The learning disability charity Mencap is urging businesses to consider people with learning disabilities as valuable employment candidates following unprecedented levels of vacancies across key sectors of the economy.

People with a learning disability have the lowest employment rate of any health condition or disability, with only a quarter (26.7%) in work. However, many people with learning disabilities want to work, but they face significant barriers which often prevent them from gaining employment.

The benefits of employment

Now, new research has revealed what people with a learning disability want when it comes to work, why so few people with a learning disability are able to access or maintain paid work, and what more can be done to help address these barriers.

The Work and Learning Disability Research report was commissioned by Mencap and conducted by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi).

In total, 52 people with learning disabilities were included in the research, and focus groups, surveys and interviews were conducted with each participant. The research found that:

  • People with learning disabilities had a wide variety of career aspirations
  • The vast majority wanted to be in paid work (86%)
  • The three best things about work were found to be earning money (49%), helping other people (38%) and learning new skills (36%).

The participants also discussed the various benefits of work and how it improved their lives. They said work offered:

  • Social opportunities: a way to meet new people and work as part of a team
  • A way to pursue and interest or passion, which made people feel good about themselves
  • A way to learn and develop new skills.

Job application forms often inaccessible

Despite these benefits, the report found that the barriers and problems faced by people with a learning disability are so prevalent that many find it impossible to get work and others leave because of poor experiences.

The report findings also highlight how an over-complex benefits system is a significant obstacle for many people surveyed, and often, the application process itself is a problem.

Indeed, roughly a quarter (23%) of the people without a job who would like a paid job said inaccessible application forms were one of the key obstacles preventing them getting work.

And when people with learning disabilities do manage to get past the inaccessible application forms, response and feedback rates are low.

Zeeshan Sharif, an employment case worker for Mencap who supports people with a learning disability to find a job says often, the people she supports apply for hundreds of jobs every week, yet they rarely receive any form of feedback.

“I’ve noticed people who don’t disclose their learning disability on applications tend to get more opportunities,” she said.

People with a learning disability make “exceptional, dedicated, hardworking employees”

Now, Jackie O’Sullivan, acting Chief Executive at Mencap, is urging employers to “realise the potential of people with a learning disability as employees.”

“We hear of many brands and companies developing corporate values about inclusivity and equality. It would be great to see them really putting this into action and show their commitment to diversity in the workplace. Now more than ever, with so many jobs unfilled, it makes sense for companies to open their minds – and their doors – to a new workforce.

“The hospitality industry for example has been severely impacted by labour shortages since the pandemic, yet more than a third (36%) of people we surveyed who don’t have a paid job said they wanted to work in in a bar, restaurant, café or hotel.

“With the right support, people with a learning disability make exceptional, dedicated, hardworking employees who add real value to an organisation,” she said.