basis or as a paid employee. I also go out to colleges to talk to young people who are about to start looking for work.
I work in Belfast on a Monday and the rest of the week I’m in Downpatrick.
Employers can get frightened about taking on people with a learning disability. In my training I ask the employers how they felt on their first day – how nervous they were and all the questions they had. I tell them that people with a learning disability will feel like that too.
The advantage of employing someone with a learning disability is that the employer gets a stronger workforce. People with a learning disability are much more likely to be on time and likely to stay for much longer. They’re often a better craic as well!
I’ve been in my role since 2005 and work alongside another disability equality officer, Joanne McDonald. Sometimes we work independently, but when we do training with lots of people, we work together. The biggest number of people we’ve spoken to is about 120 people – they were all health and social care professionals.
I think it’s positive that employers seem to be starting to take on more people with a learning disability. However, it seems that more are taking on people on a voluntary basis rather than giving them paid roles.
When I first applied for my job, I went to the local Jobcentre to ask the lady to help me. She said: "I don’t think you’ll be able to do this job." So I spent hours trying to convince her that I could. I ended up going to a different Jobcentre where another lady was really helpful and supported me to complete the application.
A couple of years ago, we gave some training to staff at the big Jobcentre in Belfast. The lady who said I wouldn’t be able to do the job was in my audience! Her face was all red – I laughed when I saw her. She actually came over and said hello to me and was apologetic.
I also have another job. This April, I’ll have been working at Tesco for nine years. I work at a shop in Newcastle in County Down, working in the bread and cakes department. I get the bread out of the ovens in the mornings, working Wednesday to Saturdays from 6am–9am.
It’s one of the best departments to work in because the smell is so nice. I would be tempted by all of the cakes, but I’m on a gluten-free diet.
I had a few other jobs before that, which has given me a lot of experience to talk about in my employment training. I worked for the Northern Ireland Hospice as a maintenance assistant and I still volunteer at the YMCA in Newcastle, do gardening for people and help my brother with his business renting motorhomes.
I come from a large family and like to see them when I'm not working. There are ten brothers and sisters in all – I’m the second youngest. We’re all over the world, from Colchester, to New York to Sydney. I’m also a big 'Only Fools and Horses' fan. I heard that they’re going to make an American version of it. I’m not sure about that – it wouldn’t be ‘cushty’.
Find out more about the Mencap in Northern Ireland employment services