#TakeFiveWith David Curtis
Could you tell us about yourself and your job role? And one hobby/fun fact?
I am the project manager for LIFE... it doesn't get any bigger than that, does it?!
OK, what does that actually mean?
My employer, (Mencap) set up the Lambeth Inclusive Future Employment project in partnership with Lambeth Council and Capita. Its aim is to make recruitment of neurodiverse candidates the norm within the council. (Neurodiversity naturally includes autistic people and those with learning disabilities and difficulties.)
Essentially my role is to advise, inform, encourage and support Lambeth colleagues to recruit neurodivergent people; with a background of ongoing cuts and workforce reductions this is not always an easy task, but we are making excellent progress thanks to top-down support and some great examples of collaboration. I also work closely with my Mencap colleagues who do the hard part - the ongoing job-coaching which is so important for the candidate as well as the staff supporting their new recruit.
Who am I and what's a fun fact? I ask myself variations of this question at least forty-two times a day (if you get that reference, pleased to meet you!). I guess like all of us I am very much a work in progress and, slowly, learning to work more (harder!) and thereby see the progress. I try to be as open as possible to others because that's how I learn best.
For me just living in “the London bubble” is a kind of massive hobby; it offers an ever-changing parade of opportunities, rewards and drawbacks, across all areas of life. A major feature for me over the last year has been participating in a men's circle and I think that opportunity has been a genuine blessing: to see how men can be open, imperfect and crucially given the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves, supported by other men. This is how society as a whole can truly evolve - alongside the individual, in all our different communities.
What is a typical day like for you?
As others have said there isn't typical. Across a week I might be:
- speaking with Lambeth managers about the roles they are creating (or hope to create!)
- presenting the LIFE project to relevant Lambeth organisations such as local DPOs (Disabled People's Organisations), SEND schools, Lambeth college, JCPs.
- attending meetings of groups such as the Integrated Disability Providers forum
- providing project progress reports to internal colleagues
- presenting Learning Disability Awareness training to teams taking on candidates
As the roles get underway I also lead on ensuring that things are progressing accordingly. Recently this has meant having some really positive conversations about how training can be structured, which has led to immediate and positive results for all parties. (Mencap are working with what we've dubbed 'The Three Ships' - Supported Internships, Traineeships and Apprenticeships - to facilitate supported entry to a role.)
Could you tell us how you got into your role?
I have been working for Mencap for three years (almost to the day!) beginning as a job coach, then as an employment coordinator supporting a caseload of people into employment and related outcomes. There, I naturally connected with employers and my ability to make relationships work was recognised by my manager, such that a discrete Employer Engagement post was created for me. That experience - of knocking on a lot of doors, both real and virtual, often experiencing a tumbleweed moment; extolling the many benefits of employing learning disabled people; creating events and opportunities for others to learn and connect - made me a good candidate to do similar within Lambeth council. I am happy to report there’s a lot less tumbleweed though!
What motivates you to do a good job?
I don’t have a disability, nor any impairments or barriers and, putting disability aside for a second, as a white middle-class male who speaks English as his first language I am already blessed with innate privilege. Not to sound too insufferably worthy but I do try not to take this for granted.
It's hard to find a job, full-stop. Harder still when the system is stacked against you (have you tried deciphering a local authority job description lately? A degree probably won't help!) I know this will create no offence to Lambeth HR because they are in full agreement!
There is also so much to learn about disability, things which I haven't thought about enough such as the difference between acceptance [of disabled candidates] and inclusion [are they actually fully integrated when they begin working?].
When I deliver learning disability awareness, one of the first things I say is that I am not an expert, and that's why it's important that whenever possible someone with lived experience co-presents; it means so much more when a genuine voice is heard.
How do you learn at work?
In terms of disability, mostly from other people: disabled and non-disabled colleagues at Mencap, The Camden Society, here at Lambeth; LinkedIn connections.
Evenbreak’s Director Jane Hatton wrote a book called "A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People" and that's always close to hand. Also from organisations like DR UK, Scope, Disability Horizons, Deaf Umbrella, Learning Disability Today (At the time of writing, I am really looking forward to attending my first L D T conference at the end of November).
What are your aims for the next year? For example, if you work in accessibility do you have any plans to help make workplaces more inclusive? If you work in Learning and Development how are you going to promote workplace learning?
The LIFE project has modest targets - if you're only looking at the numbers. Whilst I will work to create as many opportunities as possible, the most important outcome is that Lambeth as an employer makes recruitment and inclusion of neurodiverse candidates "business as usual" (to coin that occasionally overused phrase). Ultimately we want to promote Lambeth’s success as an exemplar of what other local authorities might achieve.
My mantra to managers is that this must not be an act of charity; instead ask what do you need support within your team and how can those needs be met, dare I say it, differently? Yes, there may be adjustments required, but as many of us know those are often either minimal or non-existent (and if you get the right person on the phone, Access to Work really can help!).
Neurodiverse candidates are as varied as the human race and so this will mean going beyond employing a high-functioning autistic person to crunch data (forgive my stereotype) and ideally include someone with more complex needs. With the right support (and that is most definitely part of the package) they too can offer real value to the organisation.
You can learn more about Mencap on the following platforms:
Mencap Website: www.mencap.org.uk
Mencap Twitter Account: @mencap_charity
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