How can we make workplaces more inclusive to people with intellectual disability?
Alanna Julian works at Council for Intellectual Disability. In this interview, Alanna talks about her experience of the workplace challenges faced – and overcome – by people with intellectual disability. And she shares her ideas on how employers and staff can support people with intellectual disability at work.
What is your job at Council for Intellectual Disability (CID)?
I have two main roles with CID. I am a workshop facilitator for the Become a Leader and My Learning Matters online programs.
I’m also a community engagement officer for CID. This role involves participating at expos and information stalls, public speaking, and participating in other disability organisations’ focus groups.
But I do lots of other things. I’m involved in advocacy work where I co-facilitate inclusion training programs for people with disabilities at government departments. I have written magazine articles. I do Easy Read testing of documents. I have also just recently been an ‘MC’ at events.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your work?
When I get a train to a location where I will be working, I often don’t know where to find the venue from the station, as I struggle with understanding directions. Therefore I need to meet with a staff member so we can walk to the location together.
I cannot process a lot of overwhelming information at once and often need it broken down, then I’ll understand.
An example of a challenge I had recently was presenting a workshop at our facilitator meeting. I have been used to presenting the workshop in an informal way. But at the last moment the workshop changed to a more formal format, with more detail. I have to say, my mind got overwhelmed, leading to an emotional moment.
I also can struggle at staff meetings because some stuff goes over my head due to processing issues I have. Sometimes I won’t speak up if I don’t know what is going on, which is something I’m aware I need to work on. I feel that I sometimes I need one-on-one training rather than learning in a large group, especially in my facilitator job, or I tend to get a bit lost.
How can people tell when a fellow worker with intellectual disability is struggling?
You know an employee with a disability is struggling when they have a blank look or a stare on their face. Also you may see or sense their frustration, tears welling up in their eyes, or they may not perform a task you asked of them.
A person with intellectual disability may be too embarrassed to admit they are struggling. When information is given, they may go quiet or start rapid fire questions in a concerned tone. This may mean they are overwhelmed and not getting it.
Do you have tips for staff working with employees with intellectual disability?
When working with a person with an intellectual disability, take a person-centred approach as a starting ground. When going over any material, clarify with the individual or group that they comprehend by asking questions and ask for feedback, or if anyone needs more explanation.
Explain things in everyday language.
When having a work discussion, make sure that people don’t go off on tangents to where they completely lose focus and affect the group as a whole, putting everyone on a different page.
Redirect back to the topic. This may have to happen more than once.
Break down complex information until everyone seems to be engaged. Nodding is a good sign that people understand.
Expect that mistakes and confusion will happen. Remain calm, identify any problem, even if that means going back to the beginning. Offer extra support or training if necessary, and encourage discussion on areas where a person may be struggling.
Tell us a little more about your work experience and professional life
Before I gained employment with CID I did a Run Project with My Choice Matters, where I was granted funding to produce a communication tool called the ‘B Talk’.
B Talk is an information handout on a flyer or postcard. I created it for service providers and people who work at disability organisations to use to communicate effectively or consult with a person who has an intellectual disability. If you would like to get a hold of B Talk flyers you can contact me at B-Talk@hotmail.com.
In 2014 I participated in CID’s My Choice Matters Become a Leader face-to-face program. After I graduated from the program, My Choice Matters asked me to be a guest speak at its Get More Skills workshops.
I collaborated on testing the Become a Leader and My Learning Matters websites before they got launched, helping out at My Choice Matters expos, and being asked to guest present at the CID conferences.
All this experience seemed to be leading me to work for CID. But it was not until I did the Become a Leader course that I got the confidence to apply for a job with CID.
What do you like about working at CID?
There are many things I can say I like about working with CID.
Most importantly, other staff members ensure they play to my strengths and get me involved in job opportunities that match my abilities.
Before I perform a new work task, I receive one-on-one preparation to ensure I understand the content. That gives me a chance to practice and go in fully prepared, rather than being put on the spot.
This lets me feel right at home with the team, respected, and never feel that I am an outsider.
When I had my emotional moment, I received a lot of support, understanding and empathy. That eased the situation for me. Whenever a problem arises, the matter is addressed accordingly and CID are never short of extra support when needed. The staff are all very friendly, enthusiastic and helpful and always a pleasure to work with.
Find out more
- Check out our More Than Just a Job training workshops for organisations and people with intellectual disability.