As a volunteer with Midland Mencap I was lucky enough to be offered a ticket to attend the middle day of this conference, which this year was held in Birmingham. As a volunteer, there was not much to be gained, other than being able to see the ‘big picture’ of learning (intellectual) disability across the world. As a teacher of students with learning disabilities, there was a lot of information to process, and beliefs to question.
The first session I attended was about getting real pay for real work. There were a number of speakers at each session.
Speakers felt that people with LD have a right to employment, and should have access to it without discrimination, although recognised that there were some disadvantages in that people then tend to lose out on benefits.
Schools – need to do more to support the transition to employment. Staff should be asked ‘what do you think about our students in the work place’ and develop a school focus from this
Families – Should be able to risk take. They should share their expectations, dreams and aspirations, but should be aware of the power of using the family network to find a job.
Employers – should be flexible and receptive to employing someone with LD, they should also put social support in place i.e. find a friend
The second speaker suggested that people with an LD should be encouraged to start their own business, or that people willing to support those with an LD into paid employment should do so and hire them. There should be an end to ‘sheltered workshops’. He also said it was important to listen to what businesses want, and to link schools and businesses so that they could work together.
The final speaker was from Mencap. She said that ‘having a job means having friends and being included’.
What stops people from getting a job? Negative attitudes and low expectations, a lack of skills and qualifications, not enough employment support.
There is a new government plan, which includes new support models such as traineeships and apprenticeships, as well as support for employers. These support models have a flexible minimum education level requirement.
The overall message from the session was that people want equal pay for equal jobs, and there were lots of examples of good practice shared. In order to change perceptions of the general population we need to share positive examples with the local community.
The big question is how to move from employing a ‘token’ disabled person to having more. One way of doing this is to find out what the expertise is already in the company – who has a family member with LD, etc – and use this as a basis for moving forward.
The schools that I have worked in have had a mixed attitude to work for students, mostly as they tend to go on to college for a couple of years post school, so ‘work’ is thought to be the responsibility of ‘college’. I’d love to see more schools working alongside businesses to offer apprenticeships for students with LD where appropriate. I have worked at a school that had strong links with a large local employer who had ten students in for a trainee programme each week, while hosting the rest of the post sixteen students for a two week work placement.
At this point in the conference it is becoming clear that although it is ‘inclusion international’ we really are focussing on the more able people with LD, those who are able to advocate for themselves.