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23/Feb/2017

 

I believed in myself

Gerard McWilliams

All this week, the media has been giving special coverage on the experiences of disabled people in the workforce and as consumers. One interviewee said employers were “missing a trick” because people with a learning disability or disability are resilient, flexible and good at problem-solving because they have had to be. Hear what Gerard from the PCC has to say on this.

I'll never forget the day when I was 19, I was told at the end of a workplace training programme to forget about a career in health and social care.  I wasn't capable of this type of work.

Instead I was advised to consider cleaning jobs or stacking supermarket shelves. Why? Because I have a learning disability.

Ever since I was 13 years old I had worked in youth clubs as a volunteer - particularly those for people with learning disabilities - and I knew this is what I wanted to do as a career.

When I was told there was too much reading and writing involved in health and social care work I felt angry and confused. After all, a job centre is supposed to help people to find work, but I wasn't being offered either the choice or support that everyone else gets.

I am not the only one. There are seven million people of working age in the UK with a learning disability or disability, yet just under half have a job, as opposed to 80% of those without a disability.

All this week, the media has been giving special coverage on the experiences of disabled people in the workforce and as consumers. One interviewee said employees were "missing a trick" because people with a learning disability or disability are resilient, flexible and good at problem solving, because they have to be.

I too was resilient (some say stubborn) because I believed that I could do the work like any other person, so in 2006 I went to college to do a National Vocational Qualification in health and social care.

I explained about my learning disability and we came up with a solution that enabled me, through professional discussion and assessments, to gain evidence for my work portfolio.  I even gained a City and Guilds Medal for Excellence, Lion Award for play work, which was the first in the UK.

After college I became an early years and after-schools deputy supervisor looking after children 0-12 years old, which I really enjoyed.  I then saw an advert for a Personal and Public Involvement (PPI) Officer with the Patient and Client Council.

With help from my employment support officer from the Orchardville Society, I filled in an application form, was selected for interview and got the job.

As a PPI Officer I travel around Northern Ireland engaging with members of the public, and seeking their views on health and social care issues. I give presentations to large numbers of people and assist at workshops.  I am equal to others in my team and get paid the same.

I have gained so much independence. I've moved out of supported living and into social housing.  I volunteer for Special Olympics Ulster and have travelled to different parts of the world.

As the interviewee said this week, the biggest barrier to gaining employment in the workplace was employer's expectations. "They should see the person, not the disability" he said.

Would you employ with a learning disability?

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Comments are now closed.

Anne McGrady 01 Mar 2017 19:20

Well done to Gerard who is indeed a very resilient young man and

he is to be congratulated for his belief in himself and for his

perseverance. I agree with other comments here that indeed the

majority of employers to need to be taught to see the person and

not the disability. Best wishes for your future,

Yes, I would most definitely employ a disabled person.

Charlie Lynn 27 Feb 2017 18:49

This reminds me about a certain teacher at primary school that called me stupid when I was about 8 years old, that is the only thing I ever remember him saying to me. I always advise people now never to call a child stupid.

Charlie Rainey 25 Feb 2017 22:09

Never give up and fair play to you.
Keep the good work up.
I have a disability myself but I'm going to new horizons Amh.
I'll be doing maths and English courses.
I'm trying my best to stay positive and focused.

Patricia 24 Feb 2017 18:02

First of all, every good wish to Gerard, and continued success.

The key word in there is "resilience", which is an advantage to be cultivated, not just by persons with a disability, but the population at large. Resilience is for everyone, and is a state of mind much to be desired.

As for employers, regrettably, and even though there are honourable exceptions to the rule, employers only look to what they think or perceive is likely to prove to their advantage. Employers are not much given to analysis or lateral thinking. Fear is, unfortunately, the unacknowledged driving force behind most human behaviour, and employers are no different.
Educating employers about what both disabled and non-disabled people can offer and how to "see" people and think outside the box would, in my view, be highly commendable. Such an educational program would be lengthy, laborious, not always successful, as entrenched ideas are very hard to shift.

Yes, I would employ a disabled person.

Amanda Matthew 24 Feb 2017 17:32

I absolutely agree that employers are missing out if they choose not to employ adults with a learning disability. As a community learning disability social worker, I know that some of the amazing people I work alongside are the most hard working, loyal, and dedicated people I've met.

Noelle Robinson 24 Feb 2017 16:25

I see abilities, not disabilities !

We ALL have different abilities, different strengths, different skills, and everyone has the right to be seen as the individual, unique person they are.
I have an acquired brain injury myself, but I am currently a serving local councillor - I am very capable of performing my role.
I am proud to Chair our Disability Forum, where we fully recognise our different ABILITIES, and we work to ensure that awareness of different needs is paramount in decision making by council and statutory bodies.

I would most certainly have no problem employing a person with a learning disability - as with any applicant for any job, the whole person should be considered - if the person fits the role, and the role fits the person, that's what matters

Mary Gordon 24 Feb 2017 15:35

I think employers need re educating and need encouragement to see the person and NOT the disability. I say this as a teacher of hearing impaired children.