A new two-year project to support people with learning disabilities and autism to find work has been launched by the government.
The project, backed by £280,000 of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investment, will include 4 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.
Their new 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 4 stages of employment including leaving school or college, volunteering, finding work and staying in a job.
As part of the project, new book clubs focused on work will be developed across England, where the books will be used to start conversations. People with learning disabilities will be trained as a national network of peer supporters to work with the clubs.
At a launch event in central London, the Work and Pensions Secretary met people who are set to 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.
As set out in the work, health and disability green paper, working with charities, businesses, community groups and others is central to the government’s ambition to help more disabled people reap the benefits of work.
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 4 new books, said:
It can make a difference to people that find it hard to read. People will be able to hope that they can get a job. They can believe in themselves and get work. 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.
About Beyond Words
Beyond Words produces books, eBooks and other resources for people who find it easier to understand pictures than words. Beyond Words books use pictures to tell stories that engage and empower people, on themes such as love and relationships, health, death and crime. They are also a tool for professionals to use with people in many different teaching, activity and counselling situations. As well as a story told in pictures, each Beyond Words book has written information, guidelines and resources for readers, families, supporters and professionals.
Beyond Words books are discussed in special book club groups which have been established in many local libraries. Beyond Words book clubs for adults with learning disabilities will be among the first to use the new resources, with employment advisers visiting and helping members explore volunteering and work. Special schools and Special Educational Needs (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.
Over the course of the project, new Beyond Words book clubs will be started, recruiting people with learning disabilities as facilitators and peer mentors who will be trained to encourage and enable others to use the books to explore the world of work.
Linked to the new books will be a focused training programme, tailored to meet the needs of care and support staff, disability advisors, educational institutions, employers, and learning disability service providers. People who themselves have learning disabilities and autism will be trained to become co-trainers and peer supporters.
Books Beyond Words is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company.
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