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Breaking down barriers on International Day of People with Disabilities

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Robert breaks down barriers associated with learning disabilities as he plays a vital role in Covid-19 research study.

Only six per cent of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work, yet this represents a significant untapped resource of people who can flourish in the right role with the right support.

International Day of People With Disabilities (IDPWD) this week (3 December) celebrates the achievements and promotes the rights of people with disabilities across the world. The theme this year is focused on ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. This has been complemented by a week-long build-up campaign led by UNESCO to raise global awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people.

Robert Braunton has been playing a vital role in South West England’s fightback against COVID-19, working as administrator on an antibody research study looking at how healthcare workers are affected by the disease.

Robert, 21, from Barnstaple, has a paid full-time placement at the North Devon District Hospital putting swabs and research packs together for participants in the study.

It has been a lifeline during the COVID-19 lockdown. Robert explains: “When COVID-19 started, there wasn’t much work about and it was difficult. I didn’t like being at home for a long time.

“Now, I’m working every day on the computer in the office and I really enjoy it. The staff are nice and helpful and it is a really interesting place to work. I like meeting new people and learning new things.”

Robert has learning disabilities and, after taking a supported learning course at Petroc College in Barnstaple, gained work experience in the pharmacy and eye clinic at the hospital through Project Search, a scheme to help young people to gain work skills and experience. We were able to organise Robert's current placement as SIREN Study administrator.

Marise Mackie, our Regional Manager for Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, said:

“International Day of People With Disabilities is an important opportunity to help raise awareness of the work to break down barriers in society so that more can be done to build inclusive communities. Our society must never be complacent about addressing the challenges disabled people can face in their community and place of work. We are committed to working with people of all abilities to help them achieve their full potential.

“The challenges for young people with learning disabilities to get into employment are huge yet, in the right role and with the right support, hardworking people like Robert are able to succeed.

“We engage with employers to talk about the untapped resource they could benefit from by adopting a recruitment strategy that complements their ambitions for a more diverse workforce of all abilities. We work with many people with learning disabilities who perform complex tasks and do an excellent job, provided the right support and reasonable adjustments are in place.

“They may not perform at their best in a job interview but can show their ability through a work trial or a few days’ work experience. If employers give them the chance, they can gain hard-working, reliable and committed employees for the long-term. We have feedback from employers about the positive impact of increasing the diversity of their workforces and what it has done to build on and further improve the workplace culture that already exists.”

We support thousands of people with health conditions or disabilities in the South West to work towards employment or providing in-work support. We are also committed to and promote Disability Confident, a national movement encouraging employers to think differently about disability.

Kathrine's journey into work...

Kathrine Stanley also has learning disabilities, which means her personal development and communication needs require support at times. She had been looking for work for a long time when our employment consultant, Clare Bond, helped her to find a position at The Card Factory.

Kathrine, 51, from Plymouth, explained: “I didn’t want to be on benefits all my life, but I wasn’t very good at interviews. I got really depressed, fed up with not having any money.

“Clare understands my learning difficulties. She keeps an eye out for me and phones me to see how I am. Covid-19 has played havoc with my mental health, I’d be stuck without Clare as she supports me. She helps me to get my bus ticket and supports me to manage life when it all becomes a bit too difficult.

“Now I’m out in a work environment and supporting myself. I meet customers, I make friends and I’m not stuck at home. I like to chat to customers, it’s good customer service.” Kathrine encourages others with learning difficulties to keep trying and not to give up.

Marise also said the COVID-19 lockdowns have had a major impact on the availability of retail and hospitality jobs, leaving many clients with disabilities and underlying health conditions feeling isolated and fearful. We continued to check in with individuals on a weekly basis during the lockdowns to ensure they had support in place, including providing additional skills support to those needing help to use online communications technology.

For more information about how we help people back into work, call 0800 334 5525 or email Employers who would like to discuss signing up for the Disability Confident scheme and employing people with disabilities should contact 0800 334 5525 and speak to our employer services team. 



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  • Disability Confident Leader
  • Institute of Employability Professionals
  • Merlin Standard
  • Mindful Employer
  • ISO
  • The Institute of Leadership and Management Approved

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