In July, I’ll have been working at Mencap for 16 years. I love my job and feel happy to have it.

I’m a lived experience adviser. I work with other advisers, and we all share ideas and talk about things that affect us. We have lots of knowledge about living with a learning disability . I can be myself and feel like I help people when I share my experiences. But I’ve had good and bad experiences of work in the past.  

I used to have a job as a mystery shopper working for a rail company. I was going undercover! For example, I would travel to different stations, ask staff there questions about tickets and see if they were friendly, if they helped me, and how they were treating me as a person with a disability. I had to write things discretely and give my feedback on how they acted.

It was a mixed experience for me. Sometimes staff would have a bad attitude if I asked too many questions or if I said I didn’t understand. One said, “I already told you!” and was really dismissive.  It was hard, but I had to stay calm and professional. 

Luckily that didn’t happen much and generally staff treated me with respect. Once they tried to show me how to get somewhere on a map, but to me that’s just a load of zigzags, I didn’t get it.

When I explained that to them, they were patient and spoke slowly, and told me what station I needed and how long it would take me to get there. It was fun going to different places I’d never been before, and I did a big presentation to the bosses to say what my experiences had been like.

I also did warehouse work and cleaning at one place – that was a terrible experience. The job was OK, but the people I worked with left me out and wouldn’t talk to me. 

We used to play music and people would put on the songs they liked, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I’ve got nothing against that though, I respected their choice, it just wasn’t my sort of music. But once when I put on my CD, they took it off and put it in my bag, telling me it was rubbish. It made me really annoyed at the time, I felt like they didn’t respect me at all.

Even though I’ve had good and bad times at work, having a job is really important to me. At the time and when I was old enough, I didn’t want to be going to my dad to ask for money. I wanted to be independent, and buy my own things. And these days I feel proud of earning money so I can pay the bills and support my partner.

I feel useful and it makes me feel much better about myself. It shows I can step up to the mark, and even though I’ve got a learning disability it doesn’t get the better of me.

Richard in a grey polo shirt and glasses, standing in an office with people working on computers on desks behind him.

Richard at Mencap's office in London ready to work!

It’s important that people with a learning disability get the opportunity to work. With the right support we can do anything that anyone else can do. But I think there’s still negative opinions about that, and discrimination creeps in. I applied to be a road sweeper once when I was about 18 or 19, and the woman said “Richard, we think this job will be too dangerous for you because you’ve got special needs.”

At the time I didn’t think too much of it, I didn’t understand what was going on.  But when I got older, I looked back and thought ‘you patronising so-and-so...’ She just didn't want to give me a chance and that was wrong. She was ignorant.

I’m more aware of that kind of thing now. It’s difficult to get a job right now, and I think sometimes having a learning disability counts against you when you apply for things. I want employers to show they want to be more inclusive and give people the chance to show what we can do. Don’t dismiss us!