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Workplace inclusivity: Strategies for employing people with disabilities

January 24 2024

Getting a job remains a dream for many people with disabilities, in a society where 54 per cent are employed, compared to 87 per cent of able-bodied people.* Livability in Eastbourne bucks the trend, with five of this service’s ten residents in work. What are they doing right?

Stacey, Debbie, Bob, Linda and Sean all love their work. The five housemates, living in Eastbourne, have all been supported to get into work, whether voluntary or paid. Working means a great deal to each person. ‘I like cleaning cars – the best is to see the difference after cleaning,’ says Bob. ‘I like my colleagues and the team there is supportive.’

‘I work at the Cat Protection charity shop, stocking shelves and pricing items. My key worker Linda helped me look for a job and staff supported me with the application. Having a job makes me very happy and proud of myself. In 2024, I want to work in a café.’ Linda

Having a learning disability means extra support is often needed to get and keep a job.  Livability prioritises this extra support because of the huge benefits to the individual. When someone expresses a desire to work, Livability staff in Eastbourne will either go direct to possible employers or use a local authority-run job service called Steps to Work. This team sources potential employers and works with the disabled person to go through the process of applying.

‘I love being on the tills at St Wilfred’s charity shop, chatting to customers and staff. I enjoy talking to people I wouldn’t normally get to talk to. And I’m learning about money. Livability staff are always here to talk to if I feel a bit stressed after work. Having a job feels amazing!’ Stacey


What is travel training?

Once a job is found, usually voluntary, the level of support provided depends on the needs of each person, explains Dazz, service delivery lead. ‘Initially, we support some of the guys to and from work, and for some, provide support while they’re at their place of work. That’s in place for as long as the person needs it. The ideal is to ‘travel-train’, by getting the person there, get them feeling safe and comfortable, and if they need support for the first few shifts, then we do that.’ The goal is to increase independence: ‘If and when the person becomes more independent, we then look at reducing the amount of time we spend on supporting them with their travel and at the placement, but only if the person is comfortable. At the moment, there’s only one person we’re still supporting at work itself, and that’s to help keep her focused on working. Her job is to price things up and put them on the shelves. She’s doing really well there and she really enjoys it.’

Why are the keyworkers are vital?

Each resident has a key worker, who knows the individual very well and understands some of the challenges they might face. ‘Managing expectations can be something that is needed, because a voluntary job may not be that person’s “dream” job, says area manager Talea Adamczyk. ‘It’s natural to want pay for work and sometimes people we support feel why can’t they start in paid work right away, just because they have a learning disability?’

‘My main work is to clean cars inside and outside at a valet service. Staff helped me to start looking for a job and with getting the times and days I work into my weekly planner and diary so I don’t miss any. Having a job makes me feel more confident in myself. The best thing about Livability is having staff to support me in many different ways, anytime I need.’ Bob

Finding, applying, starting and keeping a job all require extra, paid-for ‘support hours’ for the person with disabilities – and funding for that support is not automatically given by the local authority.  Talea explains: ‘Someone may want to get a job but they don’t actually have funding for enough hours of support to do this, on top of their everyday support time. So in that instance, we contact the local authority and ask for a review of that person’s support needs and their contracted hours, then we meet with the local authority, with the person we support and anyone they want to accompany them.’ Livability’s experience in this field is invaluable here:  ‘We’re successful for the majority of these reviews – we’re experienced in the way you need to put across the information to the local authority.’

‘I’m one of the lobby staff at McDonalds, so I keep customers happy, make sure the eating area is clean, bring table service and print receipts. Livability staff make sure I’m up and ready on time so I’m not late for work. Having a job makes me feel good and proud, especially when I get positive feedback from our customers. I like to make a positive difference to my customers’ days. Sometimes I get “star of the shift” and that makes me feel very happy. Some customers can be rude, particularly teenage boys, which upsets me. I’m always able to talk to staff at home and feel reassured. I’ve made some good friends at work and we often go out together to bowling or karaoke.’ Debbie


The team is thriving

All five workers are thriving in the work environment. Debbie and Sean have both held their jobs for many years. Newest to the job market is Bob, who’s been in work for three months. ‘We’re really proud of what all the guys have achieved in work,’ says Dazz. ‘At the moment, I’m seeing Bob really grow as a person – he’s done a lot of work learning how to get to his job in Lewes on the train, about a 25-minute journey. He’s been getting to and from work on his own, on time, twice a week.’

Stacey is flourishing in her first-ever job since moving to the service in 2022. Stacey is loving the sense of achievement that her job brings’ says Talea. ‘She wasn’t particularly motivated to find work at first due to a couple of applications being turned down. Since we’ve supported her into work, she’s become a lot freer and she prefers to be at work without staff from Livability South East  because it’s more independence for her.’ Stacey, Debbie and Sean enjoy frequent social events and work ‘dos’ with their colleagues.

‘I work at Chalk Farm Hotel, helping with housekeeping, serving food and drink and keeping customers happy. I like my staff support – they’ve helped me be more independent. I travel to work independently.  When things get difficult, I talk to my staff and together we try to sort it out. My favourite task is making up the bedrooms. Having a job makes me feel proud of myself!’ Sean

What impact does being in work have on the people we support?

‘They feel they have a purpose, that life is more fulfilling, they’re giving back to the community and it boosts their confidence,’ Talea says. ‘And for some, there’s an added sense of achievement because they’re showing the outside world that just because you have a learning disability doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a job. It’s proving to society that your capabilities or disabilities needn’t disqualify you; if you put your mind to it, you can achieve it. It’s breaking down some of those barriers.’


* https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7540/CBP-7540.pdf

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