THE BLOG

Business Needs To Learn To Work With Learning Disabilities

15/11/2016 12:27
Image by Catherine MacBride via Getty Images

It's estimated that around one and a half million people in the UK have a learning disability.

Schools and universities are increasingly aware of the need to tailor teaching to be effective with this learning group. This is transforming education into a much more inclusive environment where learning issues are identified and addressed much faster.

As employers, we must ensure that this support continues as those with learning disabilities migrate to the workplace.

People who think and learn differently have a lot to offer organisations and can help to create strong, inclusive cultures that thrive.

Like many other businesses, at Enterprise we are at the start of a journey, learning how best to engage people with learning disabilities and support their development needs.

Importantly, this isn't just about supporting new employees.

The current generation of managers grew up when many learning disabilities were not recognised, neither in the workplace nor at school. Even as late as the 1970s some schools were still forcing left-handed children to write with their right hands.

These managers may have spent their careers coping with an undiagnosed learning disability. Or they may have suppressed it in an effort to "fit in", adapting as they best could but without support.

This group of managers may suddenly find themselves managing someone who is aware of their own issues, expects understanding and may therefore be more empowered. This requires careful handling by businesses.

In addition, cognitive issues may emerge at any time in a person's life. When one of our senior managers was having cancer treatment and began to see an impact on his cognitive abilities, we realised it was essential to find ways to enable people with learning disabilities to participate fully in our business.

This is because, as a company that only promotes from within, attracting and retaining talented employees is critical. We have to find ways to recruit from as broad a talent pool as possible.

It is vital for senior managers and boards to create policies that permit the organisation to create the best environment for everyone to be as productive as possible.

Because ultimately, that's what companies want: to build a workplace where people can do their best work.

Traditionally, there was much more structure and hierarchy about the way people worked. There was one fixed office space and people had to clock in and out. It was designed to work for the masses but it didn't engage everyone.

But when you get in the right environment that adapts to different learning perspectives, everyone benefits.

For example, flexible working - which is great for those who juggle priorities at home and at work - also enables people who don't do their best work in a noisy office to thrive.

In addition, technologies that help people with reading issues can also be excellent with employees for whom English may not be their first language.

When you start to engage with different learning styles it becomes apparent that we all learn differently. Some people are visual learners, others are more tactile: for them, looking at a screen is useless. If you go with 'one size fits all' when you're developing training programmes, it isn't going to work with everybody.

People that are coming into the workplace now are so much more aware and comfortable with the fact that everyone is different. They are comfortable with their own differences.

This is helpful because the more employees can tell their managers about what they need to do their best work, the more productive they will be.

Yes, it sounds expensive and labour intensive to focus on the individual, the things that they are good at and enjoy doing.

Yet the reality is that it can be very easy to tailor the workplace to different needs. It can be as simple as a different coloured or larger screen. Or a quiet room where people can close the door when they need to.

Playing to people's strengths, focusing on what they can do rather than what they can't do and supporting them in their learning style, builds a loyal and committed workforce and saves on staff costs in the long term.

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