Work with me - an accessible online platform for people with LD and their support networks
There are many problems to solve when it comes to helping people with Learning Disabilities (LD) and / or additional needs find employment. The particular problems we are trying to solve with this bid are – people with LD don’t always know what options are available to them after education and how to access employment opportunities. In addition, their support networks don’t always have enough information and support available to guide them when making decisions about what steps to take. Another problem we have identified is that some support networks can be so supportive and protective that they can inadvertently disempower their loved one, so creating content around this would be really beneficial.
There are approximately 11,000 adults with some kind of LD in Cambridgeshire ranging from moderate to severe as well as an estimated further 6,500 people who are on the autistic spectrum. The target number of adults with LD and/or autism to be in employment is 6%. This figure stands at 5.4% in Cambridgeshire. People with LD are actively telling council staff that they want to secure employment, which is beneficial for them in terms of higher income, better health outcomes and improved self-esteem and social interactions.
The main objectives for this project are to:
- Provide people with LD or additional needs with a digital platform to discover the options and support available to them as well as practical help and guidance
- Give support networks inspirational and helpful content to help them support, guide and empower people with LD
- Give information about what support is available for people wanting to enter a workplace (for people with LD, their support networks and employers)
The solution we would like to build is a website that would hold the information above as well as helpful tools, templates and access to further support. The website will be super-accessible and be co-designed with people with LD and partners who work directly with them. In the medium term, the idea is that we will also be able to provide people with tools and actions within the site that will help people apply or register interest in different opportunities so that they are not just dead-ended with information only. These kinds of resources and functionality are already being iteratively developed by CCC professionals in partnership with the providers and employers.
We will share everything we produce at every step including the designs for the site and the results from early user testing. We will also ensure openness and share the code for the site.
A successful outcome would be a live alpha site available for people to learn about opportunities for people with LD. It will also become a meaningful platform to use in planned future work which will involve engaging with potential employers and expanding the offerings on the site.
The project will be overseen by the Work with Me consortium, which is a group of partners, professionals and service users dedicated to helping people with LD find meaningful employment in the local area. The project will be also be delivered by LGSS Digital colleagues (who are non-funded local government shared service partners) working in complete collaboration with council and consortium colleagues.
Essential events and milestones include:
- Project established
- Kick off project meeting with partners and consortium
- Identify who will be involved and to what level and agree roles and responsibilities agreed – and agree an internal lead
- Engage LGSS Digital and CCC Transformation team to conduct user research
- Share action plan with all partners signed up to this piece of work and commit to it
- Gather essential facts, financial information and findings essential for the business case
- Research around how much it costs to have a support package for people with LD to pull out benefits for business case
- Commissioning data to understand scale of the problem
- A review of the discovery research and rapid prototype
- Collation of the work that has already taken place – creation of tools and resources
- Content creation
- Undertake ground work – such as understanding statutory duties and how equal opportunities policies might apply
- Understand how digitally included people with LD are (including what kinds of devices they tend to use) and further research about how they currently find out about post-education opportunities and jobs
- Create further early prototypes paying particular attention to accessibility and test these with real users, gain feedback and try different things or iterate
- The creation of an MVP prototype website in collaboration with the consortium (which includes service users with LD)
- Involvement of service users and consortium partners to develop meaningful content for the website including text, images, podcasts and videos
- Recruitment of support networks and people with LD through the consortium partners
- User testing of the MVP with service users and with others with LD and autism
- Iterative development of the website based on user feedback and further testing
- Development of the Alpha website
- Implementation of interactive tools which help people understand the best pathways for them
- Begin creation of user research report
- Collation and creation of help and guidance for support networks
- Go live of Alpha website with the ability for users to feedback about their experience of using it for iterative improvement
- Communication about the website on many platforms to encourage the use of it
- Create the conclusion report. If the plan is to continue work, a joint action plan will be created which will involve a co-production group involving ongoing engagement with partners and users
- Produce business case report
Throughout the project, we will be publishing polished outputs in collaboration with the MHCLG and also create blog posts and website content around what we are doing, what our findings are and ongoing learnings.
We will measure whether objectives are being met by continuous testing with users – who will consist of partners and people with LD and their parents (or other support networks) and measure against our objectives. We will also measure success based on the feedback gained from early users of the website.
A study in North Lanarkshire reported by the National Development Team for Inclusion in their publication ‘A Guide to Producing an Employment Strategy for People with a Learning Disability (2010) http://www.ndti.org.uk/uploads/files/NDTi_Guide_for_commissioning_LD_employment_Oct_2010.pdf (page 4) found a significant difference in cost between supporting someone with a learning disability into employment and providing alternative support and activity – £7,200 compared to £15000 per annum. Similarly, encouraging more people with autism into employment makes use of an untapped local resource in the labour market and may reduce levels of exclusion and isolation amongst this group. This proves that helping people with LD into employment is not only good for their own wellbeing, but also for supporting organisations in terms of cost of support.
The research that has been conducted within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has demonstrated that when people with LD are properly supported and given the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe environment, they become less reliant on care packages and become more independent and work ready. These people have a greater sense of achievement, feel like they are making a difference and have a better quality of life. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but where people wish to gain skills and work towards gaining paid employment, it has been proved that this creates beneficial outcomes for both service users and to the council, in terms of reduced care packages – which creates financial savings and / or enables the council to support the most vulnerable residents.
