People with learning disabilities are normally segregated and discriminated against when it comes to employment. They face numerous challenges and barriers in their efforts to get employment. This study will therefore seek to assess the availability of employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities, challenges they face in their struggle to get work and in the workplaces, and to identify the factors involved in the high levels of unemployment amongst people with learning disabilities. The study subjects will be employers who employ people with learning disabilities and people with learning disabilities. The methodology will involve the use of structured questionnaires, participant observation and structured interviews. The collected data will be analyzed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences and Microsoft Office Excell programs.
Background to the Study
People with a learning disability have been neglected in the past years with an employment opportunity for them being very limited. This can be attributed to the fact that potential employers have negative attitudes and misplaced ideas about the abilities and skills of people with learning disabilities. This special group of people also lacks support in setting out and following an employment route.
Current statistics show that almost less than 20% of people with learning disabilities have stable jobs where they are paid either salaries or wages (ALD, 2009). It is worth noting that in the recent past, there have been attempts by different organizations such as United Kingdom Government’s Valuing People white paper that has and still advocating for employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities. In order to ensure more employment opportunities and equality for people with learning disabilities in all aspects of life, the government has realized the need to create and increase employment opportunities and career development for this group of people. The government has also appreciated the fact that people with learning disabilities need great help and specialized professional care and support geared towards finding jobs. This kind of care and support continues even after being employed; this is referred to as “supported employment”. This support has to be individualized and at the local level as it is the government policy that people with learning disabilities should have more says in the support they receive and that they should also have control over the services and support they receive. These services are sometimes offered by the local authority learning disability partnership boards with schemes nationwide where by support staff offers services such as curriculum vitae writing, interview preparations, and assisting in identifying training schemes that help increase one’s employment prospects. Other services include training them on how to sharpen their social skills and promoting a work ethic. Currently, local authorities are being motivated to make connections and interactions between day centers, training providers and support employment programs. This means that more employment prospects will be realized on behalf of people with learning disabilities. The government’s political goodwill in ensuring that people with learning disabilities have a fair chance of being employed has been demonstrated by legislation and regulations. A good example is the Disability Discrimination Act of 2005 which was updated with the main objective of giving people with disability and learning disabilities a fair opportunity of being considered for employment. The Act also calls upon all employers to make logical adjustments for this special group of people in the workplace so that they can maximize their output. Logical adjustments may include but are not limited to flexible working hours or shifts, specialist support services, easily accessible stairs and pass ways, comfortable furniture that are easy to use, and creating an environment that is free of stressors (ALD, 2009).
Statement of the Problem
There have been a lot of barriers that generally hinder people with learning disabilities from getting employment or getting a job. Statistics currently show that in England alone, the number of people with learning disabilities forms 2 % (985,000) of the total population, with only 17% of these people being in paid employment. This is a very small proportion of the population meaning that people with learning disabilities are either being discriminated against or there are no employment opportunities for them. This study, therefore, seeks to identify these barriers that hinder the employment of people with learning disabilities or factors that work against people with learning disabilities in finding employment. The issue of employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities has been a problem in the United Kingdom for a very long period of time despite the fact that the government and other organizations have put a lot of effort into ensuring that they have equal job opportunities like their counterparts without any learning disability. It is estimated that the number of people with learning disabilities will increase by 11% between 2001 and 2021. This increase will subsequently increase the population of people with learning disabilities in England to over a million in 2021(15 years and above). This increase in the number of people with learning disabilities, according to ALD (2009) is explained as: “increased life expectancy, especially among people with Down’s syndrome, growing numbers of children and young people with complex and multiple disabilities who now survive into adulthood, a sharp rise in the reported numbers of school age children with autistic spectrum disorders, some of whom will have learning disabilities, and greater prevalence among some minority ethnic populations of South Asian origin”. These increases in the population of people with learning disabilities show the looming problems and challenges of unemployment that will face people with learning disabilities if nothing is done now to create more employment opportunities and fair chances of employment for people with learning disabilities (Jeremy, 2002).
