I left school in the late 1980s. I thought it was important to get qualifications, so I went to college where I got an NVQ Level 1 in Business Studies.
I started looking for employment when I left college, with help from my mum. I felt it was important to apply for jobs that I wanted to go for.
My mum went with me to see a careers officer who put me forward for a place on an employment scheme called Hackney Youth Workforce. I don't remember having to fill in any forms or do an interview, I just went along and met the staff and the trainees.
On the scheme I found that some of the trainees were not friendly to me and I felt like they discriminated against me. I kept myself busy looking for jobs in the newspaper - there was no internet then so you couldn't search online.
The scheme lasted 2 years. It taught me how to be part of a workforce. I learnt administrative duties like filing, inputting data and taking calls.
When the scheme had finished I started to apply for lots of jobs. I found this quite stressful, particularly filling in the long application forms and attending interviews, as often these were not accessible for people with a learning disability. For example, some interviewers did not phrase their questions using accessible language and did not allow me enough time to give my answers properly.
Things improved when I moved into a supported living facility. Here I was given the support I needed to have help applying for benefits as my job was part-time so wasn't enough money.
My support worker helped me and found out that I could apply for Working Persons Tax Credit and Housing Benefit because of the hours I was working.
I still have some support nowadays with my benefits. I am finding the changes to benefits very confusing and I'm glad I have the help of my support worker to explain what I can and can't do. I want to be able to continue to work part-time as I love my job, but I need to make sure I am still able to claim my benefits.
I now work part-time at the head office of Royal Mencap Society as the Digital Assistant. As part of my job I write blogs, help with the online community and support the Communications Team. I originally for the job here by Mencap's Pathway, where I was a London Division Assistant. A job coach suggested that I should put myself forward for the Digital Assistant role. Instead of an interview they allowed me to do work experience and after a few weeks they formally offered me the job. This made all the difference in the world as I find interviews really hard, so to be able to show people what I can do, on the job, was so much better. I wish more employers did things like this. It would help so many people with a learning disability get into jobs.
I have been at Mencap for 23 years now and I love working for an organisation that aims to empower people with a learning disability to be as independent as possible.
It's important that people with a learning disability are employed, as well as people without, and they do not face barriers to work. Offering support to do application forms and interviews, as well as benefits advice can all help with this.
Apprenticeships and work experience opportunities are also valuable routes into employment as they allow people to get experience in a role and receive training before going for a permanent position. This allows people to experience the workplace and gradually introduces them to the responsibilities of work.
If you need advice about employment, I am not sure what I did 26 years ago will apply these days, but I hope that me telling you will help. I suggest you look on the Mencap website and if you need to talk to someone to get help, contact the Learning Disability Helpline.