Effectively Supporting Practice Staff with Learning Disabilities

FPM takes a look at why you should consider employing an individual with learning disabilities and what support mechanisms are available for GP practices in the UK.

Individuals with learning disabilities often experience discrimination, stigma, bullying, and exclusion, with only 5.8% in the UK in paid employment. However, there are some employers who have identified a large pool of talent in employing those with a learning disability, which leads to a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

According to UK government statistics, there are currently 1.2 million disabled people in the UK who are willing and available to work. The workforce of disabled employees is massively underutilised as there appears to be a low expectation from employers when recruiting disabled employees.

In 2015 the NHS launched the Learning Disability Employment Programme (LDEP) to support the development of local and national solutions to remove barriers and increase employment opportunities for people with a learning disability and/or autism in the NHS in England, and it also encourages service improvements.

It is possible to make simple changes to the way tasks are carried out without a high cost and some changes have no cost at all further to this the corporate image and reputation can be enhanced positively with stakeholders, your customers, and the workforce if you recruit and retain employees who are disabled.

The Recruitment Process – knowing what to expect

The UK is currently experiencing a record number of job vacancies and there is a talent pool of potential candidates with learning disabilities that employers can attract from. It is important to note that the traditional recruitment process and interview techniques are not always beneficial to those with learning disabilities and there is a lot more to the process as opposed to thinking of the general questions, such as ‘how do I make this person with a learning disability more comfortable?’.

Expectations need to be adjusted: we tend to have expectations when interviewing such as a firm handshake and good eye contact, however, candidates with learning disabilities may have trouble with traditional social skills and it is important to keep this in mind. You should allow more time for the interview than the typical interviewing time slot, as this will result in the candidate not feeling rushed.

Rethink your interview questions: there are many traditional interview questions that can create a roadblock for those with learning disabilities. A candidate who has autism spectrum disorder often thinks quite literally, so questions asked should be centred around the role only and you should avoid questions that do not relate directly to the role.

If you are interested in hiring an employee with a learning disability, the Disability Confident Campaign and CIPD have developed a guide for line managers on employing people with a disability or health condition and you can read more about this by clicking here.

When recruiting a candidate with learning disabilities, what support can you offer them? 

There are many types of learning disabilities, and each one needs to be managed differently. Becoming knowledgeable on your new employee’s needs will help you to provide effective line management support, as you can learn what positive attributes they have and adjust their tasks to suit them. Further to this, you can offer reasonable adjustments to make their experience more comfortable:

  • Appointing a colleague to act as a mentor or buddy in the workplace can create a safe and positive experience for the individual. If they feel that they are struggling, they will have someone to talk to.
  • Being mindful that change in the workplace may be difficult for the employee, it is important to talk about change in advance before it happens to minimise any upset the individual might feel.
  • For those with a physical disability, you should consider the design of the workstations, check that you have appropriate seating, and provide flexible work breaks.
  • Communicating clear boundaries with regards to the time of work and interaction with others is important.
  • You can consider the use of paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments.

In the UK there are several organisations you can contact who can help support you and your employees who have a learning disability.

  • Mencap is a UK learning disability charity that works with people with learning disabilities and assists them with their careers and offer excellent advice on this to employers.
  • Remploy UK offers specialist employment and skills support for disabled people and those with health conditions, their website offers advice on how you can attract and retain talent for those with learning disabilities.
  • Careers with Disabilities UK offer information and guidance for inclusive employers.  

Many organisations and businesses in the UK face staff shortages and teams who feel burnout due to excess workload. There is a large pool of talented people who have learning disabilities out there who are eager, more than willing, and waiting to get into work.

Created by Ciara Burns
Ciara Burns
Ciara is the HR Consultant at FPM Group who writes and produces content on a wide range of topics such as HR best practices, employment law, recruitment, policies, and procedures.


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