Today, Ciara Lawrence who has a learning disability and is a campaigns assistant at Mencap, delivered a presentation at the government’s Learning Disability Confident Event in the Houses of Parliament.
As part of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Disability Confident campaign, the event brought together employers, government officials and people with a learning disability to show employers that offering employment to people with a learning disability is both straightforward and beneficial to their organisations.
It is estimated that 80% of people with a learning disability can work, but only 6% percent of people with a learning disability have a job. People with a learning disability have the lowest employment rate amongst disabled people as a whole.
In his opening speech, Special Educational Needs Tsar, Lee Scott MP, said:
If employers are not seriously considering people with learning disabilities for jobs, then they are not always recruiting the best people. The best person for a particular job may well be someone with a learning disability.
The Government has reformed the special educational needs and disability system, to bring about big changes for families who only ask for what we all expect for our own children – support to help them develop and thrive.
Having high aspirations for these young people and providing them with the right support will mean that the vast majority of them can go on to succeed in life. This includes choosing where they live, having friends and being part of their local community, being as healthy as possible, and crucially, enjoying the challenges and benefits of a paid job.
Ciara Lawrence later delivered a speech about how important her job is and how difficult it was to find. Ciara has a learning disability and has worked for Mencap for the past 14 years.
Ciara’s work with Mencap has seen her deliver campaign presentations to thought leaders around the world, work closely with government departments to inform policy and be a national media spokesperson on learning disability issues.
Before Ciara worked for Mencap, she experienced significant barriers to getting a job. Ciara said:
There is not enough support to help people with a learning disability prepare for interviews and fill in forms. Also, when they are in work, there is very little support for things like travelling or getting to work.
I know this because of the barriers that I faced when I tried to get a job. When I went to my local job centre to try and find work, the staff did not understand about learning disability and the support I needed.
They gave me lots of forms which were hard to fill in and I didn’t get good support. My family had to support me to find jobs. They helped me fill in forms and they took me to interviews.
When I went for job interviews, employers did not want to hire me because of my learning disability. After a long time of frustration, I found out there was a Disability Employment Officer at the job centre. She supported me to find work. She introduced me to my local Mencap service who asked me what kind of job I wanted to do and I said office work.
They then matched me with an office job which I had really good support to do and I got really good training to learn new skills. My job then led to full time employment. I have now worked for Mencap for 14 years and I have not looked back since!
Ciara receives support from the government’s Access to Work scheme. Ailis Hardy, Ciara’s support worker, helps her to learn new skills and do her job to the best of her abilities.
Ciara spoke about support from Access to Work has helped her achieve great things in work:
I’ve been able to give evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in the House of Commons about the challenges of applying for Access to Work funding and the barriers that people with a learning disability can face with Access to Work if they don’t have the right support.
I am a member of the Learning Disability Programme Board at the Department of Health, which is Chaired by the Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb. I deliver presentations, ask questions and interact with key policy makers.
I am also able to go out and do presentations on important campaign areas, such as voting and education. With the support I have had from Ailis, I have been able to look at successfully developing my career.
Ciara concluded by calling on employers throughout the UK to seriously consider employing people with a learning disability:
I want organisations to employ people with a learning disability. If employers do this, it will show that people with a learning disability make good employees.
I want employers to give people with a learning disability the right support so they can get jobs and develop in their jobs – not just to be employed in a tokenistic way.
Notes to editor
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.
Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.