Transcript: ENABLE Works

A conversation with Lianne Williams from ENABLE and Mark Cuff

Podcast Episode: ENABLE Works

Category: Disability 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Michael: On this podcast I went to find out about ENABLE Works that is part of Scotland so I spoke to the Deputy Director of ENABLE Works, Lianne Williams, and also, I spoke to Mark Cuff who has got a learning disability and he told me more about his job.

Lianne: As an overview for the ENABLE Group, I guess I’ll start by saying that we’re the department ENABLE Works. So, we’re part of the ENABLE Scotland group which was founded in 1954 by five sets of parents of children who had learning disabilities. So, at our very heart, we’re a campaigning organisation for the rights of people who have learning disabilities. There are three pillars within the group, ENABLE Works; which is my department, ENABLE All, which are the care services, and ENABLE Scotland; the actual charity itself.

Coincidently within ENABLE Works, we have three pillars ourselves around how we sort of badge our services if you like, so there’s three main aims that we’ve got. One is around transition and education programmes; so young people that are in schools, colleges, universities. The second is our skills and training services; so those who are looking to gain qualifications for work, or qualifications whilst they’re in work and sort of progress towards employment and the third is our adult employability services. So, a whole range of programmes. I think at the moment, from memory, we’ve got about 30 different services that we offer. We are in 28 out of the 32 local authorities; so very much a national service. With the exception to that being, as you would expect, the sort of islands and the North of Scotland but ambitions to make sure that within the next two or three years we’re in all of the 32 local authorities so that there’s no postcode lottery effect of support for clients.

We’re supporting at the moment, around 4500 people which is quite a significant number and around 200 employers each year. So, as I say, we’ve got a whole range of different programmes. Our key programmes are our Stepping Up programme which is our transition service for young people leaving education and what the future looks like for them. Our university programme, Breaking Barriers which is award winning programme that we run with Strathclyde and recently with Napier University. And then beyond that, we’re into our sort of main employability programmes that we run for several of the local authorities across Scotland. Which although they’re all funded slightly differently and called something different, they all have the same sort of theme where we work with someone to profile their skills, aspirations, ambitions and then through a process that gradually builds their confidence towards moving into paid employment which I think is the process that you’ve been through, Mark, so I’ll hand over to you to explain your journey with ENABLE Works.

Mark: Yes, thanks Lianne. So yeah, the situation I’ve had just now is I’m currently employed in a mobility retail shop just now, it’s called Inverclyde Disabilities. Financially as well, with the Covid, the start of the pandemic and Brexit also kind of getting involved in certain suppliers, it’s just, it’s hit us harder. I’d say the past year or so now where we’re struggling to just try and keep overheads paid and rent and suppliers paid. So, it came to my manager’s decision to start saying to myself and colleagues that we should start to look for other vacancies with other companies and I ended up contacting yourselves with a referral from Jim MacLeod who’s part of the Inverclyde Council. He suggested yourselves and I phoned up to arrange an appointment and ended up in getting in contact with Kelly recently. So, we’ve been working away, just job hunting using a few websites as well and just talking through how my CV is and what skills and knowledge and experience I’ve gained as well. So, she says she’s quite impressed with the CV and everything so I think I hit it right with my CV.

Michael: I wanted to open up to everybody now about what are the barriers? I’ll start with you, Mark, what do you think the barriers are to employing somebody with a learning disability?

Mark: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve got a learning disability; I’ve got more a physical disability. So, I’m in a powered wheelchair on a permanent basis. So, the first few things that come to my mind when I’m looking for a job is making sure there’s wheelchair access, how to get to the … if it’s an office-based job, how am I going to get there? What’s the journey going to be like? Is transport going to be adequate for wheelchair access, again. Weighing up the travel expenses as well and then when I do arrive in the working environment, it’s going through like health and safety as well with one of the health and safety officers at the potential company that I will be working for in the future. So, it’s going through just like your fire risk assessments and everything like that as well. Making sure that there’s good toilet facilities as well when I do need to take a break and just use a restroom, when I need to of course. So, it’s just making sure everything is manageable for myself when I am using my wheelchair at work. I’d say that’s the first few thoughts that just go through my mind immediately when I look for a job.

Michael: And what about you Lianne? Because obviously you would hear more stories or examples for people like all over Scotland so what’s people coming to you and saying what the barriers are? And I’m talking about before Covid as well, because obviously there’s a lot of issues at the moment because of Covid and all that but before Covid there’s been a lot of barriers especially to you with employers as well. So, I would be just interested to hear from you, Lianne, an ENABLE point of view that the barriers?

Lianne: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, definitely. So, the barriers either pre-Covid or currently during Covid haven’t necessarily changed; if anything, they’ve just got worse, I would argue. So, we know that people who have learning disabilities, are already disadvantaged when it comes to applying for jobs because of stigma and discrimination. And actually, the impact of Covid has just made that worse where now everyone is disadvantaged as a result of Covid, you could argue. But disabled people are definitely disproportionately disadvantaged in that sense that it is now much harder for them to find work, to get support to apply for work, all these types of things.

