Ciara Lawrence: Charities need more people with learning disabilities in senior roles

15 Jan 2024 Voices

Mencap’s engagement lead discusses her aim to become a CEO, challenging stigmas and the support charities can offer to employees with additional needs…

Ciara Lawrence, engagement lead in the communications, advocacy and activism directorate at Mencap


My name is Ciara Lawrence and I’m the engagement lead in the communications, advocacy and activism directorate at learning disability charity Mencap.

Like a few of my colleagues, I have a learning disability. My job involves talking to these colleagues, finding out what’s important to them, and getting them involved in Mencap’s work as much as possible. The goal is to make sure that Mencap lives up to its core values of being kind, inclusive and compassionate, especially for people with a learning disability, like me.

One example of this is improving our IT services to make things more accessible to those with additional needs. Following a workshop at our head office, some staff with learning disabilities told me that the accessibility of information needed to improve. Straight away, we set up an IT working group formed of colleagues with a learning disability and members of the IT team.

Now, every email that comes from IT is in accessible easy read format, and we’re road-testing methods so that people can access their passwords in a much easier way, as people with a learning disability can often struggle to remember passwords. 

Workplace support

I started at Mencap in 2001 as a part time admin assistant, and I’ve worked my way up the ladder ever since. Over the last three years, I’ve been in secondment roles within Mencap because I wanted to see how much I could achieve in my career. I want to grow, develop and learn new things. Right now, I’m working with the communications team to ensure that people with a learning disability are well represented in our comms work, as well as seeing how I can develop my career further with the ultimate goal of becoming a CEO or director, at Mencap or elsewhere.

To help me at work, I have a development coach, Matt, who is my wingman in all professional situations! I rely on him for advice and support, especially when going through trickier patches like our recent office move, or when my manager changes. He goes through my calendar with me and helps me prepare for my (many!) meetings, as well as managing my diary.

Sometimes, he also goes to those meetings and takes notes to support me. He also helps me with tricky emails or requests I’m not sure about. I also rely on my line manager to help me keep on top of my workflow and make sure I’m not getting pulled away from my key work areas. 

This support really helps me fly. Matt especially helps me have brave conversations and be focused on what I want and my ambitions and helps me really advocate for myself – which is a key skill I need if I want to develop my career to CEO level.

CEO ambition

The best part of my job at Mencap is working alongside other people with a learning disability. It’s my personal and professional passion, and I believe that people like me have the right to a full and rich life just like anybody else. Unfortunately, people still label and stigmatise us, and I want to be a part of changing that.

At Mencap, I can really change the lives of people like me and my friends in a meaningful way. Some of the attitudes of people when we go out and about make me furious. At work, I can channel that anger into helping change attitudes constructively. 

Organisations need more people with learning disabilities in senior roles for this and so many other reasons! They can use their real-life experience to help make change and advocate for people. It’s not impossible for us, all we need is the right support. Of course, not everybody wants to be a leader, but people with a learning disability should have the same chance to achieve that kind of goal as anybody else.

Even now, when people with a learning disability are born, families are told not to expect anything from them. Imagine how amazing it would be to see people like me at every level of life.

Personally, I’d love to work alongside more people with a learning disability as I feel much more comfortable with colleagues I can relate to on both a personal and professional level. I know that our stories will be similar, and they will understand my needs and “get me”. That real life experience counts for a huge amount.

Becoming a CEO has been my dream for about 23 years. I left mainstream school at 10, and I was told I would never achieve anything. I’ve done so much since then, and yes, I have had support to do this, but it’s also been a lot of hard work and I’m not finished yet.

Some people might ask me why I want to be a CEO – the answer is very simple. Because I want to be! Why can’t I be a leader? Why can’t I be someone influential? Yes, I have a learning disability, but that shouldn’t stop me from achieving my goals. And that goes for everyone else. 

Civil Society Voices is the place for informed opinion, and debate about the big issues affecting charities today. We’re always keen to hear from anyone, working or volunteering at a charity, who has something to say. Find out more about contributing and how to get in touch.



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