The inspirational Marilyn, 49, has a learning disability and works in two part-time jobs. She has worked for the Elfrida Society since 2006, where she talks to people with learning disabilities about the services they receive – for instance making sure they can live in good homes.
She also works for Contact Islington as part of the panel interviewing people with learning disabilities for jobs.
Question and answer:
What is your advice for people who are interviewing, hiring and working with people with learning disabilities?
You must take your time and be patient. Because not everybody can communicate. Well, they can communicate… Some people may be nonverbal. So, you need to take time. Time, patience and empathy. Give them time to answer the questions. If they can’t understand, there’s another way of saying it but in a different, simplified way which people understand.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy everything. I enjoy meeting and greeting so many different people. I was diagnosed with my learning disability when I was about 29 years old: there was a birth defect somewhere, I couldn’t communicate, and I always clung on to my mum. She noticed something was wrong. It’s a mild learning disability. It’s a global learning disability, which means it is in all aspects of my life. I can do a lot of things. I push myself, I never say that I couldn’t do something. I will try.
Was it hard to get a job?
For me, if you said to me what it’s like looking for work, it’s work in itself. You’ve got to have that determination. You’ve got to have that stamina. And you need to believe in yourself and have the strength to wake up every morning, put your make up on, put your best office gear on and promote and sell yourself.
A lot of people read my CV and would say: ‘Sorry, you haven’t got enough experience’. One day I said, I’m not being funny, you keep telling me that I haven’t got enough experience, how am I supposed to get any sort of experience or the slightest amount of experience in the field that I’ve chosen, and you’ve got the audacity to tell me I haven’t got enough experience? You have to give me a chance to develop.
People have said to me, ‘Oh you don’t need to work Marilyn, you can live on benefits’. This is what social services told me. I was shocked. I just looked at them. I said, ‘Listen, you don’t know me. For you to say that – you have already assessed me with my learning disability needs and you expect me to sit at home and watch daytime TV… I’m the one who found work for myself and yes it was hard, very hard.
Why is it important that a person with a learning disability can get a job?
They want to be part of the community. It’s not about the money, it’s about getting out and about, getting the experience of their chosen field. Which in my case was office work… It’s all about the opportunity, the experience, and the acknowledgement.
It’s also about getting out there learning new skills. Any type of skill. Because you see that skill that you have trained in, it’s not just going to be in your working life, it’s going to come into your personal life. Because what I’ve learnt, I’ve brought it to my home: paperwork, filing. It makes me happy. It makes me who I am.