Government backs Beyond Words’ project helping people with learning disabilities into work

Beyond Words’ new two year project to support people with learning disabilities and autism to find work has been launched today, 13 December, by Damian Green, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The project, backed by £280,000 of DWP investment, will include four new picture books to promote group discussions on finding and keeping a job. Beyond Words is a Social Enterprise which already produces unique books, services and training for people who find pictures easier to understand than words.

The project builds on the success of book groups for people with learning disabilities and autism and will be the start of a new focus on four stages of employment including leaving school or college, exploring work, finding and staying in a job.

Beyond Words books are discussed in book club groups which have been established in many local libraries. City Lit’s Learning Centre in Covent Garden will be starting two new book clubs in 2017 and will be among the first to use the new resources.

At a launch event at City Lit, the Work and Pensions Secretary met people who will benefit from the project.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, said: “A disability should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life. What should count is a person’s talent and their determination to succeed. Beyond Words book clubs help people with a learning disability to break down the barriers they face. It’s a brilliant project that offers people with learning disabilities the support they need. I look forward to working with them."

People with a learning disability are more excluded from the workplace than any other group of disabled people. More than 65% of people with a learning disability and autism would like a paid job yet only 7% have one and in many cases this is part time work.

Employment advisers will visit the Beyond Words’ book clubs to use the new books and help members explore volunteering and work. People with learning disabilities will be trained as a national network of peer supporters to work with the clubs.

Special schools and SEN units will also be offered the opportunity to use this model of communication and discussion to support their students as they move on to adult life, helping them achieve their aspirations.

Baroness Hollins, Founder and Chair of Beyond Words, who also spoke at the launch event, said: “The majority of disabled people want to work and hope that they can find work that interests them and recognises their skills. Beyond Words co-creates stories without words with people with learning disabilities that resonate with the reality of their own lives. They are stories that help people to understand the ways of the world, to share their own stories and aspirations and to tackle the barriers that prevent them from participating fully in community life.”

Groups of learning disability service providers, employment services and experts with learning disabilities will form an integral part of the project through Advisory groups on each book and on training.

Gary Butler, Self Advocate and Trainer with Beyond Words and St George’s, University of London, said: “Working makes me feel good, it gives me independence and helps pay the bills. These new books will be good to help other people achieve what I have”

Stephen Langley, a co-creator of one of the four new books, said: “It can make a difference to people, people that find it hard to read. People will be able to get hope that they can get a job. They can believe in themselves and get work." Speaking about the new books, he said "The story will show what people can do and that we all have more abilities than we realise and we just have to find out what they are.”

Dr Roger Banks, National Senior Psychiatry Lead, NHS England Learning Disability Programme, and one of the authors of the project, said: “The impact of being in employment and stable accommodation on health and wellbeing, social inclusion and health inequalities is well recognised in the general population. Increasingly this is being addressed for people with learning disabilities for whom having a job can be a significant factor in developing self-esteem, social networks and integration and consequently better physical and mental health.”

This seems to put the onus on people on the autistic spectrum or with other ‘disabilities’ who seek work. It’s not prospective employees, it’s the employers who need to be educated. This looks like the same old story - blame the disadvantaged for their disadvantage. Don’t like it.