Employment

Just 5% of people with a learning disability are employed. This woman is out to prove the world wrong

Aisha was made to feel different because of her learning disability. Now she wants to inspire others to reach for their dreams and urges employers to hire people like her

Aisha/ Learning disability

Aisha is a theatre usher at the Young Vic in London, which is a job she adores. Image: Supplied by Mencap

Aisha’s smile is so infectious it is hard to imagine anyone would be so unkind, but she was picked on by her peers at school because of her learning disability and she was told by a teacher that she would never amount to anything. Aisha is determined to prove them wrong, and she wants to inspire other people with a learning disability towards their dreams. 

The 28-year-old’s learning disability means she processes information differently. “If I’m given too much information in a large chunk, then I will be confused,” she explains. “People have to show me things face to face. Otherwise, I won’t really understand.”

She was supported by the learning disability charity Mencap, and put on a course where they taught her about interviews and dressing appropriately, and connected her with a job coach. 

The Young Vic theatre in London provided work experience, and Aisha won over the team with her upbeat personality and was invited for an interview as a theatre usher. Five years later, she still adores every day of her job. She has seen dozens of shows she loved and met thousands of people, including Black Panther actress Letitia Wright

Aisha is one of few people with a learning disability in paid work. Just over 5% of people with a learning disability are in employment, according to NHS statistics. A higher proportion of men with a learning disability (6.2%) are in paid employment than women (4.8%). 

“People like me can get jobs,” Aisha says, laughing as she adds: “If I can do it, the rest of the world can. It’s just the employers and people in different industries need to be more understanding and give work experience and internships.”

Aisha also faces “double discrimination” as a black woman. Black people in the UK are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts, according to the government’s data. Aisha has been lucky to have a strong support network around her, who inspired her towards achieving her goals. 

Her support system was so important when she was made to feel different in school. “My teacher told me I would never amount to anything,” she remembers. “That really hurt. But my family said: ‘You’re going to be something. You’re gonna amount to something. I literally just had to work hard up to where I wanted to be and just took it step by step, and I’m very comfortable where I am now. I’m very grateful.”

But it was also her own tenacity and belief in herself in the face of discrimination which meant she didn’t give up. “I found that I would get picked on because I was different and the odd one out,” she says. “I proved to myself: ‘I’m not gonna let that hold me back.’ And I proved to myself I can do anything when I put my mind to things.”

She wants to inspire other people with a learning disability, particularly young people and children who are just starting to learn about their passions. Alongside her Young Vic role, Aisha works part time with radical theatre company Blink Dance Theatre

It produces highly accessible multi-sensory theatre, pushing boundaries and inspiring innovative approaches to access for both audience and artist. One of its founding members, Lady Francesca, is a member of the award-winning troupe Drag Syndrome

Aisha goes into schools with the team and runs multi-sensory dance and drama workshops. They use games and pictures and squishy toys to make it as accessible as possible. “It is really fun,” she says. “I’m good at what I do.

“People who don’t have the support network might feel like they can’t do things. I always say to them you can do it, you just have to have the right support that works for you. I would like them to know they are empowered. Some kids are not academic, but they might love drama like myself. They can do anything they want to achieve in life.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Find out more about Mencap and Learning Disability Week here.

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