Working at Kew Gardens, Anthony Knight is a rarity

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

To read on The Guardian website:

‘You have to give learning disabled people the opportunity to prove themselves’

Just 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid work, but about 65% would like a job. Simple changes could help them into the workforce
Anthony Knight

Anthony Knight at Kew Gardens. He says of his job: ‘I want to progress and expand and fulfil my potential’. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Anthony Knight fulfilled a childhood dream when he became an arboretum horticulturalist at Kew Gardens. But it took him nine attempts over five years before finally landing the job in November, despite having done work experience and an apprenticeship at the world-renowned botanical gardens in south-west London.

While in theory Knight, 38, was a strong contender for the job – having previously worked at Kew, at a local nursery and in garden maintenance – he has a moderate learning disability that affects how he communicates, so job interviews were a barrier. “I was not able to portray myself in the best possible light,” he says.

Knight was only successful once Kew adjusted the application process, giving him more information about the general subjects to be covered so he could better prepare for the interview.

Ray Townsend, who manages the 25-strong arboretum team, says: “We couldn’t give the exact questions, that wouldn’t have been fair to other candidates, but Anthony had a bit of time to think, and that made a difference to how he answered. You have to give someone the opportunity to prove themselves … You’ve got to be patient and flexible.”

Knight took longer to familiarise himself with the 300-acre site. But this summer he is responsible for the rosacea area, and his boss describes him as a “reliable and dedicated” employee.

As someone who has a learning disability and is in paid employment, Knight is rare. In the UK, just 5.8% of people with a learning disability who are known to social care services are in paid work, compared with 74% of non-disabled people. But the most up-to-date figures from a 2009 government report show that 65% of learning disabled people want paid work but have been unable to get a job.

Although legislation is in place obliging employers to make reasonable workplace adjustments, this obviously is not happening. Knight’s case demonstrates how just a tiny adjustment plus an open-minded employer can get people with learning disabilities into jobs they want and can do. It also provides them with a wage. An arboretum horticulturalist salary begins at around £19,000 in London.


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