So, stigma and discrimination is probably the biggest one which comes from really a lack of understanding or a knowledge around that from the employers that we work with and we invest a lot of time and energy into changing that. So, we have a whole suite of different training options for employers; it really tries to reduce those barriers for people. I guess, fear of discrimination, as well is probably another one where employers are fearful of taking people on and getting things wrong. So, again, that sort of lack of education or lack of knowledge. But certainly, what we find is that actually, disabled people when they’re applying for jobs who either don’t have the right support or they’re putting an application in and they’re not even getting sifted through to the short-listing stage. So, it’s definitely something that’s a big problem across the whole of the UK at the moment and probably various other areas as well. But certainly, we know that the disability employment gap is getting worse; it’s not getting any better. And regardless of all the kind of work that the third sector organisations are trying to do to try and change that, Covid has had a massive impact on it. So, yeah, discrimination and stigma are probably the 2 biggest barriers, I would say that people face.

Michael: And would you want to see, as a person with a disability, and I’m a disability advocate as well, but would you want to see more people; more role models out there to go and speak to employers about looking past the disability, that this is what we can bring to the job?

Lianne: Absolutely. We run loads of programmes throughout Scotland where we’re placing people into work and that’s exactly what happens where the preconception of someone in that post compared to the reality of someone in that post is worlds apart. And it’s just that education piece that I think we have to keep focusing on with employers to showcase actually what can be done.

Michael: And Mark, do you know a lot of people with a disability that want to work but not given the chance to work? And are you hearing the same things like the barriers getting put up in front of people’s faces?

Mark: Well, for me ever since leaving school at a young age; I was probably about 17, and see just because I was going through a deterioration period; things were starting to slowly creep in where I was noticing the barriers more myself and some people … the support back then like 10/15 years ago, wasn’t great either so, I felt as if I was on my own. And then when I try and help others out, back then, before coming across ENABLE Works or anything, it was quite challenging to get over barriers and people saying the same thing, it’s like you’re not getting shortlisted, you’re not being shortlisted for discrimination or anything. It was like employers are just looking at you as a number, it’s not as if they’re taking the time to look into what experience, education, any other background that you’ve gained.

So, I think over the years, I’ve built up quite a good profile of myself and it’s just getting a bit more confident with applying for other jobs where they do now say on the website if you’re speaking to somebody face to face, over the phone, they are now saying that they’re equal opportunists within their company. So, it’s nice to start seeing it but I don’t think it’s been coming quick enough. And I do, in my job just now, it’s not just work as well, it’s other facilities where if people want a wee bit of leisure, people are still getting that kind of the same barriers where, they’ve got a disability, we can’t put you in a restaurant or something in this area or something, especially with the pandemic as well. It’s like they’re trying to keep to the social distancing with all the rules and guidance that’s been put in place so it has been quite a challenge.

And I’d love to see more people and I feel as if there’s times where my brother’s got a learning disability and he’s only … I’m 31 come March, he’s 26 now but he’s Dyslexic. But he’s working away, he’s able to drive so, he’s kind of got the same condition as me but it’s not affecting him as aggressive. So, it’s like I’ve got that family kind of bond where we can relate in certain things if there’s any barriers. But if I’ve got friends and other family members, I do try and act like a bit of a role model myself to just say what I’ve faced and give out advice cos I feel as if I don’t see enough of it when I try and go to different companies.

Michael: I wanted to ask as well Mark, cos I know myself when I got my first job many years ago; it helped my confidence. Before I was in work, I wasn’t very confident, I wasn’t going out and about with my pals. In fact, I didn’t have a lot of pals when I was going out. So, do you think it kind of helped your confidence in a way that you meet pals and then you get invited to nights out and all that kind of stuff?

Mark: At first, I think it was just making people more aware in your work. So, I think it was getting over that wee barrier, kind of hurdle in the working environment and I think the awareness is still quite low. But there are still companies out there and there’s individuals that are quite helpful and I have been invited to work night outs and other events outside of work from either pals or associates from work. There’s always that thing I’ve got, I’ve got to go through a process because it is a physical disability I’ve got to go through. There’s things that I’ve got to go through the transportation thing again, and make sure that there’s wheelchair access and you know there’s steps to take before that gets put across because not everywhere is adapted. It’s not that people are ignorant or blatantly doing it; it’s just that things have not caught up to this day and age with the amount of technology and knowledge bases that are out there for folk to try and advocate for people with disabilities both physically and mentally.

Michael: I just wanted to ask as well, Lianne, from ENABLE’s point of view as well; do you feel as though that people that’s coming to you that wants a job, that hasn’t got a lot of confidence but when they start to apply for jobs and they get their dream job then that helps their confidence a wee bit? With the same token, do you think people’s confidence does get knocked a wee bit in terms of if they’re applying for seven jobs and do not get any?