Justification and Rationale of the Study
People with learning disabilities face a lot of challenges in the community with a lot of social injustices being committed against them. They are discriminated against in society, learning institutions, workplaces and other public places. According to Jenkins (2002), the objective of the government white paper “Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century” is to help and support people with learning disabilities to access employment without any form of discrimination. The argument behind this is that a very small proportion of people with learning disabilities are in paid jobs. According to the White Paper, employment is encouraged as it improves self-esteem, talents and skills, and social integration and acceptability.
The United Kingdom was purposively chosen due to the fact that there is a large population of people with learning disabilities with statistics showing that their population is set to increase greatly by the year 2021. It is therefore evident that more employment opportunities will have to be created to accommodate the increasing number of people with learning disabilities. The government and other stakeholders must come up with ways that will ensure that more employment opportunities are created and that these people have equal chances of being employed just like others without any form of disability. This can only be achieved through carrying out research studies that will come up with findings and recommendations that when implemented will help in addressing problems and challenges faced by people with learning disabilities in their quest to get employment. The objectives of this current study are very clear in addressing these issues with the aim of exploiting employment opportunities for people with a learning disability. The results and findings of this study will be of great help and importance to the government and its agencies, employers, people with learning disability, and all stakeholders working closely with both the employers and the government. The provision of employment to people with a learning disability is a multidisciplinary activity as they need care and assistance in their day-to-day work. The proper roles of the multidisciplinary teams involved with people with a learning disability are varied and wide and can only be best determined through practical studies that will appreciate the roles played best by different professionals. This study also aims at identifying factors that affect people with learning disabilities at their workplace and will therefore strive to identify people/staff who closely work with people with LD and the roles they play in ensuring a conducive working environment for them. According to a study carried out by Oulu (2008) titled “role of professionals working with people with a learning disability in Nairobi, Kenya” whose main objective was to identify staff and the role they play in their day to day interaction with people with LD showed that people with LD are attended to or rather cared for by a multidisciplinary team that comprises of physicians, nurses, social workers, different therapists such as speech therapists, counselors and other supportive staff who help these people with their activities of daily living. Each and every individual has his/her own role to play. This study will come up with recommendations on how to help the multidisciplinary team ensure that people with learning disabilities enjoy their work and work comfortably without stressors at the workplace. Other studies have also shown that work-related stress and poor working conditions keep away people with LD from seeking employment. This may not be known to the employers and even to some extent people with LD and therefore awareness needs to be created so that all parties involved in the employment of people with Ld are well informed so that the poor working conditions and work-related stressors are eliminated totally or minimized to levels that will allow people with LD to work comfortably and to seek employment whenever there is an opportunity for employment. This study will come up with recommendations that will address these issues according to the study objective, results, and findings at the end of the study.
This study will strive to answer the following questions:
- What is the availability of employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom?
- What are the factors that contribute to the high levels of unemployment amongst people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom?
- What are the challenges faced by people with learning disabilities in their struggle to get employment in the United Kingdom?
Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this study will be to assess employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom.
The specific objectives of the study will be:
- To assess the availability of employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom?
- To find out factors that contribute to the high levels of unemployment amongst people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom?
- To find out challenges faced by people with learning disabilities in their struggle to get employment in the United Kingdom?
The hypotheses for this study are:
- People with learning disabilities do not have employment opportunities as compared to their colleagues without learning disabilities.
- People with learning disabilities face numerous challenges in their efforts to get employment.
