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Learning disabilities

Acquired at birth, a learning disability is a lifelong intellectual impairment which makes most everyday tasks harder than they are for other people, for example Down’s Syndrome.

What is a learning disability?

People with learning disabilities can learn but do so in different ways and can work in complex jobs provided there is routine within that job. A person with a learning disability may be reliable, dedicated, committed and be positive and friendly – but they may have limited literacy and numeracy skills. They may also have difficulty in understanding and interpreting given situations and be slower to process information.

Impact of learning disabilities

  • May be dependent on others for care and personal support
  • Support is needed to interpret written instructions or read warning signs
  • May need structure in their day and struggle with situations which require a deal of flexibility or judgement
  • Reduced confidence in social situations which, in turn, may result in some inappropriate behaviour.

Recruiting people with learning disabilities

  • Without adjustments, traditional recruitment processes do not work effectively. A working interview over a period of one to four weeks allows the individual to demonstrate their true abilities
  • Job coaching would normally be accessed during the working interview
  • Written applications require support in being completed
  • Keep questions structured and straightforward in interviews.

Supporting staff who have learning disabilities

  • Provide clear, straightforward instructions – possibly in a pictorial format, colour coding of products or tasks, and check they are understood
  • Avoid giving multiple instructions
  • Use a workplace job coach to support learning from day one of a new job
  • Establish links with specialist support agencies/partners
  • Be sensitive to any issues with change and communicate any as soon as possible.

Useful information about learning disabilities

You might need to make some adjustments to help your employees. These could include specialist equipment like chairs and IT equipment. Grants are available through Access to Work to help to cover the cost of items that are identified as necessary to support employees who are disabled or have a health condition.

Take a look at our case studies to see how we have transformed the lives of disabled people.


Mencap are full of good practice ideas and guides for those working with someone with a learning disability.

British Institute of Learning Disabilities

British Institute of Learning Disabilities are working for people with learning disabilities to be valued equally, participate fully in their communities and be treated with dignity and respect.

Back to A-Z of disabilities