Tony Collins RemploySpecialist employment services provider Remploy has launched a campaign that aims to increase the number of people with learning disabilities in paid employment over the next 5 years.

While 47% of all disabled people have a job, only about 7% of those with learning disabilities are in paid employment. Remploy’s campaign, launched to coincide with Learning Disability Week, aims to raise the rate to 10% over the next 5 years.

In the campaign, Remploy is also seeking to persuade employers to adopt measures such as 'working interviews' where the jobseeker is given a trial over several weeks to establish their suitability, rather than rely on face-to-face sit down interviews.

The campaign is being led by Tony Collins (pictured), Remploy's learning disabilities spokesperson, who has first-hand knowledge of how some people with a learning disability can be treated in the workplace.

After leaving college Tony went to work in a sports centre where he was paid in tokens used to open changing room lockers and later he worked for two years in a clothes shop where he was paid in coat hangers. In a third job, he worked in a department store where again he received no pay.

This made him feel: “Angry. You can’t spend coat hangers!” Tony said.

Beth Carruthers, Remploy’s chief executive, added: “I'm sure that enlightened employers would not dream of treating people in the way that Tony was treated but we still have a long way to go.

“We need to persuade employers that for people with learning disabilities the traditional face to face interview is not the best way of understanding their skills and abilities.”

Tackling stereotypes

Tony, aged 35 from Rainham, Essex, who also has learning disabilities, works to make the case to employers for employing more people with a learning disability: “People with learning disabilities always want to succeed and with the right support can do any job that’s reasonable,” he said.

“It’s very important that people really believe that we can work and do a good job. People with learning disabilities can work, will work, want to work.”

Tony meets employers and in a presentation delivered with charm and humour – as well was forcefulness and experience – he tries to dispel myths and stereotypes that still pervade about people with learning disabilities in the workplace, such as that they can’t work full time. “Of course we can,” he said.

Or that they need a lot of training and preparation before starting work. “Not true. People with learning disabilities learn best on the job allowing us to show what we can do.

“I think my job is important because I can help people within Remploy and employers understand people like me better.

“People with learning disabilities want to be treated fairly and like everyone else and not left out. Also, we need to be independent, earn a wage and not live on benefits.”