Learning disability and the workplace

Holding hands

01 / 4 / 2015 12.19pm

The NHS recognises the need for people with learning disabilities to have access to work and employment opportunities. Progress has been made nationally and locally to improve the chances of people with a learning disability getting the appropriate training and skills to find employment.

Although some progress has been made, it is recognised that further work is required to raise expectations of people with learning disabilities to potential employers and the wider public. We need to ensure that employment is seen as a realistic option for people with a learning disability.

Key facts and figures

  • It has been estimated that 1,043,449 people in England (two per cent of the population) have a learning disability. The numbers known to learning disability services are much smaller, an estimated 236,235 people. This means there is a good chance that many workplaces have people with a learning disability.
  • The prevalence of learning disabilities in the general population is expected to grow by ten per cent by 2020.
  • People with a learning disability are more likely than the rest of the population to suffer from health problems like congenital heart disease, physical disabilities, sensory impairment, epilepsy and mental health problems and obesity.
  • Only one in ten people with a learning disability are in employment. They are more excluded from the workplace than any other group of disabled people. When they do work, it is often for low pay and for part-time hours. Research shows that 65 per cent of people with a learning disability want to work, and that they make highly valued employees when given the right support.
  • Learning disability stems from impairments related to one or more of the following processes which are associated with perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning and may have an impact on workplace practice. These include, but are not limited to: language processing; phonological processing; visual spatial processing; processing speed; memory and attention; and executive functions (planning and decision-making).
  • The following are major types of learning disabilities: 
    • a sequencing disorder is a difficulty with the order of a series of things. It may lead to problems with prioritising, organising, doing mathematics and following instructions
    • language disorders are difficulties with receptive language (understanding and remembering) or with expressive language (oral or in writing)
    • visual perceptual and visual motor disorders are difficulties with processing information visually, thus leading to problems with reading, spelling and writing. This is sometimes termed 'dyslexia'
    • auditory disorders are difficulties with processing sounds, such as distinguishing words that sound similar
    • memory disorder is a difficulty retrieving certain information from memory within a reasonable time
    • gross motor and fine motor disorders interfere with coordination. A problem with fine motor coordination could lead to difficulty with handwriting.

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