“Learning disability” is a representative term that refers to a collection of intellectual disabilities. This basically means that a person’s ability to learn is compromised and therefore they cannot grasp things as other normal people. Many people always think that a learning disability is an illness, this thought is placed because a learning disability is not an illness but as explained above, it is just that a person’s learning capacity is highly compromised. People with learning disabilities do suffer from mental health problems such as depression mostly caused by frustrations they face in life; such as failure to get paid employment. These two are not the same thing. Learning disability can be acquired during the intrauterine development of a fetus or during early childhood development. Despite the fact that this condition is permanent, people with learning disabilities are able to learn and usually develop well if given the right support from other people. Learning disabilities can be classified into three major groups namely mild, moderate, or severe. People with learning disabilities do vary greatly with each and every individual having his/her own needs. Some of them are described as having ‘high individual support needs, these groups normally have their learning capacity highly compromised with additional challenging behavior, sight, and hearing impairments. Some of them may experience autism, mental health problems and other common health problems (Hunter et al, 2007). People with learning disabilities should be accepted into society and be seen as part of society and their abilities not neglected. Instead, they should be helped to nurture their talents so that they can reach their potential (Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, 2007). Learning disabilities are caused by several factors which include problems occurring during intrauterine growth of the fetus or during birth. Childhood illnesses may also cause learning disabilities. Some of the syndromes and conditions that lead to learning disabilities according to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (2007) are ‘ADHD, Angelman syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s syndrome, Dyslexia, Epilepsy, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Fragile-X Syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Tourette syndrome, Velo-Cardio-Facial syndrome, and Williams’s syndrome’. Dr. Stephen Beyer of the Foundation of people with learning disabilities states that: “We know that there are around 800,000 people with learning disabilities, who are of working age, yet few have a paid job and even that may be part time. Many people want to work but there are barriers to them achieving this. There is not enough appropriate support available for people with learning disabilities, Government schemes aren’t fully geared towards helping them and the benefits system acts as a barrier.” (FPLD, 2007) This statement shows how far the efforts to promote equal employment opportunities are. This is a challenge to both the government and all other stakeholders who are involved with people with learning disabilities. These people still face numerous barriers and discrimination and therefore are excluded from getting paid jobs. In early study findings from the school of medicine’s Welsh Center for learning disabilities (Cardiff News, 2007) titled “Young People With Learning Disabilities: What Works” whose objective was to find the best way to assist young people with LD to move from schooling to employment shows that the level of learning disabilities does not prevent young people from progressing from learning to employment but it is the absence of effective and efficient employment experience support. Dr. Stephen Beyer, who also doubles as the Deputy Director of the center said that: “Initial results suggest that supported work experience organized by partner employment organizations (rather than by schools), and specific employment awareness courses organized by schools, are important predictors of a job as an outcome” (Cardiff News, 2007, p. 7).
Preliminary findings for the study further show that in order for employment as an option to be made available for school leavers with learning disabilities then the involvement of employment agencies will be critical.
A study carried out by Hall and Fox (2004) titled “What providers and Medicaid policymakers need to know about barriers to employment for people with disabilities” reported that Medicaid Buy Insurance has given people with disabilities including learning disabilities an exhilarating chance to take part in meaningful and paid employment and at the same time retaining Medicaid coverage. The researchers interviewed clients attending the Kansas Medicaid Buy-in through interviews whereby they assessed the external factors that were thought to have an impact on the decision to get or increase employment by people with disabilities. The study came up with two major barriers; the first one was rather awkward in that physicians, therapists and caseworkers who were supposed to help people with disabilities to get jobs on the contrary frequently discouraged the participants from getting paid employment. The second barrier was identified as the inability to access regular and appropriate Medicaid care and/or medicine and drugs through Medicaid. There are three types of employments that favor and create employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities. The first form of employment is sheltered employment in which work is in isolated workshops. The workshops were established by local authorities and organizations during the post-war period with the aim of providing war-disabled people with employment opportunities. This group of people found it difficult to work in integrated settings after they became disabled. This type of employment was totally isolated and the payment was very low (Beyer, 2002). The second form of employment is Supported Employment which has been in existence since 1985. This is where the government provides a subsidy for employers who provide employment opportunities for disabled workers through the Supported Placement Scheme (SPS) with the aim of assisting disabled people to get jobs in companies or integrated placements (Leach, 2002). The third form of employment for disabled people is the Open Employment defined by Cosden (2004) as “a job with the principle of a ‘real’ or ‘normal’ job for people with learning difficulties leading to an expectation that they will successfully negotiate all the tasks expected of non-disabled