Background: Back in 2012, the Department of Health found that only 7% of adults with learning disabilities were in some form of paid employment, the majority of which was part-time work. However, it is estimated that 65% of people with learning disabilities would like a paid job (FPLD). Furthermore, only 1 in 3 adults with a learning disability take part in any education or training – and cuts in funding are reducing this number even further (Mencap). NHS England have established a programme which aims to increase the number of people with a learning disability employed by the NHS. Employers can also pledge their commitment to this aim here 

We hear from Lisa Marie White, our longest serving member of staff here at ARC England, about her own experience of getting a job and why working here it is so important to her.

Lisa, 46, who has a mild learning disability, has been working at ARC for 21 years now as an Office Administration Assistant.

Lisa said: “I used to go to a day centre years ago and that’s when I found out about the job at ARC, through a staff member there who also worked for an advocacy group. He told me about it, and asked me if I wanted to apply, then he helped me get an interview. I was really nervous when I went to ARC for the interview but it was okay when it started. I remember I had to fill out a form as well, and answer some multiple choice questions, but I must have done okay because they rang me later the same day and offered me the job! I was staying in respite at the time, and I remember I was so excited to find out I had got the job that I dropped the phone!!!

“I have learned new skills from all the work I have done at ARC over the past 21 years. I do lots of things here – I do the shredding, I sort out the post and I do scanning and photocopying. I make sure the signing in book is right, and I order stationery for people. Sometimes I answer the phone. Me, Emma and Vicky test the fire alarms in the building weekly, and every month we check the emergency lighting too.

“I like working here because I like meeting people and talking to people and getting on with my job. If I didn’t work here I would probably just be sat at the day centre or bored at home, or walking round the street, which isn’t a good thing to do if you are vulnerable.

“I don’t much like the shredding but I like everything else I do at work. It’s important to me because it gets me out and about, and it’s good to work for a living and helps me to pay my own bills.

“A while ago, I went to an ARC event in Chesterfield as a member of staff. We did some chair exercises and Vicky made me laugh doing her exercises in a skirt! At the same conference I was asked to stand at the front and write down about what the group were saying on a flipchart. I enjoyed that – I’m not scared to get up in front of a crowd!

“Having a job makes me feel like I am doing something useful and it makes me feel more confident. Sometimes it can feel a bit odd because I’ve got a learning disability and everyone else is normal, but people here are friendly and nice and I have really come out of my shell here. I did some voluntary work before at an old people’s home but I didn’t do very much there and it was boring. After that I did some more voluntary work stacking shelves. It’s not boring working at ARC because I am doing office work, and that’s what I really wanted to do after I went to college to do a NVQ in Business and Administration.

“I like doing lots of other things when I am not at work too; shopping, going to see things at the theatre – I’m going to see Dirty Dancing soon. I spend some of the money that I earn at ARC on things like that, but I also just buy what I need and I don’t spend it on rubbish. I like living on my own in a flat, and have 17 hours help each week from Enable Support Workers. I love going on holiday – I’m going to Skeggy in May for a week.

“I want to carry on working here but it does depend a bit on my eyesight and other health issues, as I am getting older. I am lucky someone helped me to find this job. My advice to someone else with a learning disability who wants a job is to make sure that they think about what sort of thing they want to do, and not be pushed into something. I would advise them to get some help from a careers adviser or someone else before going to a job centre to apply for anything.”

From ARC England’s perspective, it is important to us to have Lisa on board as a member of staff. Not only for her valuable work contribution but it also helps us understand the challenges she faces in her day to day life, keeping us connected to the reality for some people with learning disability, on a personal level.

No doubt, our sector is one that recruits a greater ratio of people with learning disabilities, but there is always room for improvement. Have you thought about how your organisation would benefit from employing someone with a learning disability?