The LD service within Social care, the Adult learning service and pathways into work teams have worked closely with partner authorities and partners such and Peterborough City College to understand user needs in this area. They are developing comprehensive plans to create resources for people with LD to help them be more self-sufficient when it comes to moving from full time education and into adulthood. There is a drive to be more proactive, to be more empowering rather than just provide passive services and care plan for people with LD. There have been pilot initiatives in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough that have proven that many people, even with quite severe LD, can live quite independently and gain a substantial improvement in quality of life when they are supported, empowered and given the opportunity to grow and increase their skills – rather than just receive a care package.
In July, LGSS Digital and CCC Transformation team ran a SPRINT (we called it a design hack) to look at how we might build aspirations and opportunities for people with learning disabilities and / or autism to gain and maintain employment. We did research with service users, parents, partners and professionals working with people with LD. We filmed interviews with people talking about their experiences of work and what their barriers and difficulties were as well as interviewing and workshopping with people. We worked together on creating ideas, sketching and then prototyping a possible website for service users and their families. A view of the hack can be seen by clicking on this link: https://sway.office.com/iUH9ATBLwnEu47gz
The solution has been chosen as the early website prototype we created has been tested with people with LD and their support networks and we received very positive feedback. Our prototype featured example accessible content, videos and pictures and we received brilliant feedback about how the content really worked, and also great suggestions about how we could make it even more accessible. The comments from the group really helped us understand the user needs of people with LD and therefore, accessibility will be our primary concern with this new website, utilising best practice tools and regular testing with users so that we can really see and understand how people with LD interact and use it and gain the most from it.
There is a lot of work going on in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to develop tools such as vocational profiles and progression plans for people with LD. This website will aid and support the efforts that are happening throughout the existing service by making them widely available and publishing the support and advice that is being generated in collaboration with users.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils aim to work together and collaborate to develop the website along with numerous partner organisations that are already committed to working together. The energy and drive we have experienced as part of the design hack and resulting consortium of partners is dazzling. We have a group of 20+ people with different backgrounds, in different roles all completely dedicated to improving the lives of people with LD by opening up more opportunities for them and by supporting them with increasing confidence and improving awareness.
The people with LD in the group are particularly driven – they want to help others and feel empowered and excited that they are part of a group that will go on to make a real difference for people like them.
The research and work we will undertake will be so relevant to other authorities also. The geographic area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is so diverse that much of our findings will be applicable to many other places in the UK.
This project would mean that we would get together more often, sharing our work and inviting feedback. We will also visit different settings when asking people to feedback about our work – such as the Adult Learning hubs, Peterborough City College, TAG bikes and Switch Now.
The outputs we will produce will be:
- A business case or benefits case that explains the cost of the problem and the potential for savings that the solution we’ve designed could realise – both to the councils involved and to the nation if rolled out nationally
- A user research report, justifying why the product is designed the way it is. The report will give real insight in to findings and identify the needs and the pain experienced by people with LD and their support networks.
- Detailed and shareable user research findings that can be used by other authorities looking to solve a similar problem.
- Detailed learnings about accessibility requirements for a website aimed at this audience with consideration for digital inclusion experiences
- The website product – this will be a live alpha website which can be accessed and tested by anyone. People will also be able to use the early version of the website and feedback about their experience of using it.
- Open code and technical information about how the website has been built – especially detailing information about any specialist accessibility tools and ideas we have used to create the best possible experience for people with LD.
- A conclusion proposing what the next steps should be based on the findings of the Alpha project. It might be that we have a clear idea of what should be developed in a beta project and show how we have come to this conclusion. It may be that we realise that the alpha project has not had the desired effect and we should try something else, or go back to the discovery phase.
We hope that the alpha prototype will meet the need for the problem we are trying to solve on this iteration, and that the work will open up other problems which we will then like to solve. We know that not only is there a problem about finding out about what opportunities are available and then accessing these, but there is also a problem about the lack of opportunities in terms of paid employment.
Our users are:
- People with severe learning disabilities who are looking for an alternative to comprehensive care packages
- Anyone with any kind of learning disability / additional needs or autism
- Parents and support networks of people with LD and autism
- Providers and employers of opportunities and pathways for people with LD
- Professionals working with people with learning disabilities and additional needs
We will engage with people by:
- Utilising the consortium of partners and service users to conduct user research
- Finding out more about people with severe LD from social workers and professionals working with people with LD and asking them to help recruit people for user research
- Using social media platforms and existing websites and support networks for their input
- Engaging with professionals and students at Peterborough City College
- Visiting and engaging with staff and users at existing initiatives – such as TAG bikes and Switch Now
- We will conduct a review of the discovery research and rapid prototype to clarify the problem we are solving, review the feedback from the early prototype to help us understand how we can improve the accessibility of it.
- User research and testing with people with LD, support networks and providers on further early prototypes so that we can iterate on them
- Conduct contextual interviews with people to understand how digitally included people with LD are (including what kinds of devices they tend to use) and understand how they currently find out about post-education opportunities and jobs
- Involvement of service users and consortium partners to develop meaningful content for the website including text, images, podcasts and videos
- Testing (possible AB testing) of the interactive tools which help people understand the best pathways for them to understand usefulness and what tools work best
- Testing of the content with support networks and people with LD again to understand how accessible the content is and what works best
- Gain feedback from feedback capability within the alpha website in order to iteratively improve to add functionality stories to the backlog
We may need help accessing the digital marketplace for help with accessibility and content development.
We have not put a bid forward for this before. There are bids that have been submitted by the LD and Adult learning teams around helping people with LD gain and maintain employment, but there have been no other bids submitted for the development of an alpha online platform.