When you meet people the one of the first things you usually ask is “what do you do?” If you are a person with a learning disability this is a question with no easy answer. Most do not have jobs or if they do they find it difficult to keep them.
Having a job can give us independence, money, a social life and a sense of purpose. They help us lead ordinary lives. Why should people with learning disabilities be any different? And a service in the North East is asking that very question.
Founded in 1999 and re-launched last year, Durham Council’s Workable Solutions offers one-to-one support and training for people with learning disabilities to get them out of the closed world of day centres and into the open world of work.
“We want people with learning disabilities to get real jobs earning real wages,” says Fiona Faill, service co-ordinator for Workable Solutions. “We do not want to see people missing out on the opportunities that their peers have.”
Gary Bainbridge (pictured) is one person who is not missing out. He is employed as service user co-ordinator. “Before this job I used to work in a day centre where I was not paid properly but now I work for the council I get paid proper rates,” he says. “I bought my mum a 42-inch telly and can pay for my mum and girlfriend to have Sunday dinner out.” His next target is an NVQ.
The focus is very much on a person-centred approach. “We do not just put people into jobs, we find out what individuals aspire to and turn them into realistic aspirations,” adds Faill. “People can come to us with some unrealistic aspirations so we try to get them something that’s as close to this as possible. For example, if someone said they wanted to be a train driver, which is just not possible, we will try to get them a job somewhere in a railway station.”
Workable Solutions also works closely with employers. “We try to show them how to make jobs easier to apply for,” says service co-ordinator Nerise Oldfield-Thompson. “In Gary’s case this meant making the job description easier to understand.”
Part of the task is to convince employers that people with learning disabilities can work as well as anyone else. “A lot of time is put in explaining individual needs and preparing all parties so there is every opportunity for things to go well,” says Faill.
And things have been going well for employer Alison Russell, project manager at Real Lives Real Choices. “We found out that if people have been in a day centre for a long time they can find it hard to jump straight into work,” she says. “But we had the confidence to employ our own disabled worker for 16 hours a week. This was very challenging and it took a lot of mentoring and support to help them.”
And strong support is the key. “We give high levels of one-on-one care and support to show the people we work with that they can get anything they want out of life and if they want to do something we will help them do it,” says day services improvements project manager, Les Shaw.
Workable Solutions successes have been remarkable. Last year, as well as 41 people with physical disabilities and 31 with mental health needs, it supported 108 people with learning disabilities into work.
One of those is Tina Ridley, who used to live in a supported housing. But now with a job she’s has moved into her own home. “They got me my job as a kitchen assistant at the Marquis of Granby pub. I do not need the support any longer as I can manage on my own and I really like it. I have also improved a lot since I lived on my own. Before I had my job I did not know what I wanted to do, but now I enjoy my life.”
As does Jay Hutchins, now employed as a trainer by the council. “I really like the job and it is great having your own money,” he says. “I have been able to buy driving lessons and I passed so I am really pleased. I work with members of staff and they treat me really well. I think my job gives a powerful message to others with learning disabilities.”
And what can be more powerful than having an ordinary life: turning people with learning disabilities from being one of them to being one of us.
Sam Gregory is a pupil at John Flamsteed school, Derbyshire. He aspires to be a journalist
This article appeared in the 13 September issue under the headline “Just the job”