NHS Scotland learning disability employment: tools and guidance

Guidance and tools to support NHS Scotland to increase the number of the people employed with learning disabilities.

3. Creating a Supportive Environment

NHSScotland Boards have a shared responsibility to promote equality and diversity in their organisation and help create an inclusive and welcoming environment for people to work in. In addition to the practical changes outlined above, it is important that Organisations also look at the culture and engagement of their staff, to create a supportive environment for employees with learning disabilities.

3.1 Staff Equality and Diversity Training

The Staff Governance Standard requires all NHSScotland Boards to demonstrate that staff are:

  • Well informed;
  • Appropriately trained and developed;
  • Informed in decisions;
  • Treated fairly and consistently, with dignity and respect, in an environment where diversity is valued; and
  • Provided with a continuously improving and safe working environment, promoting the health and wellbeing of staff, patients and the wider community.

Further information relating to the Staff Governance Standard including training can be accessed via the Staff Governance Website.

Equality and diversity training in NHSScotland Boards already exists, nonetheless additional training with specific learning disability components could help promote cultural changes. Additional training at all levels should be considered, particularly for managers, leaders and team members of someone with a learning disability. Key messages to include in addition to equality and diversity training include:

  • myth busting;
  • champion the idea - organisations that ‘get it right’ for people with a learning disability will become better at supporting a wider range of disabilities;
  • when managers tailor work to a range of skills, they become better at tailoring jobs to employee’s strengths therefore strengthen the team;
  • everyone is different;
  • an on-going commitment to flexibility and inclusion, including in recruitment and retention;
  • reasonable adjustments;
  • communicating in an accessible way;
  • visibility of learning disabilities within the organisation.

Face-to-face training is a good way to increase understanding of the day-to-day issues facing people with learning disabilities. This enables training to be more interactive, giving more hands-on practice on specific areas of support, increasing confidence in communicating and interacting with colleagues with a learning disability.

Think about involving people with a learning disability as part of your training. This will provide a user-led perspective, which will give groups a better understanding of the issues and how best to adjust practice. NHSScotland can also access external support, through its membership with the Business Disability Forum. Further information can be found in Annex A.

3.2 Staff Engagement Group

Staff engagement groups are one way of supporting staff and providing a forum to listen. They can facilitate the creation of a safe space for sharing experiences. Examples of how staff engagement groups can be used to help spread good practice or fix issues include: sharing their day-to-day experiences of work; thinking through what is working well, and not so well; learning from their experiences; and developing practical solutions.

Listening to staff will help managers identify the type of additional support needed to increase their confidence in working together and ultimately show that your organisation is serious about employing people with learning disabilities. Staff groups can also be a useful mechanism to reach others from learning disability groups for future recruitment.

The formality of the staff engagement group can depend on what the need and purpose is in your organisation. Some practical considerations are set out below:

  • consider if there be a senior leader or sponsor;
  • consider how insights report back to the senior management team;
  • appoint a chair;
  • administrative support for the group (including meetings, room booking etc.);access to meeting rooms;
  • allow reasonable time to attend meetings, with agreement and support from line managers.

3.3 Learning Disability Champion

Learning disability champions in your organisation can promote and help maintain momentum around diversity culture change. Learning disability champions are volunteers who become expert points of contact in their organisation, and promote best practice. This includes disseminating information to colleagues, encouraging myth-busting and becoming experts on Access to Work, learning disability programmes and networking with other partners. This video highlights the benefits of using Access to Work to fund a Job Coach to support people with learning disabilities in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Areas of responsibility for a Learning Disability Champion could include:

  • promoting the safety and wellbeing of employees with learning disabilities;
  • sharing lessons learnt and best practice across the organisation;
  • ensuring communications are in an accessible format;
  • being an advocate for employing people with learning disabilities in the organisation and sharing successful case studies;
  • supporting the training, recruitment and retention of employees with learning disabilities;
  • liaising directly with employees with a learning disability, managers and staff groups;
  • supporting colleagues who are new to working with someone with a learning disability.

3.4 Individual Support

Someone with a learning disability may need additional individual support for various aspects of their role. This could be during training and induction or when completing certain tasks. The Scottish Government’s Supported Employment Framework that was published in February 2010 by the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) lays out the five stepped approach to supported employment, recognising it as "an employment first approach", which focuses on positive outcomes for individuals and is the agreed best practice of support in Scotland.

Engagement by SE service

Vocational Profiling

Job Finding

Employer Engagement

On/Off the Job Support and Aftercare

Helping disabled people most distanced from the labour market to make informed choices on their own future

Identifying skills and preferences for work, giving work experiences that will help the individual make their own vocational choices

Identifying the preferred job through employer engagement, also providing support to the employer.

Finding out about the workplace environment, co-workers and the 'supports' a person might need.

Providing backup to the employee and their employer, developing independence in the workplace and addressing career progression in due course.

It recognises that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model that can be applied to all employees. Individual centred support will go beyond establishing what support is needed to give insight to their employee’s skills and experience. Consequently, jobs can be tailored to their skills to facilitate a successful role, and will need individual specific goals and training. Further information on how the supported employment framework works in practice can be found in Annex A.

Individual support for colleagues and managers is equally important, especially where adjustments are being made to team working practices or changes to responsibilities. The onus remains with the manager to find solutions to potential problems that arise and ensure all colleagues can work effectively in their surroundings. The SCLD can help provide advice and support to organisations to strengthen their capability to support people with learning disabilities.


Email: Emma Weedon

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