Looking Beyond Disability
By Chris Randall
Cleveland Barnes was almost speechless when he discovered he had landed a life-changing job with McDonald’s, the fast food restaurant chain. ‘I just couldn’t believe it,’ recalls Cleveland, who had been unemployed for a confidence sapping 23 years.
The 52-year-old from Shard End, Birmingham has dyslexia and literacy issues which, as he movingly explains, badly damaged his self-belief and blighted his efforts to find work for more than two decades.
‘As a child I moved around a lot. I was in a Barnado’s home and I was never in one school for very long. As a result my dyslexia was never diagnosed. Nobody knew what it was then and you were pretty much left alone. I left school without any qualifications and with serious literacy problems.
‘At first I could get jobs easily enough in factories. But once people wanted me to fill in application forms, the problems started. The paperwork finished me. My confidence spiralled downwards.’
‘What really made a difference was finding someone to listen to me. That took time and I was in my late forties before my dyslexia was diagnosed. I got one-to-one support and an action plan from Remploy in Birmingham.’
‘At first, I was nervous about going to Remploy. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could read. I was like a mouse. I frequently wanted to walk out but I stuck at it and one day, I decided to stop hiding my dyslexia. Just making that decision gave me a little more confidence.’
‘Even then I could tell employers weren’t interested. You can tell from the body language. They said they’d help with the forms and get back to me but they never did.’
‘When Remploy suggested that I apply for work at McDonalds, I didn’t think I could do it. It involved keeping the place tidy. But my advisor at Remploy reminded me how I’d helped clear up after an event at the Birmingham branch. It was a simple thing but it made me think.’
‘When I got there, they showed me what to do. There were no papers to read or forms to fill in. I clean, tidy and help customers. I’ve won an employee of the year award and the office gets a lot of emails from customers praising me. They say I bring the customers in but I’m just being myself.’
‘The job has made an enormous difference to my life. It has helped me be more independent. Before I was diagnosed, before I got the job, I used to get really depressed but not now. I’m very happy where I am and I like the variety of the job.’
Cleveland’s story is not unique. Long-term unemployment disproportionately affects disabled people and frequently results in isolation and a loss of self-esteem, a situation Remploy’s specialist Employment Advisors at 64 recruitment branches and offices across the country are familiar with when they sit down with candidates for the first time.
At Remploy’s Birmingham branch staff quickly identified Cleveland’s development needs and provided him with vital one-to-one support. A tailored action plan included help with writing application forms and advice about interview techniques.
The preparation paid off when, after a successful work trial, he was offered a permanent job at McDonald’s, Chelmsley Wood - Birmingham restaurant, where he has been working for more than a year.
‘Customer service staff are the first people customers meet, so it is a very important role,’ says restaurant manager Jason Keily. ‘Cleveland’s attention to detail and service skills have led to customers making return visits. He always goes the extra mile.’
Last year Remploy found more than 20,000 jobs for disabled and disadvantaged people, compared with 10,600 in the previous year – an increase of almost 90 per cent. In the West Midlands the number increased by more than 50 per cent with 3,202 jobs found compared with 2,070 the previous year.
‘It’s a remarkable achievement in a tough economic environment with high unemployment and is a tribute to the extensive relationships we have with employers,’ says Gareth Parry, Remploy’s Regional Director of Employment Services in the West Midlands.
He adds: ‘We, and the thousands of companies and organisations with which we work, recognise that employing disabled people delivers real social and economic value for their businesses.
‘By helping employers to better understand and enjoy the benefits of employing disabled people, in effect transforming their businesses, we achieve the Remploy mission of helping to transform the lives of thousands of people.’
Meanwhile, Cleveland Barnes is simply pleased that he found the courage to walk through the doors of his local Remploy branch and ask for help. Now a firm favourite with customers and colleagues at McDonald’s he says: ‘I was surprised how quickly I settled in; given the length of time I was out of work. I really love this job because I enjoy helping customers. I get on with everyone.’