All this week, the media has been giving special coverage on the experiences of disabled people in the workforce and as consumers. One interviewee said employers were “missing a trick” because people with a learning disability or disability are resilient, flexible and good at problem-solving because they have had to be. Hear what Gerard from the PCC has to say on this.
I'll never forget the day when I was 19, I was told at the end of a workplace training programme to forget about a career in health and social care. I wasn't capable of this type of work.
Instead I was advised to consider cleaning jobs or stacking supermarket shelves. Why? Because I have a learning disability.
Ever since I was 13 years old I had worked in youth clubs as a volunteer - particularly those for people with learning disabilities - and I knew this is what I wanted to do as a career.
When I was told there was too much reading and writing involved in health and social care work I felt angry and confused. After all, a job centre is supposed to help people to find work, but I wasn't being offered either the choice or support that everyone else gets.
I am not the only one. There are seven million people of working age in the UK with a learning disability or disability, yet just under half have a job, as opposed to 80% of those without a disability.
All this week, the media has been giving special coverage on the experiences of disabled people in the workforce and as consumers. One interviewee said employees were "missing a trick" because people with a learning disability or disability are resilient, flexible and good at problem solving, because they have to be.
I too was resilient (some say stubborn) because I believed that I could do the work like any other person, so in 2006 I went to college to do a National Vocational Qualification in health and social care.
I explained about my learning disability and we came up with a solution that enabled me, through professional discussion and assessments, to gain evidence for my work portfolio. I even gained a City and Guilds Medal for Excellence, Lion Award for play work, which was the first in the UK.
After college I became an early years and after-schools deputy supervisor looking after children 0-12 years old, which I really enjoyed. I then saw an advert for a Personal and Public Involvement (PPI) Officer with the Patient and Client Council.
With help from my employment support officer from the Orchardville Society, I filled in an application form, was selected for interview and got the job.
As a PPI Officer I travel around Northern Ireland engaging with members of the public, and seeking their views on health and social care issues. I give presentations to large numbers of people and assist at workshops. I am equal to others in my team and get paid the same.
I have gained so much independence. I've moved out of supported living and into social housing. I volunteer for Special Olympics Ulster and have travelled to different parts of the world.
As the interviewee said this week, the biggest barrier to gaining employment in the workplace was employer's expectations. "They should see the person, not the disability" he said.
Would you employ with a learning disability?
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