workers” (p. 16). Cosden further explains that in this type of employment, one is paid salary/wage which is equivalent to the market rates. These employment settings were developed with the aim of ensuring that disabled people, learning disabilities included get equal employment opportunities and just like those without any disabilities. They offer alternative employment sources where they can work efficiently and comfortably (Ridley, 2005 and 2006). A number of studies have been carried out to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of these employment forms. One of the studies carried out by Stephens et al (2005) was a longitudinal study of employment and skill acquisition among individuals with developmental disabilities. In this particular study, the researchers reviewed several studies some of which used people with learning disabilities as study subjects. The results of the study showed that as people got employed, scores on adaptive skills went up, that as people left employment, adaptive skills went down, and that in cases where employment status remained constant, adaptive skills did not change; remained constant. The researchers then examined types of employment (sheltered, supported, and competitive/open) in which the results demonstrated the same pattern of changes in adaptive skills. These results show that employment and the nature of work play a significant role in promoting adaptive skills for both people with development and learning disabilities. Adaptation, therefore, plays an integral part in ensuring that people with learning disabilities either retain and remain in employment or quit their employment. Supported employment is one of the types of employment that is largely practiced in the UK where it is well established and has demonstrated success in helping a range of people to get real jobs and helping them retain these jobs (Schneider et al, 2002; O’Bryan et al, 2000; Sutton, 1999). This type of employment has also been found to be effective in promoting a higher quality of life (Eggleton et al, 1999). According to Parent et al (1992), there is consumer satisfaction in supported employment with both supports received and jobs obtained. People with learning disabilities employed under the supported employment have been found to be reliable, hardworking and effective employees with their employers reporting satisfaction (Meyer, 2001 and Beyer et al 2002). The provision of the right support services will have a great impact on promoting employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities. This will mean implementing quality standards that will ensure that the supported employment services have the correct and right skills, techniques, attitudes and capacity to meet requirements. Policies governing the employment of people with LD should also be reviewed in order to put them at par with current market challenges. Working experience and further education which specifically focuses on progression to employment are very important if one is to get employed. Studies have also shown that work experience and work trials put people with learning disabilities at a better chance of making informed choices and identification of their talents. This also gives potential employers the opportunity to identify someone’s skills. One of the techniques that have been used to attract people with learning disabilities to take up jobs being offered to them is ‘job carving’ which basically involves organising work in a flexible manner by others in the workplace so that the person with LD only performs a number of tasks within a job. This helps these people to only take up tasks that can perform. In the UK, most people with learning disabilities are employed within the public sector which employers a big majority of the population. Public sector jobs should be exploited so that more employment opportunities can be created for people with learning disabilities. Supported employment agencies have in the past reported that many people with learning disabilities are willing to work in the public sector if given the opportunity. People with learning disabilities just like normal people need flexible working hours. This is however not encouraged with some funding requirements such as the European Regeneration Funding which targets only jobs covering more than 16 hours per week. Many people with learning disabilities prefer working part-time and this clearly shows that if employers can adjust their working schedule from full time to part time, then more people with LD will be attracted to seek employment, or alternatively, more employment opportunities will be created for them. This is supported by the report of the government’s working group on Learning Disabilities “improving work opportunities for people with a learning disability” which concluded that there should be improved opportunities for working only a few hours a week (between 5 and 15 hours).
Self-employment is an area that should be exploited by people with a learning disability. There is a lot of evidence of people with LD who are self-employed in different fields. Currently, in the UK, there are no support services that generally focus on self-employment. This is an area that the government and other stakeholders should take up so that people with learning disabilities can get technical advice and financial assistance so that they can start their own businesses. This can be done through the development of individualised support packages that will concentrate on personal skills for self-employment; helping them with the development of business plans, short-term courses on entrepreneur skills, and long-term individual support.
The research design to be used in this study will be a descriptive case study whereby a description of the current state of affairs of employment opportunity for people with learning disabilities will be they exist. The design favors this kind of research study because the researcher will collect data that will provide the current picture and situation on the ground concerning employment opportunities for this special group of people. The researcher will report the state of affairs as they exist at the time of the study.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria The study will include employers who will consent to the study and people with learning disabilities who will also consent to the study. Those to be excluded will be anybody that will not consent to participate in the study. Those who will consent but change their mind on participating in the study will also be excluded.
