Katarzyna Ptak is the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion officer at Mencap, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities in the UK, and an Includability Official Partner
She was recently promoted to the role having been a Talent Acquisition Specialist for most of her four years with the organisation. Working with the Head of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Mencap to embed their new EDI strategies into organisation’s overall plan, which she is currently supporting developing the next strategic objectives for.
She says this is a very exciting time as Mencap is developing and new ways of working and transitioning into self-managed teams. Mencap’s new vision is for the “UK to be the best place in world for people with learning disabilities to live happy and healthy lives”. Their “Big Plan” has a commitment to listening to and being led by people with learning disabilities from all communities, as a result, they will make all future decisions based on what is important to people with learning disabilities.
Kasia knew for a young age that helping people was the core of her being. Her moral compass drew her to an organisation like Mencap where she wants to help in any way she can to break the barriers that stand between people with learning disabilities and what the rest of us consider to be a normal life with a fulfilling career or purpose.
For Disability Awareness Day, Mencap intends to raise awareness by raising the profile of learning disabilities and try to remove the persistent stigmas and social discriminations which are keeping people with learning disabilities locked into being defined entirely by their condition and excluded from employment and wider interactions with society.
Mencap is also celebrating Learning Disability Week this week. People with learning disabilities are twice as likely to experience mental health problems due to discrimination and social isolation. The team want to promote that creativity and try to overcome that barrier.
How is Mencap marking Disability Awareness Day?
At Mencap, we acknowledge that education is the key. There is still much work to do around stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities and the society. One of the ways of overcoming this is to raise the profile of the learning disabilities. This could be visible or invisible disabilities. We look at how disability affects individuals differently at work and in the personal lives.
You probably wouldn't say that I have got a disability myself that I have developed a couple years ago, I was involved in car accident that left me with spinal injury, and you wouldn’t define me by it just by interacting with me. There are other types of disabilities that people are defined by. As society tends to label and group people around us.
Society itself is designed for able-bodied people and builds the barriers for those who do not fit that profile. We want to break these barriers for everyone and Mencap itself will be launching an internal campaign for all our colleagues across the organisation to get involved in the conversations and participate in different activities around disability, to see how we can support each other better.
How important is it to gain more awareness for the disabilities are invisible?
Very important because if, for example, referring to the workplace, reasonable adjustments are very important. For somebody with an invisible disability, it might be small, and it doesn't mean that the employers need to make a big change to the way they operate, it could be a small adjustment.
Specifically, if it comes to the neurodiversity Is knowing that and recognising it and being flexible in the approach. That's very important because what quite often happens is even through the recruitment, If the recruiting managers realise that the candidate who applied for a job has a disability, they immediately assume that the person has a physical disability and then they think maybe their facilities are not accessible and think ‘if we give that person a job, we'll need to put the ramp in, we need to make an office accessible. We need to do this, and we haven't got the money to do that.’
It is not always the case they would need that. Yes, it's very important to make sure they are accessible, but there are different ways where they can support individuals.
What barriers do people with learning disabilities face when they apply for a job?
The barriers for the people with learning disabilities starts with the accessibility barriers of how the employers advertise the jobs. Many of the job descriptions and adverts have complex text, they are often hard to understand, they are long, and full of jargon and acronyms.
They can be very difficult to understand for everyone – that doesn't just apply for the people with learning disabilities in lots of cases. Then in the application process, often there is no support in completing application forms, which itself can be long and rigid.
For some organisations, there is no optional ways of applying there's often the strict CV and cover letter format only, which itself can be a barrier. Giving a candidate an option in how they want to apply - if it's a CV or application form, or maybe an audio file, or a video file - increases the equity and increases the chances of securing the role for people with learning disabilities.
There could also be small human touches added to the recruitment side, like Including the contact number for someone that might provide support through the application. There is often no information given, or a generic telephone number to the recruitment team if you do have additional questions.
Then again, bias and discrimination play a part. The assumptions that the person with the learning disability will not be able to do the job and the lack of good quality support to maintain employment. A lack of support to build the confidence and skills and general employers' attitudes, lack of understanding of what people with learning disabilities can bring to the job with the right support still persist.
What would you recommend to employers to improve their recruitment process?
Before you advertise, consider the way you describe your roles. You want to make your job understandable for everyone. Often, there is so much technical information in the job advert. Sometimes people say, ‘I don't even know what that means.’ ‘How am I meant to know what will be required from me if I were to apply for this role?’ ‘How can I match my skills and experience to that role without having an understanding to what the role is about?’ That is the first barrier. Make your jobs accessible, and the job descriptions easy to understand.
Promote your positive organisational culture as well. Say what team a person will be working in, and you can build the confidence in the candidates that apply for this role. Ensure that they won't feel excluded from the application process because of the learning disability or any other individual characteristics. Only if people feel confident that they will have a fair chance in the recruitment process.
What can be done to improve the awareness of the public to keep pressure on employers?
We shouldn't be limiting ourselves to raising awareness only once or twice a year. There should be continuous conversations, activities, and training for the employers where we can collectively work towards continuous improvement, reviewing our processes and practice.
Our recruitment data can be used in identifying the trends in who Joins your organisation. Based on that data, you can identify the potential barriers and remove them from your process and by holding ourselves accountable and we can do better.
Overall, the diversity and inclusion agenda has been on more tongues in the past year than it has been previously. More and more employees are taking diversity and inclusion more seriously than they did before. There is still a big learning curve for everyone, but there is no one definition for what diversity and inclusion means. Our part to play as employees is to listen to other people and learn from that feedback. The attitudes are changing, but we still have a long way to go.
Can you tell us more about Mencap’s Learning Disability Week campaign?
Learning Disability Week will take place between 14 and 20th, June. The theme of Learning Disability Week will be art creativity. For many people with learning disabilities and their families, getting creative has been a way to stay connected and positive through the challenges of the last year, and that applies to quite a lot of us.
We know that people with learning disabilities are twice as likely to experience mental health problems due to many factors like discrimination and social isolation. We want to promote that creativity and try to overcome that potential barrier.
Creativity brings innovation, it boosts up staff performance, generates income and widens the client pool. We should all have a freedom and feel safe to be creative in our roles. It helps us overcome and the challenges in our personal lives as well and maintain our mental health. Especially now through the coronavirus pandemic. We have a different way of, not only working, but living where we all crave that interaction and social inclusion.
What can be done to help people with learning difficulties Live a more productive life?
It is very important for people with learning disabilities to feel valued, listened to, and included in their communities. We all want to feel that we belong and not as under-valued members of the society. It is about listening to what people tell you and by applying person-centred support and resources, continually work towards removing societal barriers, inequality, stigma and discrimination then you will be able to make a meaningful difference.
How can employers better recognise the creativity and value of a disabled person?
It starts with understanding how many benefits and innovations a person with a learning disability can bring to an organisation. With the right tools and support, any organisation will gain an amazing employee behind the person with a learning disability or physical disability. It will positively contribute to that person’s life. We all want to get the job – Aside from the money, which gives us our independence and choices – It’s also a sign of social inclusion and being seen as a full member of society.
Is there a correlation between a fully inclusive workplace and retention rates?
Very much, yes. The business case study for inclusive employment has been widely established. Diversity and inclusion boost organisational performance. It boosts income. You also widen the communities you work with, but that depends on the type of organisation.
It brings up ideas, it brings up innovation, it brings organisational development. When you have more people, who bring in a diverse and inclusive way of thinking, it benefits in a positive way. If you tend to have the same people within the organisation, they will bring the same ideas and the same ways of working, and the organisation never progresses.
Image Credit: Kasia Ptak