Barbara McIntosh, Head of Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities:
“This week I attended the penultimate National Training Programme for Employment Tribunal Judges. There are over 300 judges involved and I have been working with them for the past three and a half years to help improve the employment tribunal process for people with learning disabilities, Asperger’s and autism.
The training is part of a 2/3 day training programme which all of the judges are being enrolled in. Typical cases that Tribunal Judges come across include when people with learning disabilities, autism or Asperger’s have been made redundant or have been fired from their jobs. However, Employment Tribunal Judges are coming across some new challenges - in particular, both an increase in the number of people with learning disabilities, Asperger’s and autism who are becoming employers themselves and employing Personal Assistants who they are taking to tribunal; and an increase in the number of PAs for people with learning disabilities who are taking their employers to court over employment issues. These are complicated and formal processes at the best of times, but for people with learning disabilities, navigating these systems puts them at an instant disadvantage because of the nature of the process.
The Tribunal Judges need to find ways to work with this specific group of people as some aspects of the court process are particularly hard for them and reasonable adjustments therefore need to be made. This is one of my key roles in the training programme: helping to come up with solutions to those barriers. For example, some people with Asperger’s find it very hard to communicate with people face to face and the prospect of standing in front of a court full of people is extremely difficult for them. Therefore, we have been coming up with practical solutions in training, such as using technology like Skype or email, so that the person can communicate from outside of the courtroom in a less intimidating setting. Other ideas include using a conciliation approach rather than a formal court room setting so that it is less daunting, making information more accessible to people with learning disabilities, having an advocate to attend the tribunal with them, thus ensuring that help is available for people to get the right support.
Through undertaking this training I have realised that there is a real need for better infrastructure to be created for people with learning disabilities who are acting as employers to Personal Assistants, to help them navigate the employment process and hopefully avoid having to end up in Employment Tribunals in the first place.
The Judges are one of the most inquisitive and interested groups of people I have worked with. It was a pleasure to be a part of their learning process. Let’s hope more people follow their lead and take the necessary steps to adapt their services to respond to the needs of all members of society."
02 December 2011