Learning disability misconceptions 'blocking employment'
People with learning disabilities are being blocked from work in Wales due to misconceptions, a charity has warned.
Charity Mencap Cymru estimated 70,000 people have learning disabilities and 14,000 are known to social services, with 800 of those in employment.
Michael Davies, 22, from Cardiff, has Down's syndrome and autism. His parents said firms needed to give young people like him "a chance".
Mencap said there were huge barriers facing those who wanted to work.
The charity's director Wayne Crocker said the employment rate in Wales was "terribly low" with many firms simply not understanding learning disabilities.
"We need to do work to educate employers about the benefits of employing someone with a learning disability," he said.
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Across Wales there are success stories but parents say they are concerned their children might never find work and the impact of council cuts on their care.
Sue Davies, whose son Michael has complex needs, is concerned young people like him are not being given a chance by companies to get into work.
Mr Davies, from Rhiwbina, goes to a residential college in Bridgend but his parents have had a letter telling them he will have to leave in June.
Ms Davies said: "I've seen that if young people like my son are given that chance they can do an awful lot.
"People underestimate how much they can do - especially autism - I find that once Michael learns something he will do it forever more in that way and if he's taught the right way to do something at the start, you've then got someone who's really reliable in the workplace.
"He just needs a chance, all we want is for society to please give these young people a chance."
Last year Clare Rowthorn and Laura Tilley set up Miss Tilley's Community Cafe in Rhiwbina, which employs young people with learning difficulties.
The cafe, named after the 23-year-old founder who has Down's syndrome, gives staff a small cash gift for their time.
The friends set it up due to concerns about young people's prospects when they left college, saying many had nothing to do and were struggling to find daytime support.
The cafe has many regular customers and has expanded to include a takeaway service. Some of its staff have gone on to work in local pubs and bakeries.
Miss Tilley said: "I love to see the customers and to help them. We've got some lovely customers, people are so kind and friendly."
Regular customer Sian Murphy said: "You don't go to many cafes where you get two or three hugs when you arrive do you?"
Some of the UK's best-known high street names have committed to offering opportunities to people with learning disabilities, including JoJo Maman Bebe, Sainsbury's, Costa Coffee and Greggs.
Helen Pocock, 29, who has Down's syndrome, has worked at the Penarth branch of Greggs for six months.
She said: "It makes me feel confident and valued and the money I earn goes into my bank account, where it should be."
Ms Pocock got the job with the help of the Down's Syndrome Association's WorkFit programme, which offers training and support to employers thinking of hiring someone with Down's syndrome.
Roisin Currie, people and retail director for Greggs, said: "There is a vast untapped talent pool of people who can really make a positive impact to businesses."