Working well - Kisharon's scheme to find jobs for the learning disabled

The special needs charity is bucking the trend on employment opportunities


National statistics show that 65 per cent of people with a learning disability want to work - yet only one-in-ten of these are in jobs.

But learning disability charity Kisharon insists it finds paid work for everyone on its employment programme.

Chief executive Dr Beverley Jacobson explains that the positions are mostly "only for a couple of hours a week. But until recently, people hadn't believed in giving those with severe learning difficulties opportunities.

"Since I joined Kisharon, it has been my mission to offer young people with disabilities the same opportunities as their mainstream peers.

"They might not be able to do the same as others but everyone has something to offer. We've even had a guy from Job Centre Plus asking how we do it. They are so impressed with how we have got people into work and built relationships with local business."

The 30 adults in the programme have been placed with employers, including estate agents, property developers, law firms and supermarkets. Some have more than one job.

"Seeing our young people's lives transformed through having a job is what gets me high," Dr Jacobson adds.

"People whose behaviour was once challenging is now manageable. One man who couldn't do anything without one-to-one care is now out and about on his own, all because he feels valued.

"It's not just about getting them a job, it is about extending their networks, their contribution to society and making them feel part of the community as a whole."

Among those employed through the programme, run by Rabbi Shlomo Weltman, is Eli Cohen, 27, who has Down's syndrome. He has worked in Golders Green supermarket Kosher Kingdom for six years.

"I like seeing customers regularly," he says. "It feels nice to have a job and when I see customers out and about I can say hello. I go to the bank when I get paid and I spend half and save half.

"Sometimes, I like my free days and sometimes I like my work. And when I'm not working, I clean my house."

Kosher Kingdom store manager Rivki Rokach says the scheme has proved mutually beneficial. "As an employer, our expectations are different with different people.

"Eli helps stack shelves and works at the checkout packing bags. He also helps customers to the car with shopping.

"As a community business we need to show we have a community ethic and within his capacity he does a great job. We consider him a part of our team and he comes to staff events."

Rabbi Weltman admits that it is not easy finding bosses willing to take on people with a learning disability. "You need an employer with a big heart, someone who is ready to accept someone who is different.

"But on the other hand, we don't want them to go out of their way.

"We want them to be able to benefit and get productive work because they are paying for it."

He adds that employment allows Kisharon clients to develop the life skills to live independently. "There are loads of benefits beyond the work itself and that's what we concentrate on. It's about independence, it's about learning new skills like budgeting.

"It's been eye opening for me because it has taught me these people can do so much more if we give them the opportunity.

"Everybody wants to reach their potential, so why should we hold people with learning difficulties back?"

With Rabbi Weltman's support, Illana Ellison - a 41-year-old with moderate-to-severe learning difficulties - is in paid employment with BMO Real Estate Partners, working a few hours a week. Her tasks involve shredding documents and helping with cleaning up around the office.

"It's really nice," she says. "I like it. I help myself to coffee in the morning and bring them a Metro paper from my journey in. I get to talk to people a lot as I've been there two years now."

The job has given her the confidence to travel alone. "I go by train on my own now. I used to get the bus with Rabbi Weltman because I was scared."

Rabbi Weltman says he has to work with people for up to six weeks to get them to a place they feel comfortable to go it alone.

"It involves shadowing them, getting them a buddy at work and breaking down the tasks bit by bit so they know what to expect. But once they have it you can see their confidence and quality of life improve."

For Dr Jacobson, the success of the programme has widened her expectations for her own daughter, Talya, who has severe special needs.

"I thought about a future where she would probably be in some sort of care home but I've seen it doesn't have to be like that.

"The hardest part about having a child with a disability is all your hopes are on pause and you are just dealing with the difficulty day by day. What Kisharon has done for me is to make me think about the life ahead that she can have."

Talya has been on a few work placements organised by Rabbi Weltman. "One was at Gift packaging parcels for families. She woke up so excited that she was going to be helping people.

"For people who have always been on the receiving end of help, to be in the position of giving is amazing."

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