To celebrate people with a Learning Disability Week, I have been interviewing Mister Shaun Webster, MBE. Shaun is a father and grand-father with a learning disability, who works as a Project Worker at CHANGE, an organisation working for the human rights of people with learning disabilities. We have been talking about a subject Shaun is very passionate about: co-working. My name is Alison and I am Shaun’s p.a.
You often work with a co-worker on national and international projects. What tips do you have for people who would like to co-work?
Working internationally is exciting and amazing and I love it! When we work abroad co-working is very important. We are role modelling a new way of working. Being a co-worker, I have to think about the person without a learning disability. She or he might be having a having a difficult day. If we don’t listen to each other, the partnership could become stressful and we might both have a bad experience.
It is always better to talk things over with your co-worker. I have learnt to be open, to reflect and to compromise. Also, my co-worker has to see me, a person with a learning disability, as an equal member of the team, not as a service user.
When a new person starts co-working with you, what are the steps to make sure that it works for both of you?
Talk to each other, find out about each other, look at our different skills, find ways to compromise, listen to each other. For example, I have a speaking problem. One of my co-workers couldn’t understand me and she would say ‘ I don’t understand you, Shaun’. I said ‘ it’s good you tell me day-to-day, you didn’t bottle it up and not tell me’. That would have annoyed me very much.
Another good thing is to share tasks. When I am doing a presentation, I like to read some slides, and let my co-worker read some too. When we’re going through our emails, and replying to our colleagues, we discuss it together.
It’s not just about taking over and doing it yourself without talking to me about it, taking the decision out of my hands. I like us to work together, sharing our power. We are equal. You are not patronizing me, you respect me and you are honest with me. You tell me what works and what doesn’t. I might not like it but you’ve got to have your opinion and I have mine. We both listen and we both respect each other.
Why do you like co-working?
I feel like I am growing and getting more confident. We learn new skills from each other that we didn’t know before. We are learning to understand each other and to grow together. We compliment one another, we are like a machine, each part works and we are better together. We share our jobs and we do what we are best at.
We did a step-by-step plan of travelling on the underground in London. It gave me the confidence to do it on my own. We grow together and we grow apart.
How can an organization benefit from a team of learning disabled and non learning disabled workers?
A person with a learning disability has a lot of life experience and skills that he or she can share with the person without a learning disability. We get to really understand each other’s experiences. We might not have A levels but we have life experience that makes us good at working together and my knowledge of living with a learning disability is something you can’t learn.
What qualities should you have as a co-worker?
Some people just prefer to work on their own. You have to learn to be open-minded, flexible, respectful and good at communicating. Otherwise, it can be stressful.
Have you co-worked with another person with a learning disability and what was your experience of this?
The first time I co-worked with a person with a learning disability, we went to Sweden together. At first, it was ok, but over-time, I felt like she was taking liberties and not focusing on her work. I had to really manage the person, rather than co-work with her. This can happen with anyone, even with a person who hasn’t got a learning disability.
Co-working has to stay professional. There is a difference between a friend and a co-worker.
With Catherine, who works at CHANGE, and who has a learning disability and autism too, we decided to go to Croatia for some work. We planned it out and made sure we supported each other in the airport.
We were doing a video diary report of our experiences every day.
We sit down, we talk together. What are the things we need to do? What tasks that need doing? Catherine is good at doing questions and I can do filming. We created short video diaries about how we felt after we had been to the meetings. We planned it out. Proper co-working!
When we are doing networking, we back each other up. I am more forward doing networking. If I miss something out or somebody doesn’t understand me, Catherine steps in.
I would like to give one last example about good co-working. My co-worker recognized that I struggle when I get a lot of new ideas coming in my head. She takes notes of them all, and sometimes she needs to stop me in my speech, when this happens, I can lose track of my thoughts. She asked me if she could record me. I said yes! I feel like the ideas can flow out of me then, and I feel more confident. We found the right way of working together.
That’s what co-working is all about!