January 2021 has marked the start of not only a new year, but also of an exciting new project within Generate – the Generate Voices Forum!
The forum is a space for members to come together to make positive changes within Generate and beyond. Forum meetings are an opportunity for members to raise issues, and to help structure the services Generate provides around what members want. Within the group, we encourage people to use their voices to share their experiences and speak out. Members choose topics that they care about to campaign for change in local communities. We want all Generate members to have the chance for their voice to be heard!
At the last meeting we talked about jobs and work. People shared both positive and negative experiences, but one thing is clear – people with learning disabilities still face many challenges and discrimination when finding employment.
Tony shared how he has had been in paid employment for the last 7 years, with 3 different organisations. Although many of Tony’s employment experiences had been positive, he talked about some challenges that he had encountered. In one example, Tony said that he struggled to understand some tasks and that he was pressured to work faster than he could, with his employer providing little support.
Tony also said that he found it difficult in not having a regular weekly work schedule in one of his previous roles, with his employers not recognising the issues this caused and doing little to support him. Each week his hours and days of work would change, which Tony felt made it difficult for him to plan his time effectively.
In another position, Tony explained how he had the same task of restocking shelves throughout his whole employment, which lasted for 5 years. He was promised he would be trained to fulfill other roles, but the offer was withdrawn and forgotten about, leaving Tony to feel disheartened and disrespected. Tony said that he felt the main issue is that employers do not fully understand what autism and other learning disabilities are, leading to there being mixed messages and confusion. Tony also revealed that he felt his previous employers “didn’t want to invest in me”.
Terry shared his experience of volunteering at a local train museum. Terry’s experiences contrasted to Tony’s, with his employers being very friendly, easy to talk to and approachable. Terry’s role was to support the coach team and help with cleaning, which he said he enjoyed as he is able to work around his passion for trains. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 Terry’s volunteering has been put on hold, with Terry expressing how he is excited to get back to it. Overall, Terry said that the organisation he volunteers for are very open, and they support him and other people with learning disabilities to work with trains and do what they enjoy.
In terms of finding paid employment, Terry’s experiences are slightly different. Terry said that he has struggled with finding a paid job, which he believes could be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t able to get all his qualifications at college. He achieved a level 2 in English and Maths but would like to go back to college. However, he also said that over-25s have to pay for college courses; as a result, Terry can no longer afford to go back to college as it is too expensive.
Tony and Terry have sometimes felt frustrated by the ‘Access to Work’ scheme by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Tony spoke of how his application to ‘Access to Work’ was turned down 19 times before it was accepted. He also said how communication with the DWP was delayed, and at times questions were left unanswered. Terry also said that he applied for a job via the DWP, sent off all the necessary documentation and applications but also never received a response. This highlights how support services need to get better at making reasonable adjustments to better support people with learning disabilities to find and keep jobs.
Group members said that finding a job was important to them and something that they cared about. Tony said that, “having a job means something” and helps him find structure and purpose. Both Terry and Tony also stressed that it was important that they found a job that they cared about. Moreover, they argue that they want jobs that do not restrict their capabilities, as Tony previously experienced, but rather help them develop their skills.
The Generate Voices Forum is a place for members to share their experiences and to come together. The experiences of Tony and Terry show how much is needed to be done to make sure that people with learning disabilities have fair and equal access to work. In our next meeting, we plan to draft and write an open letter to the DWP to highlight some of the challenges that people with learning disabilities face. Coming together to campaign for issues means that member’s voices will be louder and will create a force of social change, towards a more positive and equal future.
All Generate members are welcome to join (as long as you’re over 18), so please come along to our next meeting, share your own experiences and have your chance to speak up for what you care about!