Lianne: Definitely. We benchmark and measure people’s confidence as they go through our programmes and it definitely does improve as they go along. There’s a lot of inaccessibility in recruitment which makes even just the notion of applying for a job incredibly difficult. I won’t mention some employer names but we know of practices where applications are timed, where you think, for a role that has no time requirements within the actual duties of what they’d be doing. Or you know really educational attainment qualifications that just don’t really necessarily apply to the role that that person would be doing. So, there’s a lot of inaccessibility that exists and a lot of difficult processes to go through before even getting to the point of submitting your application for jobs which can be a total dent to the confidence and to the motivation.

If you think something is incredibly difficult to do, who would continue to do that over and over? So, we definitely strive to remove some of those barriers for people by being that link with the employers to say, why do you do it that way? And have you thought about doing it this way? And here’s how we could support you. But even things not just around getting a job, Michael, but even going through some of our programmes, we see such a huge jump in people’s confidence. If I take our Breaking Barriers programme as an example. Breaking Barriers is an educational programme with Strathclyde University, ENABLE Scotland with our corporate partners of STV and Scottish Power, so you wouldn’t necessarily associate learning disability and university in the same sentence which is a problem in itself but we have a programme now with Strathclyde which we are about to roll out to Napier, that does exactly that. And it’s a rite of passage for so many young people so why should that not be for people who have learning disabilities also?

And the difference from when our guys start doing this course, so they do their course at the university and then their applied learning they take out into the work experience with the corporate partners. The difference in people, just from going through that experience because they’ve been shown something properly, afforded the time to be taught, all this kind of stuff; is incredible. Where, you probably know what it’s like, your kind of first day at work, you’ll maybe sit on a Zoom call and don’t say very much; so, first couple of sessions tend to be quite quiet but by the end of it, it’s worlds apart and the transformation is huge. And I think that can be the same of someone starting work or just being shown the right tools and tips about how to get further towards the world of work.

Michael: And I just wanted to know as well that this is a big issue for me about people getting (… unclear) with a learning disability, physical disability as well, but would you agree that … or else, I don’t know if I may have discussed this already but do you think a good way is to going into schools and going out to organisations? A bit like about what I was asking Mark earlier on, about more kind of like role models?

Lianne: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think there’s any charity in Scotland just now that wouldn’t use ambassadors for whatever their cause may be, employment included in that. The best person to ask is someone that’s experienced, what that journey has looked like. And certainly, someone with lived experience of what that feels like. So, yeah, fully supportive of ambassadors. And we use case studies quite often to show people beyond the statistics and beyond the metric measures of how we measure ourselves for funders and things like that, is actually real people behind these journeys; and it’s their voices that should be heard.

Michael: And going forward Mark, as a person with a disability, what would you like to see in terms of more people into work and more employers listening to the experts, you would say, in terms of the disability; look at the person, so what would you like to see in maybe about five years time or whatever?

Mark: Well, personally from my own previous experiences, I would like to see people with learning or physical disabilities, seeing results of them getting shortlisted more when they’re applying for jobs. Or even if people can, like people that are part of the HR recruitment team, in these companies or organisations, to have like, informal interviews with them to get a better background of the person; it could be like over a Zoom call, video call or face to face. Just to get a better idea of the candidates that seem … okay, they’ve got certain qualifications, or experience of the job that’s advertised; I would like to see that more.

And as well as that I would like to see people that have got disabilities being in more of the recruitment side of most organisations or places of employment just to show that there’s, how would I put it? Like the role model idea again, someone that you can approach and open up to because I still think there’s people, you can be open, like my line managers in the past, and previous jobs, are very, very good and understanding and allowed to be open as much as I can, but there’s still that wee niggle and there’s that second thought, they’re not getting it straight away but they’ll still show as much understanding as they can but they’ve not experienced it enough, if you get what I mean? So, it’s trying to just get the message across a bit better visually, I would say rather than to just look at a piece of paper or something online and just reading through numbers and letters instead of actually seeing the person for who they are and getting passed all these barriers, that’s what I would like to see.

Michael: Yeah, that’s a good point, and from an organisation’s point of view, Lianne, from ENABLE; the same question, what would you like to see in about five years time or maybe two years time or whatever? And shut that employment gap, because that’s been there for years and it’s just …

Lianne: Definitely, yeah.

Michael: … gets frustrating.

Lianne: Yeah, definitely. It always feels that there’s very slow progress towards halving that disability gap and I think that would be one of our main ambitions is that more disabled people are in employment. And that the recruitment processes are more fair and more equal to everyone involved so that there’s not this continual cycle of disadvantage for people who have learning disabilities which just seems completely unfair when we know what value there is in making sure that the workforce is reflective of the communities that we serve. So, yeah, I think our ambitions certainly just to echo what Mark said is, more disabled people into employment and regardless of whether that’s two years or five years, I think that will always be an ambition till it is an equal playing field.

Michael: Yeah, okay. Thank you.

Transcript Copyright:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License