Cheese Sarnie Knowledge

Written by: Kerrie White
Published on: 2 Sep 2019

Kerrie WhiteIncluding people with learning disabilities and differences in the workforce can yield great results, but the way tasks are explained requires fresh considerations, explains Kerrie White.

I’ve spent the past decade helping connect people from disadvantaged backgrounds – those with learning disabilities and differences, such as autism and Asperger’s – with businesses to find paid employment.

In 2009, a UK cross-government report stated that 65 per cent of these individuals want to work, but only 5.8 per cent find paid work. Unfortunately, this has not improved much since.

Why FM has the solution

FM is uniquely positioned – with its variety of roles – to facilitate action for people with learning disabilities and/or differences. The sector articulates well what actions are required for wider inclusion, with a strong track record on sustainable and attainable social mobility.

I’ve had first-hand experience of its resilient efforts when I initiated and led on an award-winning project called ‘Abilities in Facilities’. This was set up in my previous employment with the national charity Mencap in partnership with Hull-based Sewell Facilities Management, which won the 2018 BIFM (now IWFM) Impact on Society Award.

Response to the win created real traction and a ripple effect that exceeded all our expectations. In truth, it still is rippling as I write this – now that’s having a real impact.

The best thing since sliced bread

It’s nonsensical that there’s a huge pool of talent and potential just waiting for employers to tap into, yet reluctance and delays remain, despite a strong business case.

Many businesses have good intentions to support a more diverse and inclusive culture, but lack the confidence to do so. But the most successful engagements provide opportunities for honest conversations. Yes, this includes consciously talking about unconscious bias.

Not everyone holds a recognised connection with a person with a learning disability and or difference, therefore much of our work aims to bust myths and promote greater awareness.

Food for thought

One of the most successful sessions we’ve held about wider inclusion training relied on a 30-minute ‘food for thought’ activity. One of the goals of this activity was to highlight the importance of carefully explaining to others how to complete tasks.

We invited a few participants to support and instruct the making of a cheese sandwich from scratch. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Common instructions that showed how confusing seemingly simple instructions can be included “place the bread face down” and “butter the sides of the bread”.

The activity is inspired by the late Dr Marc Gold’s pioneering approach ‘Try Another Way’ and Systematic Instruction Training, introduced in the UK in 1987, to help supported employment providers progress their learners. The research showed that anyone can learn with the right teaching and by breaking tasks down into manageable chunks.

The cheese sandwich exercise serves to remind us that specialism, guidance and training are very important, but often your greatest teacher is the very person you are communicating with, so everyone has the opportunity to involve, collaborate with and empower others every day.

Include people – that’s how you help them. 

Five tips for explaining tasks to people with learning disabilities


Use clear and concise language, and avoid any acronyms, slang and jargon.


Don’t assume you know someone’s best learning style; ask what works for them...


Accommodate learning preferences and consider VARK (visual, auditory, reading/ writing and kinaesthetic) sensory modalities when doing so.


Check for clarity and perceived understanding.


Relax, have fun and learn something yourself. 

Kerrie White is an inclusion consultant

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