Using an asset based approach to support people with learning disabilities into work

This blog is based on discussions from the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability conference, held in Perth in September 2017.

Introducing an asset-based approach

The term ” asset-based” is commonly used within community development and public health. It is used to mean an approach that identifies and emphasises the strengths and abilities of people within a community.

Instead of focusing on what people are unable to contribute, asset-based approaches instead focus on finding the value and potential of each individual, regardless of their background or personal circumstances.

At the SCLD conference in September, the audience heard examples of how asset-based approaches are being used within the field of employment support. A number of projects across Scotland are creating opportunities for people with learning disabilities to participate and contribute to their local community through meaningful work that recognises their abilities, and not the barriers created by their disabilities.

Facilitating a culture change

Research by Mencap found that although around 8 in 10 working age people with a learning disability have one that’s mild or moderate, fewer than 2 in 10 are actually in employment. Overall employment rates are also much lower than for the rest of the population or for people with physical disabilities – although recent data is lacking, in 2008 a study suggested that only about 17% of all working age people with a learning disability have a paid job.

Enabling people with a learning disability to enter employment is something that requires more than a change in policy or increased funding to improve skills and access to employment schemes (although that is also invaluable). To successfully integrate adults with learning disabilities into the workforce requires a change in employer attitudes. More generally it also requires a transformation in how we perceive learning disability within society.

One of the biggest barriers to participation in employment, are the attitudes and perceptions of other people. Increasing the understanding of how much people with learning disabilities can bring to a job and a workplace is crucial. This is where asset-based approaches can really help. They focus on identifying and making the most of someone’s abilities, and allowing individuals to offer these skills and abilities as a part of a positive contribution to their community through work.

Projects that put people at their heart

The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD) has supported a range of projects for people in Scotland with learning disabilities. In September 2015, SCLD announced that the Scottish Government was seeking applications for development funding to support the refreshed delivery approach for The Keys to Life (Scotland’s learning disability strategy).

Of the projects awarded funding, two focussed specifically on tackling underemployment among the learning disabled population.

  • Wee enterprizers (a project that aims to increase employment opportunities for adults with learning disabilities) helped a group of aspiring entrepreneurs with learning disabilities to progress their micro business ideas. Events and workshops allowed participants to come together and share business plans, marketing ideas, and resource strategies. It also helped to identify suppliers and trading opportunities. The Yunus Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University conducted an evaluation of the project. It found that as well as helping business ideas to get off the ground, it also helped to encourage personal growth and independence in participants, improved communication skills and provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs to form a network of their own to help support each other.
  • Tayberry Enterprises provided creative art activities, volunteer opportunities and training placements in catering for people with significant health barriers to employment. The Multi-Storytelling Project offered adults with a learning disability, experiential training apprenticeships in techniques that would help them communicate effectively in a variety of different ways.

More than just work

What these projects had in common was their ability to promote the holistic benefits of training and employment. Like anyone else, opportunities to work allow people with learning disabilities to form new and engaging relationships, and to feel that they are making a positive contribution to their community. This in turn helps them to feel valued as people, not limited by their condition or circumstances.

The use of asset-based approaches adds an extra layer, as they often highlight the advantages of bringing people from different backgrounds together. For example, a project that helps to get people with learning disabilities into employment by offering training opportunities, could also double as a centre for older people who suffer from loneliness, with both communities bringing unique perspectives and contributions to the table. This enriches the experience for everyone and helps to create stronger and more resilient bonds within the community.

Final thoughts

Employment opportunities are limited for people with a learning disability. However, schemes which take into account and actively seek to make the most of a person’s assets, can go some way to reducing negative perceptions and prejudice within society.

Everyone should have the opportunity to learn, form relationships and live their dreams and aspirations, while demonstrating how they can thrive and positively contribute to their local communities.


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