Data Collection Tools/Methods
In this study, two sets of structured questionnaires will be used to collect data from the respondents. One set of questionnaires will be prospective employers and those employers who have employed people with learning disabilities. These employers are well placed to give required information concerning employment opportunities and other related issues in that they proactively work with employees with learning disabilities. They also cooperate with supported employment agencies and disability employment team services in employing people with learning difficulties. The other set of questionnaires will be people with a learning disability who are already in employment and those that are seeking employment. They are also well placed to give accurate information on the challenges they face in their efforts to get employed. Structured questionnaires have been chosen as a large population of employers and people with learning disabilities will be used in the study over a wide area in that information can be collected from a large sample and diverse regions. Confidentiality will be upheld while at the same time there will be no interview bias as the questionnaires are presented in paper format. The limitations of this method are that there is no direct contact so the researcher cannot deal with any misunderstanding and there is no opportunity to ask for further information related to answers given. In order to ensure the effectiveness of questionnaires, a pre-test will be done where a pilot study will be carried out with a small representative sample. This will help the researcher to ensure that the questions give the intended answers, the wording is clear, all questions are interpreted in the same way by respondents, and to detect any research bias.
The second method that will be employed by the researcher will be structured interviews. These will involve subjecting every informant in a sample to the same stimuli, for instance, asking each informant similar questions just as in the case of a survey. This method is advantageous in that the reliability of the information gathered is high due to the fact that each informant is subjected to similar questions with the others; it gives in-depth information about particular cases of interest to the researcher, in this case, employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the UK; it is time-saving since the respondent s simply answer what has been asked by the researcher; the researcher gets a complete and detailed understanding of the issue from the respondent; it is comprehensive and systematic since questions are formulated before the interview; and data collected is quantifiable. This method just like any other has limitations which include rigidity displayed by the researcher can affect the responses given. The respondent may feel that he/she is under investigation hence may affect the response. This method is also too formal since the respondents simply answer the questions asked by the researcher while at the same time the researcher may miss out on some important points that are not included in the questions formulated.
The third method that will be employed in this study is a participant observation which is a tool that provides information about actual behaviour. Direct observation is useful because some behaviour involves habitual routines of which people are hardly aware. Direct observation allows the researcher to put behaviour in context and thereby understand it better. In this method, the researcher becomes an active functioning member of the culture under study which in this study s employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the UK. The researcher participates in any activity appropriate to the status which is assumed. This participation helps to reduce reactivity. In this case, the researcher will be part of a body involved in employment in different organisations such as the human resource department from where he/she will make observations. This gives the researcher an intuitive understanding of what is happening in culture. One of the limitations of this method is that it may be time-consuming.
The researcher will get a letter or letters of permission to carry the study from the University administration, the nursing faculty and the supervisors before the commencement of the study. In addition to the letters of permission, the researcher will also get a letter of clearance to carry out the study from the university ethical committee.
The researcher will ensure that confidentiality is maintained at all times by ensuring that only specific people who will be helping him/her in carrying the study will know the identity of the participants and that at no given time will a subject or respondent know the identity of other respondents/subjects. The researcher will also be open and honest when dealing with other researchers and study subjects and will be responsible for his/her own work and accept individual responsibility for the conduct of the research and, as far as foreseeable, the consequences of the study. The researcher will also take all reasonable measures to protect subjects physically and psychologically and will fully explain the research in advance, and debrief subjects afterward.
Data Collection Process
The data collection process will involve the use of the three methods as explained above. Since the questionnaires are structured, they will be given to the respondents who will include employers and people with learning disabilities. They will be given to them at their places of work or any other convenient place that they deem comfortable with them after which they will be given time to go through the questions and to fill them appropriately. The respondents will be given a period of 24 hours to fill the questionnaires after which they will be collected from them. The questionnaires will then be kept in a safe place to await analysis. Participant observation will involve the researcher and other trained research assistants who will also be participant observant in different employment workplaces from where they will collect the required data. In the structured interview, the researcher with help of research assistants will engage the employers with the aim of collecting data. Similar questions will be used across the board.
