Finding work is not an easy job if you’re disabled. Statistically, you’re only 50% likely to be employed* and half as likely to hold a degree, compared to non-disabled people*. Added to which can be challenges including communication needs for some, employers’ perception of disability in the workplace – and self-confidence.
Building self-confidence is usually the first step towards finding work, says Rachel Davidson, Senior Area Manager for Livability North East, providing supported living services for disabled adults. ‘When someone joins our service, a big part of their initial assessment is talking to them about their goals in life,’ says Rachel. ‘Often it’s the first time they’ve lived in their own home. We give them plenty of time to settle in and get to know their staff team and together, we regularly review those goals. Often building healthier routines is part of that initial process.’
Charlotte has lives in one of Livability’s services in Gateshead. ‘First of all with Charlotte, we supported her to build good hygiene routines in her home, learning the tasks that keep it clean and maintained. We helped her budget for some new clothes and gave her prompts for her personal hygiene. She got into really good routines and now manages all those household tasks with no prompting.’ This led to further independence for Charlotte, Rachel explains: ‘Because she didn’t need staff hours at home so much, she could use that time to go out with staff, something she really enjoyed, so she was motivated to get all her chores done.’
Charlotte loves shopping for clothes and this fed into her goal-setting, thinking with staff about how she could combine that love with a job. Staff investigated vacancies at local charity shops – and one, just a bus ride from Charlotte’s home, was looking for volunteers. ‘Charlotte started with one hour a week every Friday morning, about four months ago, and now she does a full day every Friday,’ says Rachel. ‘She travels on her own and needs no prompts at all to be up, showered, dressed and on time at the shop,’ says Rachel. ‘She even went in of her own accord to be an extra pair of hands just before Christmas.’
Unless time and effort is given to the patient building of someone’s independence and confidence, something which Livability staff treat as a priority, having a learning disability can mean you sink without trace in the job market, Rachel finds. ‘Without the right support, someone like Charlotte could easily fall through the gaps in the system. She doesn’t have any family she sees regularly, and she could be really isolated. The huge change in her self-esteem and confidence has made such a difference to her life, in work and in making friends where she lives.’
Investing in building a person’s confidence and independence can lead to huge rewards for the individual, their staff and the local authority funding their care. ‘We have a very good track record of enabling people to reduce the support they need, because we enable them to become more independent, Rachel says. ‘One person in our service initially needed two-to-one support, 24/7. Over time, this has reduced to one-to-one support, with no overnight staff needed.’
Although several people supported by Livability North East have jobs, including Callum who works at Newcastle’s prestigious Sage Centre, Rachel says finding opportunities for work is more difficult now than pre-pandemic. ‘I’m not sure why but a lot of places which used to welcome people with disabilities as volunteers don’t anymore. It might be something to do with their perception of risk. But there aren’t enough opportunities for people with learning disabilities.’
That has proved to be the case in many localities where Livability runs services, including Aberystwyth, where Chika Chukwu is Senior Delivery Lead. Chika and her team have successfully supported several people into work, which has continued long-term and has enabled individuals to thrive, as well as providing valuable service to their community. Ian maintains the gardens at a large dairy company, whilst Carlos works at a fast-food restaurant. Both Ian and Carlos love their work. Carlos, who uses sign language, said the three best things about his job are ‘seeing my friends, meeting new people and feeling accepted in the community’. Ian was recommended by friends, who knew he was skilled, for his gardening job. He says one of the reasons he loves working is because he can afford to go on holiday and visit his friends.
Paul, who revelled in his job at a community café at Aberystwyth’s fire station, is hoping the café will reopen following its closure due to Covid. But in a small community, post pandemic, openings are very difficult to find, says Chika, so the service keeps people active and busy with a variety of activities at the service and in the community. ‘We know what people’s interests and goals are and we make plans with them at our monthly meeting. We make sure they can get to activities that they can look forward to and are good for their wellbeing and mental health,’ she says. Like Rachel, Chika’s team are focused on enabling maximum independence for the people they support, whether working or not, learning life skills such as using public transport and joining new groups, which will stand them in good stead when looking for work.
Livability staff have a number of skills which come into play when supporting someone seeking work, says Rachel. ‘They are very good at being flexible and thinking outside the box when something new is unexpectedly thrown at them. Maybe someone we support reacts unexpectedly to a situation at work, or to an individual, and staff can be creative at finding solutions. We also intentionally build links with the local community and potential employers and we make sure employers can liaise with us, with the permission of the individual being supported, to help with any issues that arise. Plus our staff are experts in the people they support, with a wealth of knowledge about each individual.’
Read more from Ian and Carlos about the difference that work makes to their lives, in our next blog, out Friday 27 Jan.