With around 1.5 million people in the UK living with some form of learning disability, it’s essential to understand the help available when trying to find work or support in the workplace.

What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability affects the way someone understands and processes information, and how they communicate with others. There are different severities of learning difficulties, ranging from mild to severe. These difficulties emerge due to something impeding brain development, usually during pregnancy or early childhood. In some cases, however, there is no known cause, but the effects are always permanent.

Conditions associated with some form of learning disabilities include:

What is the Difference Between a Learning Disability and a Learning Difficulty?

A learning difficulty focuses on one or a small number of forms of learning and does not affect the individuals overall IQ level. In contrast, a learning disability is a condition that affects all aspects of development. For example, dyslexia is classed as a learning difficulty, whereas Down’s Syndrome is a disability.

Support with Finding Work

People with a learning disability can still learn, but often do so in a different manner to others. Having a learning disability does not stop you from working a complex job role; providing suitable measures are put in place by your employer.

There are organisations set up to collaborate with employers and provide opportunities for work experience or placements for jobseekers who employers don’t traditionally class as ‘ready for employment’. They can help with CV writing, interview preparation and the development of their client’s confidence before starting their job role.

There are government schemes such as Access to Work which can provide financial support getting to and from work or paying for specialist equipment to enable you to carry out your duties easier.

The Intensive Personalised Employment Support is another government scheme for those with a disability or health condition. This is set up to provide one-to-one support and training delivered by a support worker who will identify your skills and match them to work that’s available. You can apply for this via your local Jobcentre Plus and talking to your work coach.

Recruiting People with Learning Disabilities

Suppose a suitable support structure is put in place by the employer. In that case, a person with a learning disability can be a dedicated and valued addition to your workforce, bringing a positive attitude and friendly personality to the workplace and can often be just as reliable. Evidence shows that workers with a learning disability have fewer sick days than people without, if placed in the right job.

It is important to adjust your recruitment procedures to allow applicants to demonstrate their abilities including keeping interview questions straightforward, and a work-trial of one to four weeks is encouraged.

We recommend having a workplace mentor as people with learning disabilities may be more dependent on others for care and support, particularly when understanding health and safety policies. Here are some tips to ensure you are supporting staff with learning difficulties:

  • Ensure instructions given are clear and straightforward, in a pictorial format where possible and ensure they are fully understood
  • Do not give multiple instructions at the same time, allow time for processing
  • Provide a coach or mentor in the workplace to support development from day one of the job
  • Set up partnerships with local support agencies and disability charities and make use of awareness classes and training sessions.

Communicate change as early as possible, being sensitive to any reluctant feelings the employee may have.