People with learning disabilities held back by bureaucracy
Rachel Muller-Heyndyk, December 02, 2019
People with learning disabilities can offer unique skills to employers but are held back by bureaucratic policies and attitudes, according to Sally Butcher, managing director of social enterprise Realise Futures
Speaking at the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2019: a cross-sector perspective, Butcher said that the biggest barriers preventing people with learning disabilities progressing at work are bureaucratic policies rather than their own personal challenges.
“People with learning disabilities are not disabled by what they can’t do, they’re disabled by professional attitudes,” she said.
“That’s because too many employers focus on services. They think about whether they can offer someone a parking space and the expense, rather than what that individual can offer and how they can best support them."
The number of people with a learning disability who are in work is staggeringly low, said Butcher, pointing to figures that show such employees make up just 6% of the working population.
“If this was any other protected characteristic [of the Equality Act] people would be outraged," she said.
Employees also face difficulties when trying to navigate the support system, Butcher added.
“The amount of bureaucracy people need to face to try and get the support they need is frankly disgusting," she said.
"I find it difficult to navigate as someone with expertise in the area, so it can be extremely challenging for both people with disabilities themselves and employers to understand how to get support. On top of this what is often expected of many people with disabilities in order to receive their benefits is wholly unrealistic.”
Employers should focus on the skills and resilience people with learning disabilities can bring to the workplace, she said.
“We did a campaign that was based around the questions of why wouldn’t you, and why shouldn’t you, hire someone with a learning disability? Why wouldn’t you want to make the most of the unique skills, attitudes and behaviours they can offer?” she asked.
“People with learning disabilities have incredibly low rates of absence; they really want to work. One of our main challenges is telling people when they are actually too ill to work.”
Realise Futures is a social enterprise working across Suffolk and Essex that helps people with learning difficulties into employment.