Looking for work with a learning disability: ‘You feel like a failure’
“I went for an interview last week – a van job, cleaning – and I told them I had autism,” explains Christopher Burns, 40, in Cornwall. “The interviewer got his phone out and called his wife ‘cos she was a nurse. He had to find out what autism was.”
Burns – who has speech problems as well as autism – wasn’t surprised. He’s been struggling to find work for the past 20 years and hasn’t had a full-time job in eight.
Any contracted work he’s had – such as an eight-month spell as a postman or a month as a bed raiser fitter – has been fleeting as Burns’ conditions meant he found it hard to “fit in” with colleagues, and employers judged his capability. “That attitude of pigeonholing, of my speech and how I am,” he says.
nstead, for years he’s been bouncing between part-time work, usually only a few hours a week: from agency work at a care company to cleaning work.
Burns has just started a four-week training course on the Work Programme – the government’s outgoing welfare-to-work-scheme -but feels no hope it will lead to a job.
The programme’s promoted as being designed specifically for disabled people but in practice, Burns is alongside people with vastly different conditions: from mental health problems to chronic illness. “You just get lumbered in,” he says. “I asked, what sort of help do have you for autism? They said, ‘Not much.’”
Burns’ experience is not a rare case but rather reflective of Britain’s widespread crisis in disability unemployment. While discrimination of disabled people within the workplace continues for many, even getting hired in the first place is an uphill battle – something that’s particularly acute for people with learning disabilities or autism. Just 16% (pdf) of people with autism are in full-time paid work, according to the National Autistic Society, while less than 6% of learning disabled people are in full-time employment.
That’s compared to 47% of disabled people generally. More worryingly, things aren’t getting better: the employment rate for autism has seen negligible improvement (pdf) in a decade and the number of learning disabled people in work has actually fallen in the past five years.
Since he left college nine years ago, Vijay Patel – who has a mild learning disability – has applied unsuccessfully for over 70 full-time jobs.
The 29-year-old has impressive work experience – he’s given speeches to parliament, while the jobcentre and Mencap helped him gain work placements at banks and Transport for London – but when he’s applied for retail work or entry-level office roles, he’s struggled to even get an interview.
“It knocked my confidence,” Patel says. “I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t let me through.”
Unable to get a full-time job, he’s been working one day a week at a Wetherspoon’s pub and a month ago, got a part-time role at Mencap in charity marketing. Patel can’t help but feel his struggle to find work elsewhere is because of prejudice around his disability: he always discloses on a job application form – “If it says ‘disability,’ I tick it and then explain it’s a learning disability,” he says – but worries that as soon as prospective employers see learning disability on his CV, he isn’t given a chance.
“One of the biggest barriers to work facing people with a learning disability is the assumptions that employers and indeed the public have of what people with a learning disability can and can’t do,” confirms Rob Holland, Mencap parliamentary affairs manager. “All too often it stops people even getting an interview.”
“I suffer really badly finding paid work,” says Michelle Ornstein, 22, from Ilford. “I have panic attacks.”
Ornstein – who has a learning disability that means she struggles with reading and writing – has been looking for a job since she left college three years ago with an entry-level childcare qualification.
She dreams of working in childcare – “It’s always been my passion to work with children. I love little ones,” she says – but is struggling to get a job even in her second choice of working in cafe kitchens. She’s previously worked in two cafes specifically for staff with disabilities but both schemes have since closed down because of lack of funding.
Unable to get work, Ornstein is volunteering at Scope for Change, a training scheme for disabled young people who want to learn campaigning skills, but is holding out hope for a paid job.
“It’d help me to know I have my own money, just a little bit in my account,” she says. “To be able to say that I’ve earned that myself.”
A range of measures could help improve employment rates for people with learning disabilities or autism, such as ensuring easier access to specialist job coaches, more government initiatives for employers to diversify their workplace, and one-on-one to support at all stages of the employment process: from filling in the application form, finding suitable jobs, to transitioning into work.
United Response, who provide specialist supported employment services that assess disabled people’s skills and match them to relevant employers, argues such practical steps will in turn help tackle prejudice.
“Too often, employers feel that hiring someone with a disability will be expensive or difficult,” says Tim Cooper, chief executive of United Response. “But greater awareness of the availability of specialist supported employment services, as well as greater publicity of in-work support such as Access to Work, is essential to challenging and changing this myth.”
In Cornwall, Burns has watched the minimal help he had be removed. For the last five years, he’s had a care worker to support him socially and cook, but due to social care cuts two months ago, he lost this entirely. “I’m having to struggle by myself at the moment,” he says.
It’s all taking its toll. Burns now has no one to help go to the jobcentre and with 12 hours a week cleaning a local factory his only wage, he has no way to move out of his parents’ house.
“You just feel a failure,” he says. “That you haven’t got the job and life other people take for granted.”
Original Source- Frances Ryan, The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/may/08/looking-for-work-with-a-learning-disability-you-feel-like-a-failure