Learning disabilities: Call to help people into work

By Ashleigh Crowter
BBC Wales Live

Media caption,
Andrew Williams marks 30 years in job

When Andrew Williams was offered a placement at a family-run garage, it was only supposed to last a few weeks.

But the 49-year-old, who has Down's Syndrome, is now celebrating 30 years' work for the tyre fitter.

He has limited speech, and chats football with customers and jokes with suppliers, having found a role that suits his abilities.

Figures show 54,000 people in Wales have a learning disability but, UK-wide, just 6% are in employment.

Learning Disability Wales (LDW) wants the Welsh government to create a national job coaching service to support people into paid jobs.

"It's really important people have a job coach to support them through internships, apprenticeships and finally into permanent employment," chief executive Zoe Richards said.

A Welsh government spokesman said it was determined to support more people with learning disabilities into work.

Mr Williams works at Heath Tyre Services every Tuesday, where part of his routine is clearing out waste bins and sorting recycling.

As a former member of the Great Britain Special Olympics canoeing team, he is physically strong and makes light work of manual tasks.

Image caption,
Andrew Evans believes a social worker matched Andrew Williams to a suitable role

He is a popular member of the team and enjoys his role so much that, during lockdown last year, he video-called his boss every week to check whether the garage had reopened.

"They identified the correct student for the correct placement," said owner Andrew Evans about the decision of a social worker to send him.

"Andrew is quite accomplished. He can use many of the machines without us having to repeat any of the instructions to him.

"We always know when he has been here on a Tuesday as the workshop is spotless. Everything he does here is appreciated by other staff. He helps and pitches in."

Image caption,
The company is aiming to celebrate 30 years since Andrew Williams' arrival at Christmas time

Mr Williams lives on his own in supported accommodation but has difficulty communicating with people he does not know because of his speech.

The job is the sort of solid employment his family never expected him to have.

His mother, Anne Williams, thought the placement might only last a couple of weeks, but it became one of the pillars of his life.

"It's given him pride in himself," she said.

"He has some money which doesn't come from his benefits. He can spend it as he wants. It's made him sort of independent. He'll do anything to go to Heath Tyres to work."

But, as Mrs Williams readily admits, this sort of work opportunity for people with learning disabilities is not typical.

Employment champions

LDW chief executive Ms Richards believes the Welsh government should implement quotas to make sure people with learning disabilities are fairly represented in the workforces of major employers like the Welsh NHS and local councils.

She said small and medium sized businesses were often better at taking on people with learning disabilities because of close community links.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We will publish a new employability strategy in the new year which will set out our plans to drive up employment rates even further.

"This will include working with key employers, such as the NHS, to improve the number of job opportunities available.

"We recognise the need for a job coaching approach and have been piloting a range of activities to support those with learning disabilities, such as our work on supported apprenticeships."

He added that between October 2020 and March 2021, £200,000 was made available for 16 to 18-year-olds to take part in specialist job coach services for six months.

"We have also supported a team of disabled people's employment champions who are in place to influence and strategically guide employers," the spokesman added.

"The champions are disabled people themselves who have lived experience of the barriers faced in gaining employment, and utilising their experience to advocate for employment of disabled people, promoting the social model of disability."

For the full story, watch Wales Live on BBC1 Wales at 22:30 GMT on Wednesday, or afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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