Exhibition highlights experience of people with learning impairments in work

An exhibition, running from 19 to 25 November, at Jubilee Library in Brighton will highlight the experience of people with a learning impairment in the workplace.

Work[able] forms part of a PhD project being carried out at the University of Brighton by Occupational Therapist Diana Ramsey. The display, which consists of artwork and written stories, is the result of a collaboration between Diana, artist Sharon Boothroyd and six people with learning impairments.

According to data from social care services, only 5.8% of people with such an impairment are in paid work, while a government report in 2009 indicated that 65% of this group wanted employment.

The pieces in Work[able] tell the stories of people seeking, gaining and being employed. John (caretaker), Dan (cleaner and café worker), Tracy (dinner lady), Matthew (cleaner), Julia (cleaner) and Rebecca (administrator) – all of whom are featured in the exhibition – could be viewed as unique given the aforementioned low employment figures.

Of Work[able], and her PhD research in general, Diana said: “Historically, focus has been given to understand the factors that support employment for people with a learning impairment and the outcomes linked to being in work.

“However, limited attention has been given to the actual experience of people themselves in paid work, in order to learn from them, improve support services and shape policies around employment.

“The stories in Work[able] collectively demonstrate courage and resilience in the narrative frames that emerged during the research. These included the overwhelming quest ‘to do’ and the demanding experience of navigating the bureaucratic seas.

“They all speak of the challenge of finding a good fit in a job, the forging of identity through the seeking, gaining and being in work and the finding of both friend and foe throughout the process.”

Diana has been an Occupational Therapist for 20 years. She competed an MSc degree at Kings College in London and she is due to finish her PhD at the University of Brighton next summer.

Her research has two main aims: to illuminate the lived experience of having a learning impairment on engaging in paid work, and to explicate new knowledge that will support the practice of individuals supporting people with learning impairment in relation to employment.