This article was written by Andrew Atkinson, Managing Director of UK ecommerce website Mobility Smart – an online store stocking products to make life easier for those with mobility difficulties and for the older generation requiring living aids and specialist equipment.
Derwen College is an educational facility in Oswestry, which promotes itself as a ‘residential college for students with learning difficulties and disabilities’. Where some people with disabilities feel more comfortable in (and more suited to) a mainstream educational environment, there are others that benefit from the specialist education provided at colleges such as Derwen.
At Derwen College, study programmes partly cover academic subjects and are partly vocational, with real work experience included to enable students to get a taste of the world of work. Hospitality courses, for example, include access to a recreation of a branded hotel room where students can be taught about cleaning and housekeeping. Students at the college, and other similar educational facilities, are also encouraged to work on campus in college restaurants and shops.
How can specialist colleges help?
Specialist colleges can help to prepare their students for the ‘real world’ – working environments outside of the comfort of the college. Some people with disabilities might otherwise feel concerned that employers won’t be patient if they require extra time to learn and to adapt. Learning within the college will provide students with transferrable, real world skills that they can take with them to their new jobs. Employers such as the aforementioned hotel chain can benefit further, with college students are being trained to do the work specifically in their style. Should any students wish to work in a big brand hotel after graduating, they’ll be a top pick for the job as they’re already fully trained!
Not all employers have a full awareness of what it means to provide equal opportunities to people with disabilities, and these specialist colleges can also help in this area. Employers can connect with the college to learn more about the requirements of students and how they can better meet the needs of future applicants, and can also meet potential future employees through a college’s work experience programme.
What are the issues that specialist colleges are facing?
To meet the needs of their students, specialist colleges need to provide a wide range of courses and training opportunities. Unfortunately, not all colleges can find a broad range of companies that are willing to help with the process. Many employers aren’t yet reaching out to offer work placements or to help to shape the courses that are on offer.
The aim is for specialist colleges to show that people without disabilities and those with disabilities or extra needs can work side by side. The goal is to prepare students with disabilities for jobs alongside those that might have found the journey into the world of work a slightly easier experience.
According to current UK statistics, only 7% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment. Some of the remaining 93% will be willing and able to work, if only they have the required support from employers and the necessary training delivered in a way that meets their needs.
The next step, of course, is to encourage more employers to truly be ‘equal opportunity’.
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