A Letter to People with Learning Disabilities from Catherine Carter

I am sitting here at my desk, thinking about how I got here and what I wish to see in the future.

I want to see many more people with learning disabilities in employment.

At the moment, there are only 6% of people with a learning disability that are employed in the U.K., in meaningful jobs.

There should be more people with learning disabilities in work.

The Equality Act 2010 is here to ensure that people with disabilities are protected against discrimination.

So why are there still so few people with learning disabilities in employment?  Is it because of our lack of confidence? Is this partly because we  are having bad experiences when we do apply for a job? Or when we go for an interview? Are people with learning disabilities actually applying? Are we going for interviews? Are we put off by non-easy read application forms? There are so many questions left unanswered.

I am currently working on a project called Learning by Doing Together, which aims to change how people think about the employment of people with learning disabilities, and employ us as peer support workers in services that are there to support us.

There are jobs out there but often people with learning disabilities are put off from applying because of barriers such as application forms that are difficult to read and fill in. We also can lack confidence in interviews.  This is because deep inside we often don’t feel good about ourselves.  We are always at the bottom of the ladder of power and we believe what the world tells us: that we cannot do things.  But that’s so wrong, we are amazing and we can do many things.

I believe you can go where you want to go if you believe in yourself. You will be faced with many barriers but you can learn from them. You may have times when you feel down as if you are not getting anywhere, but don’t give up on finding the right employment for you.  There are success stories out there of people with learning disabilities who have a meaningful job and are no longer on benefits.

Here are some good ideas in finding employment that I have learnt through my own experience.

You can volunteer and get some work experience. This looks good on an application form and CV.

Look for opportunities in places that inspire you.

In the Job Centre Plus, ask for a disability job adviser as they are trained around disabilities.

Make good contacts and connections with people in your past and present, as you might meet them again.

Don’t give up!

Always search for advice and opportunities that interest you.

Turn your negative experience into positive, in a way that you could help others, this is what I do.

Think about all the things that you can do and that you know how to do really well, Instead of what you can’t do.

Remember, we are AMAZING!!!

If I had a magic wand, I would change many problems in the system.

I will be writing an open letter to employers, which I invite you to read too.  For employers to know people with learning disabilities better, and to know about how to employ us, they could then have a more equal and better workforce.

It’s getting dark now outside. I will be leaving the office soon to go back home.  I really enjoy the work I do now as I am speaking up for people with learning disabilities. I enjoy sharing my experiences with other people so we can improve how things work.  I hope that you find a job that you like to do and that it is your dream job.

And I want to share with you these words which I love by Simone de Beauvoir, they inspire me:

 “Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”


Two Lives

My name is Shaun Webster. I live on my own.

If I get support, it is on my own terms.

The good thing about living on your own is that you get freedom to go out and go back home anytime you want. No one can tell you what to do. I can have my friends around to see me for drinks and anything else I want. I don’t need to ask anyone if this is ok, I feel safe.

I love going to the cinema. I like to watch sci-fi, horror, fantasy, true-life and comedies. Sometimes, I go to the cinema after work. Sometimes, I go on my own and sometimes I go with my friends and make a night out of it. I don’t need to ask people if I go to the cinema because I have the freedom to see any film I want, anytime I want. I’m not going to get into trouble.

If I have a drink, or two, or three… it’s no problem for me because no one else can tell me what to do.

The great thing about living on your own is that you can have a relationship. If I meet someone, I like to get to know the person. At some point, I might invite them back home. If we decide to have sex, or not, is nobody else’s business.  No one can tell us how to live our relationship.

I have a job in Leeds for 3 days a week and I work in England and around the world.

I am lucky.

When I am working abroad, I tell my family. They do worry but they can’t tell me what to do. Yes, my mother was very worried about me going to the West Bank recently. Yes, I was worried too! I got lots of information and after a lot of thinking and talking, I decided to go, even though my mother didn’t want me to go. I am so happy I am made that decision; if I didn’t, I would regret it. I co ran a workshop for 30 Palestinians over 4 days. I shared my knowledge and my experiences and I made new Palestinian friends, some of whom are people with learning disabilities; I learnt about another culture; I learnt to adapt my training and my attitudes. I feel like my world is expanding with every journey I make, so are my skills, my friendships and my knowledge.

Suzan is a woman with a learning disability who uses a wheelchair. She lives in a care home.

Suzan has no freedom where she lives because she always needs to ask the care home staff if she wants to go out or have some friends around. The care home staff think everything is a risk and Suzan isn’t allowed to do the things I do.

When I call Suzan, the staff is not very helpful, often they won’t pass the message on about her volunteering days. That is not fair.

I feel the care home staff needs to really respect Suzan and her life, more. She has the right to have freedom like everyone else, but, I feel the care home is like an institution: Suzan can’t cook for herself; she can’t wash her clothes; she can’t choose who her roommate is; she can’t go shopping when she wants; She can’t choose who wakes her up or what time to wake up; she can’t choose what she wants for her breakfast or dinner; she can’t go out to see her friends or have her friends come round.

Suzan’s world is very small and controlled. It will never get any bigger.

If Suzan has a relationship with any one, she can’t take them back home because there is a big issue around intimate relationships.

Suzan can’t choose to go to the cinema, or to the pub, or to meet up with her friends. The care home staff won’t let her have a job. Suzan will never have the chance to work abroad. She has no power to decide for herself,  everybody else has the power to make decisions for her.

What is most unfair: I know what Suzan’s life is like because I had a time in my life when I had no power to make decisions.

Suzan will never know what it’s like to have my life.