My name is Gerard McWilliams and I have a learning disability. I have worked as a Personal and Public Involvement Officer for the Patient Client Council since 2014.
Before I worked for PCC I was met with a few challenges. I felt that a lot of organisations had quite big barriers in terms of the experience they were looking for and what I could get into. In the past I was told by careers advisors that I could work in a supermarket or in catering and that I could not do an office job. I always thought that I could do more and I fought very hard to get to where I am today. I have an NVQ level 2 in Health and Social care and an NVQ level 3 in play work which I was also told I would not be able to do.
I applied for a post in the PCC that was set up specifically for a person with a learning disability or a mental health condition. I was approached by the Orchardville society to apply as I am a service user with them. I attended the interview with assistance from my employment support officer from Orchardville. PCC staff who interviewed me took their time and asked questions in a way that I could understand. I was successful in getting the post and I started my role on 9th October 2014. I am supported in many ways to carry out the functions of my Personal and Public Involvement Officer role including an Employment Support Officer, Access to Work, Workable and I also have a mentor within PCC. Because I struggle with reading and writing, I also have reasonable adjustments in the form of software packages Dragon, Read and Write Gold and a Live Scribe Pen to help me carry out the administrative functions of my job.
My role within Patient and Client Council is to go out to various organisations to promote the voices of people who use health and social care services within Northern Ireland. I deliver presentations, hold focus groups and advise on the main functions of PCC and how people can get involved in our work. I also give talks on the importance of my role as a person with a learning disability and how I am able to do my job.
When I first started in PCC my managers and colleagues were really well prepared and were extremely patient with me. I do still face some barriers in my work. For example, within Health and Social Care there is a lot of high level terminology and a lot of acronyms are used which I sometimes find difficult. I think sometimes people forget that I have a learning disability because I am so capable in many ways. Sometimes there is so much information coming at me that my brain gets tired and it is important that my colleagues and line managers are realistic about what I can and cannot do. My manager has been extremely supportive of me and has gotten to know my strengths and weaknesses and recognises that I may need additional information or explanation for some tasks. I do the same work as anyone else at my grade, I just do it differently!
What I feel I bring to my role apart from information and services is honesty, directness and helping colleagues to have a better understanding of learning disabilities and get rid of assumptions surrounding disability. I am very direct.
Aside from my role in PCC I am also involved in the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) participation partnership, I have volunteered for the special Olympics as a team leader at the world games, I have worked as a childcare worker in an after schools club, in a nursing home and volunteered at weekends for children and young people with disabilities teaching them life and social skills.
I am a member of the Disability Champions Network and Tapestry, the Disability Staff Network for the 11 regional HSCNI organisations and I bring real life experience to these groups. My main aim through all the work that I do is to raise awareness and educate people on all the positive aspects of disability, of which there are many!