About 3 years ago, I was finishing college and trying to look ahead to a bright future. Finishing education and starting to look for work is daunting – every young person has been there and I was no exception. But my disability meant that the idea of getting a full-time paid job doing work I would enjoy, especially in the NHS, seemed nearly impossible. Only about 5 per cent of people with a learning disability like me have a paid job in the UK, so I was likely to become one of the 95 per cent who don’t.
Through my college, a mentor recommended doing a supported internship – a programme for young people with learning disabilities which is just like a usual internship in a workplace but with extra support from a job coach.
During my time at college, I was very quiet and often struggled to adjust to new environments, but my tutors helped my confidence grow and they could see my caring side; they already knew I could be a great care worker. They encouraged me to apply for an internship at my local NHS Foundation Trust.
One of the things I really wanted to do (but was also really scared to do) was to learn to use a defibrillator and the programme promised me that. Little did I know that learning to use a defib was going to be just a small part of the exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking but always important jobs I would get to do on a daily basis.
Doing an internship in the NHS is extraordinary – no two days are the same and no two people you meet, patients or staff, are the same. During my rotations (the internship allows you to try working in different departments on rotation), I met people and families I really wanted to help. Like the lady who was looking after her husband who’d had two strokes and was on her own without any family, to whom I lent a compassionate ear. Or the lady who never took part in any day activities because she only spoke Urdu and needed a translation sheet.
It turns out that not only could I work on the ward, but because I am compassionate and pay attention to needs, I could really help patients – sometimes better than any of the permanent staff on the ward. For listening to and helping patients and developing tools like translation sheets to improve our work, I was given a Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust star award. It’s a moment I am really proud of.
That’s not to say that every day at my job has been easy. It has been three years of ups and downs, but earlier this year I got a permanent paid position with the trust as an engagement support worker, and I could not be prouder. I am also a learning disability champion within the trust.
Nowadays, I am confident and chatty. In fact, I recently gave a speech at the nursing and midwifery conference. My colleagues can’t believe I was the quiet one in college. I have also been very lucky. The rest of the team really values my opinion, so while they have been teaching me how to work in the fast-paced ward environment, I have been teaching them to better understand patients and colleagues with learning disabilities. I think it’s a win-win for everyone!
This coming September, I will be speaking to other young people with learning disabilities who are coming onto the supported internship programme to tell them about my journey. I just can’t wait, because I know the internship will change their lives like it changed mine.
Toseef is an Engagement Support Worker at Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust and a former DFN Project SEARCH supported intern. Before his internship, he studied at Calderdale College.