People with learning disabilities ‘shut out of work’ by poor recruitment processes

Charity says online-only application forms and formal interviews are ‘closing the door’ on an untapped talent pool of 1.5 million

Inaccessible job applications are preventing nearly three in 10 people with a learning disability from finding employment, according to research by the UK’s leading learning disability charity. 

Mencap, which surveyed 1,625 adults with a learning disability from across the UK, discovered that 29 per cent of unemployed working age adults with a learning disability found it difficult to fill in application forms, preventing them from getting a paid job. 

A quarter (26 per cent) said they had applied for jobs but had not got one, while 23 per cent said they did not know how to get a job.

Although the Mencap survey revealed that 62 per cent of working age adults with a learning disability wanted to work, official data from the NHS and Office for National Statistics found less than 6 per cent of people with a learning disability who are known to their local authority are in paid employment.

This is compared to more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of the general population. 

Mark Capper, head of development at Mencap, said a poor understanding of learning disabilities, as well as practical barriers such as inaccessible application forms, had resulted in people with a learning disability being “shut out of work” even though these individuals can be productive employees with the right support.

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“People with a learning disability face many barriers to getting into work, but many people with a learning disability often fall at the first hurdle because the recruitment process is inaccessible,” Capper said.

“Most employers will not even be aware that by having online-only application forms and formal interview processes, they are closing the door on an untapped talent pool.”

Capper said often “small and cost-effective” reasonable adjustments in the workplace were all that was needed to “open up doors” to people with a learning disability and provide them access to employment opportunities. 

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said adjustments could be as simple as tailoring job advertisements to show an organisation’s commitment to inclusion, and ensuring recruitment processes examine the particular skills needed for a job, not just how an applicant does in interviews.  

“Employers should also look to make reasonable adjustments that are often low-cost, easy to implement and vital to enabling people to perform their best at work," Miller said. "Stating ‘happy to talk reasonable adjustments’ on job adverts can make people feel more comfortable to request one and shows employers are thinking inclusively."

She added that employers could also include a link to their diversity and inclusion statement, policy or approach in job advertisements to demonstrate their commitment to inclusion. 

The Mencap research, published to coincide with Learning Disability Work Week this week, aimed to show that people with a learning disability can make good employees, and change employer practices to help open doors to an untapped talent pool of 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability.

Angela Matthews, head of policy and advice at the Business Disability Forum, told People Management the key error it found in recruitment processes was that the application and selection methods used by employers rarely replicated the skills and level of knowledge needed for the job being recruited for. 

"Too many employers use the same recruitment method for every role," Matthews said. "For example, a writing-based and computer-literate application process is often used for every role, including roles that do not include writing or use of a computer."

She said some employers failed to understand a blanket approach to recruitment was an "anti-inclusive" approach that could result in unfairly excluding people with learning disabilities from employment opportunities. 

Mencap said support was available for employers to ensure people with a learning disability had greater access to recruitment opportunities.

It added that people with a learning disability could take longer to learn new tasks and might need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people, but that the level of support each individual person needs differs.