Data Cleaning, Analysis and Presentation At the end of each and every data collection activity, the collected data will be grouped and coded before the actual analysis. The questionnaires that will have not been fully filled or left blank will be singled out as they will not be used in the final data analysis. Data analysis will be done using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) program and Microsoft office excel program. The analyzed data will then be presented in form of descriptive statistics such as frequency tables, histograms, percentages, bar graphs, pie charts and line graphs. The results of this study will be based on the analyzed data on which conclusions based on the findings and objectives of the study will be drawn. This study will also put forward recommendations that will be used by both the government and stakeholders involved in creating employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities.
Data handling and Storage The collected raw data will be filed and kept in a safe while the analyzed data will be stored in computer hard disks, flash disks and external portable computer disks. The researcher will also come up with a filing system that will be used to file the data in paper format.
In order for this study to be successful, the researcher will have to hire and train research assistants who will help in the execution of the study. These will be trained professionals with background training in research methodology. Other staffs that will be needed are data analysts, record clerks, and others as may be determined by the workload during the execution of the study, stationery such as books, writing materials, files, computers and printers. Since the study will cover a wide area over the UK, the researcher will either need to get new cars or get cars through leasing. This will help in the easy movement of the researcher from the research center to the field or areas where data will be collected. For purposes of coordination, the researcher will have to move from one data collection to another and will need a reliable means of transport. The following is an estimated budget for the study.
|CORE ACTIVITIES||ITEMS/PARTICIPANTS||COST (USD)|
|Consolidation of literature |
Designing and developing research instruments
|Library search, travelling expenses USD 10 per day x 30 days |
Typing and photocopy of research instruments
|Research induction and training||Transport for researcher and 10 research assistants USD 10 x 7 days x 10||700|
|Pilot survey |
Finalizing of research instruments (typing and photocopying)
|Transport for researcher and research assistants USD 100 x 5 days x 10 |
Data collection tools
|Main field data collection (4 months)||Travel, accommodation and subsistence researcher 1 x120 days x USD 50 |
Research assistants 10 x 120 x USD 30
|Data processing, analysis and report writing||1 researcher and 10 research assistants 11 x 60 days x USD 20||13,200|
|Purchases||Computer 1 and accessories |
Video recorder and accessories
|10% contingency and institutional costs|
Conclusion and Recommendations
People with learning disabilities face numerous challenges in their struggle to get employment. Potential employers do not want to give these people a chance to exploit their talents and those of them that are already employed face a lot of challenges in their work places. This study will assess employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities; the challenges, discrimination and factors that hinder them from getting employment. The methods that will be used to collect data are very exhaustive meaning that the researcher will be able to collect relevant and accurate data concerning employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities. The study design (descriptive study) will allow the researcher to have a picture of the current situation and happenings in the job market. The involvement of both the employers and people with learning disabilities shows that the findings and recommendations of the study will cut across the board in that both the employers’ and the employees’ views will be considered equally. This study too has weaknesses; the study will be carried out over a large area and there are chances that the researcher will not be able to monitor fully the data collection process, therefore, creating chances of poor data collection. The results and recommendations of this study may not be implemented just as in many other studies that have never been implemented. Constraints that will be faced in carrying out this study include the need to hire a large number of research assistants and supportive staff, cars to offer reliable means of transport for the researcher and the research assistants. Organizations and employers who in one way or another discriminate against people with learning disabilities and even deny them employment opportunities may not be willing to participate in the study or may not give accurate data as per the questions they are asked. This may compromise the quality and outcome of the study. The study will be financed by the researcher solely meaning that the researcher will foot the total bill for the study by him/herself. This will pose financial constraints on part of the researcher and may mean that the researcher will have to cut down on the expenses in terms of reducing the number of days the research ought to have taken, reducing the number of research assistants and support staff. The research may opt for public transport in order to cut down further the cost of carrying out the research study. Owing to the importance of this study, the researcher will have to maximize the available resources and ensure that they are used efficiently and effectively in meeting the objectives of the study.
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